Just in case you are not a member of the RSPB (heaven forbid) or do not read your Nature's Home magazine (outrageous), I thought I'd share with you the article I wrote in the latest issue which lands on doormats this week in time for our AGM on Saturday. In 350 words I have tried to capture our current position about the forthcoming EU referendum. We are doing more thinking about this and I shall say more in due course, but in the meantime I'd be interested in your views.
The debate about the UK’s membership of the EU will intensify over the next two years, so we’ll be putting the spotlight on how the EU affects nature.
Over 80% of environmental legislation in force in the UK is derived from European law, helping to save special places, recover threatened species and establish standards of water quality. It also offers a common response to climate change – ensuring no Member State gains short-term advantage by trashing the environment.
When polled, over 75% of EU citizens think environmental law is needed. This is an area where we trust the EU and acknowledge it has a role to play. This makes it one of the most popular aspects of EU cooperation, and perhaps explains why half a million people acted to defend the Nature Directives.
UK citizens can also rely upon their rights under EU law. The UK government, for example, is facing heavy fines over its failure to meet its obligations under EU air quality regulations to reduce damaging emissions.
On the other hand, the single most perverse policy has probably been the Common Agriculture Policy which commands almost €350b (2014–2020) – 40% of the total EU budget.
It has driven production at the expense of the environment, resulting in 60% declines in farmland species over the past four decades.
While the CAP has evolved, less than a quarter of the budget now supports wildlife-friendly farming. So, if the government is seeking a reformed EU, it should look in two areas: argue for better enforcement of existing environmental law, so we stop the decline in wildlife and fix broken ecosystems like the marine environment.
Second, it must make the case for a fundamental overhaul to the CAP so that the huge amount of European taxpayers’ money (c.£400 per family per annum) supports things that benefit the public, such as an attractive countryside rich in wildlife.
The talks towards a global climate change deal in Paris at the end of 2015 reinforce the need for international collaboration to tackle big environmental challenges. Wildlife, water and air do not respect administrative boundaries and irrespective of the vote on our membership of the EU, trans-national cooperation is essential.
My hope is for the EU referendum debate to be informed by facts and that whatever reform agenda is pursued, and whichever way the public votes, nature’s voice is heard.
Image courtesy of Andy Hay, RSPB Images
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