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The EU debate: Keeping nature in mind

Last modified: 09 March 2016

Backlit Dartford warbler at RSPB Arne nature reserve

Image: Ben Hall

EU VOTE: THE UK’S LEADING CONSERVATION BODIES CALL ON ‘IN’ AND ‘OUT’ CAMPS TO SAY WHAT THEY WILL DO FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Today, 9 March 2016, speakers across political spectrum debate implications of changed relationship with EU.

WWF, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts are asking campaigners on both sides of the EU referendum debate what they would do to protect our natural world and the vital services it provides, should their side be successful. 

WWF, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts recommend that the public ask ‘In’ and ‘Out’ campaigners these key questions:
  • How would you make sure that action on nature protection, pollution and air quality is maintained and enhanced? 
  • How would you exercise international leadership on climate change? 
  • What is your vision for more environmentally responsible agriculture and fishing in the UK? 

A cross-party debate taking place today features speakers including Caroline Spelman MP, Caroline Lucus MP, Angela Smith MP, Lord Callanan and Edmund Marriage.
WWF-UK’s director of advocacy Trevor Hutchings says:

“As we debate the UK’s future relationship with the EU, it is important that both camps – IN and OUT – consider the impact on the environment. In particular we want to hear how they would set about reversing the decline in species and habitats upon which our economic and social wellbeing depend.  

“Not everything that comes from Europe has been good for the natural world, but on balance membership of the EU has delivered benefits for our environment that would be hard to replicate in the event of the UK leaving. Whatever the UK’s future relationship with the EU it must not be at the expense of our natural resources, wildlife and wild places.”  

The call comes as a new analysis prepared by the independent Institute for European Environmental Policy, illustrates how EU measures have safeguarded birds such as the bittern, nightjar and Dartford warbler, protected habitats that are essential for butterflies and bees and have delivered cleaner air, rivers and beaches.

The report is also clear that there should be changes and improvements. The Common Agricultural Policy has driven an intensification of agricultural systems across the EU, which has directly driven wildlife declines. Conservation groups have been campaigning for many years for reforms of the CAP so that it prioritises the protection and enhancement of public goods (such as wildlife), and not just intensification of production.  

RSPB’s director of conservation Martin Harper says:

“Given that nature knows no boundaries and over a century our primary interest has been birds (many of which migrate), the RSPB has always believed we need to act internationally especially as the threats are often diffuse. Comprehensive international agreements for nature conservation and the environment, together with a robust and enforceable governance framework, are therefore essential.  

‘Given that nature knows no boundaries... the RSPB has always believed we need to act internationally’
“It is now time for both sides of the referendum debate to present their respective visions for the future and to explain how their stance will help protect and enhance the environment.  The millions of people that care about nature in this country deserve greater clarity about the environmental implications of the UK remaining in or leaving the EU which is why we want to ensure that nature features in the public debate.”

The Wildlife Trusts’ chief executive Stephanie Hilborne adds:
“We are part of the natural world. We are not separate from it. Yet we have tended to think we are and we have therefore seen massive declines in wildlife. Now human health is suffering from a dramatic rise in stress-related diseases – which we know contact with nature can help solve. 

“Just as we are part of nature, so our country is part of Europe: our fish, dolphins, birds and insects see no boundaries and we are separated only by shallow seas. The EU has the strongest body of environmental legislation anywhere in the world. Without it, in all probability, our children would be swimming in sewage as they once did and we would have lost some of our finest wildlife sites – whether in Sherwood Forest or Dibden Bay in Hampshire. 

"The EU has inspired the UK’s own wildlife legislation and held us to account where we’ve faltered. There are many reasons why people will vote ‘in’ or ‘out’ in the Referendum but if the UK goes it alone The Wildlife Trusts fear we may lose a vital insurance policy for our environment.”