The Conservation Conversation: Bite-size Brexit

Perspectives from Stirling Biological & Environmental Sciences on how Brexit may affect our research, and what we can do about it…


EU flag. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Biological and Environmental Sciences (BES) here at Stirling is full of international researchers and collaborations. Since the Brexit vote, there has been uncertainty over how we, as UK- and non-UK, EU- and non-EU nationals, will continue to work on EU-funded projects, begin new international collaborations, and remain as residents in the UK.

The overarching message from a recent Scottish Environmental LINK Congress was that ‘this is not the time to remain silent’ and that ‘we have to work together to bring about change’ – so for this month’s Conservation Conversation, we decided to collate BES’ thoughts on Brexit and try and collectively work out ways we can take an active role in safeguarding BES research in the face of Brexit uncertainty.

Conveniently, the annual BES Winter Symposium, where our PhD students showcase their research, took place in the week prior to December’s Conservation Conversation. Between the wide ranging talks, which typically extend from Scottish rivers to tropical forests, and from radioactive particles to entire glaciation events, PhD students and staff members were asked to anonymously write down their fears, where they see potential opportunities, and what they think they can currently do to influence outcomes of Brexit.

During our Conservation Conversation we discussed the concerns and viewpoints of the department and collectively came up with some practical ways we can – as individuals, as a department, and as an institution – become more involved with bringing about positive change and safeguarding our research in an uncertain future. Here’s what came out…

How does BES collectively feel about Brexit?

Our fears

Personal concerns

These mainly focused on worries over residency for spouses and colleagues.

Working outside the EU

Issues over potential loss of collaborations and funding, and loss of research connectivity i.e. no longer working together on ‘the big picture’ were at the fore. But additionally, concerns that Brexit will put other researchers off coming to the UK leading to a loss of expertise within institutions. And with the potential drying-up of EU funding, UK researchers are currently not pursuing EU funding streams, putting extra pressure on UK funding, and making the competition for funding even greater.

Environmental protection

As so many BES researchers work on applied conservation issues, there is overwhelming concern about loss of protection for species and habitats without EU law e.g. loss of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). There is also concern that there will be less engagement and compliance for existing conservation commitments, alongside lower funding for environmental protection.

Other concerns

Uncertainty over what is going to happen and the possibility of international disputes are also being raised as concerns by researchers in BES. More widely there were also worries that if UK students lose the option of more low-cost higher education in the EU, the UK may see sharp declines in the numbers of students going to university which could then impact UK universities in terms of income and research output.

Where we see potential opportunities

New legislation 

There may be opportunities to influence new laws and change e.g. Common Agricultural Policies (CAP) by contributing our research knowledge to policy briefs. We can take current EU directives and make them better.

Other opportunities

Without EU money coming to the UK, the EU as a whole might have more funds for environmental protection and research, and with potential new immigration laws, the UK may attract a new suite of skilled workers.

What can we do as individuals, as a department, and as an institution?


  • Promote our research and how research benefits both the UK, and more widely: if we’re constantly positive about the benefits of research, the Government can’t ignore the input from international colleagues and collaborations.
  • Promote internationalism and stress the importance of collaborations and international teams for helping deal with UK problems e.g. evidence informing UK policy can be garnered from international expertise.
  • Reassure current collaborators and maintain collaborations: if people want to make them work, they will work.
  • Start putting pressure on the relevant Government departments to influence the path of Brexit: we can demonstrate how well current EU directives work at a national level, and which parts we want to keep in action, as well as which parts we want to reform.
  • Politicians and policy makers find a lot of information via social media and blogs, they will likely not go directly to primary literature, but as researchers we can easily providing bite-size nuggets of information which are far more user-friendly.
  • As an institution, develop links with other stakeholders prior to engagement with government: hammering out potential points of disagreement in order to provide a multi-stakeholder message makes life much more simple for decision makers.

Provide outputs

This months Conservation Conversation on ‘Bite-size Brexit’ was run by Isabel Jones and Chris Pollard

The STICS’ “Conservation Conversation” series is an informal lunchtime discussion on topical issues held on the last Friday of every month. For more information contact Emma Bush (

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s