EU Referendum 2016

Water vole © Tom Marshall 2016Water vole © Tom Marshall 2016

The EU Referendum on 23rd June 2016 will decide whether the UK stays part of or leaves the European Union.

What The Wildlife Trusts think about the UK's membership of the EU

Our research and evidence indicates that the safest outcome for wildlife and the environment would be for the UK to stay in the EU.

The EU has the single largest body of environmental legislation in the world. This has had an exceptionally positive impact on our efforts to reduce pollution, influence decisions about the built development and safeguard our wildlife in the UK. Whilst the EU's agricultural and fisheries policies have not often aided wildlife, both have been reformed and it is not clear that the UK's wildlife would be better off without them.

The Wildlife Trusts' view is that the UK's membership of the EU provides:

  • COLLABORATION for wildlife which knows no boundaries. Through the EU the UK can influence and inform what happens in other parts of Europe and the world, to our migratory birds, our wide-ranging marine wildlife such as harbour porpoises, and to our air and water, given that pollution also crosses borders.
  • STRONG AMBITIOUS LAWS to protect and restore Europe's natural world. It is EU regulation that has helped to reduce the loss of wildlife in the UK and has driven the cleaning up of our once very polluted seas and rivers. EU environmental legislation provides the most comprehensive vehicle for wildlife and environmental protection anywhere in the world.

Underpinned by:

  • CONSISTENT AND HIGH environmental standards across Europe: inspiring businesses to invest in meeting these standards and exposing poor environmental practice
  • LONG TERM policy and legislative stability: critical to minimising the environmental risks of short-term electoral cycles
  • LEGAL SAFETY NET and framework: holding all Member States to account for their individual decisions where they affect shared environmental objectives.

The Wildlife Trusts believe that our wildlife will be better off if the UK continues as a member of the EU. We have formed this view because of the very positive impact the EU currently brings to the UK's wildlife and the uncertainty of the alternatives. We know where wildlife stands with the UK as a member of the EU, but there is no certainty about its future under a Brexit.

We acknowledge that there are many other factors that the electorate will bear in mind when considering how to vote. The Wildlife Trusts speak solely from the perspective of wildlife and the environment.

Why we care about the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU

The Wildlife Trusts’ vision is of An Environment Rich in Wildlife for Everyone, Valued by All. The unmatched body of environmental legislation generated by the European Union has played a key role to date in achieving progress towards this vision. As the UK people approach a referendum about the UK’s membership of the EU, The Wildlife Trusts believe it is important to arm its supporters, members and all those who care about our natural world with the information and evidence they need to inform their vote in this respect. We also feel it is important for The Wildlife Trusts to share its view on the matter and speak up for wildlife. We fully respect that every vote is an individual decision and will be informed by a wide range of considerations, which go well beyond wildlife.

How we have come to our view

The Wildlife Trusts have over 800,000 members, 45,000 volunteers and 2,500 staff and trustees who all care passionately about wildlife. We have unmatched practical experience of working with local authorities, businesses, farmers and fishermen, community groups and government to achieve our vision. We take part in countless planning inquiries to minimise damage to our environment, advise thousands farmers and businesses each year on how best to maximise the wildlife on their land, take a lead role in securing protection for marine wildlife and liaise with people who are fishing and angling to achieve our vision. And we also manage nearly 100,000 hectares of land directly for wildlife and local people to enjoy.

We work closely with Governments in Westminster, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast to secure the best deal for wildlife in policy and legislation. The UK’s membership of the European Union has a major positive impact on almost every aspect of this work.

In coming to our view on the Referendum, The Wildlife Trusts have entered in dialogue with people from both sides of the debate and have joined with other environmental charities to commission an in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of a “Brexit” from the influential think-tank, the Institute for European Environment Policy, which will be available in advance of the referendum.


What we are doing

  • Pursuing our charitable aims by presenting information about the impact of the EU on the environment and wildlife in line with Charity Commission guidance
  • Championing the cause of wildlife as we promise our members we will do and as our trustees have a duty to do
  • Fully respecting that people will be voting as individuals and considering a wide range of issues as they do so and commenting only on those aspects of EU membership that relate to our charitable aims i.e. those that affect wildlife and the environment
  • Presenting our considered view based on a full report we have commissioned from leading environmental experts, funded in partnership with other NGOs. Later this week when this joint research report ((Baldock et al. (2016) The EU, the environment and potential consequences of a UK departure from the Union. An Institute for European Environmental Policy Report) is launched, we will be inviting both sides to tell us what they will be doing for wildlife and the environment in either scenario.

What we are not doing

  • We are not being “party political”. We have a broad membership with a variety of political views and we focus totally on our charitable objects.
  • We are not formally affiliated to, or funding, either the “in” or “out” campaigns
  • We are not, and will not, be telling people how to vote
  • We are not basing our position on operational financial concerns