You won’t have failed to notice that the EU Referendum campaign is now well and truly underway. Representatives from both sides of the argument are now regularly popping up on the TV, radio and even the doorstep.

But how much do we know about what either side is saying about what the referendum will mean for our wildlife and the natural environment? In short, almost nothing. I have yet to hear either campaign talk seriously about environmental issues.

The UK Government’s recent leaflet sent to every household included a welcome reference to climate change, but was otherwise lacking any environmental content.

Fortunately, these issues are being raised beyond the main campaign groups.

Today, for instance, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has published a report (see here) on the value of EU environment policy.

I gave evidence on behalf of the RSPB to the Committee back in January (see here) and argued at the time that because nature – and the threats nature faces – do not respect national boundaries, comprehensive international agreements for nature conservation and the environment, together with a robust and enforceable governance framework, are essential.

Today´s report concludes that “EU membership has been a crucial factor in shaping UK environmental policy on air and water pollution, and biodiversity”. The report acknowledges this has been a two-way street, with EU legislation leading to improved environmental standards in the UK, but also giving the UK a platform to pursue its environmental objectives internationally. The Committee report also concludes that businesses like the certainty and opportunities for longer-term planning that EU policy allows.

RSPB Forsinard in the Flow Country protected by the EU Nature Directives by Eleanor Bentall (

However, it is important to note that the Common Agricultural Policy – an EU policy that, despite some recent reforms, has unquestionably contributed to significant biodiversity loss across Europe – was not within the scope of this inquiry.

The EAC report follows two other significant reports which set out the possible implications on environment policy of the UK withdrawing from the EU: the IEEP report co-commissioned by the RSPB and a separate report by leading academics last week.

Despite this, we have yet to have a serious response to these reports from either side in the debate.  The health of the environment matters to millions of people in this country and we deserve to know from leading figures on both sides of the debate how their respective positions will help address the many challenges we face.

That’s why, this week, the RSPB will be writing to the two official campaign groups – “Britain Stronger in Europe” and “Vote Leave” – asking them to set out clearly what their proposition will mean for the natural world and environment.

We will be asking them to explain how remaining in, or withdrawing from, the EU will address the crucial issues of nature protection, sustainable agriculture and fisheries, and climate change, and we will present their proposition to our members here in coming weeks.

I will also set out a series of issues that need addressing at a political level, and will be challenging politicians on both side of the debate to set out their vision.

Of course, I recognise that the environment is just one of a suite of issues that people need to consider when weighing up how to vote – but at present both the official campaigns and leading politicians are sadly neglecting this issue. 

That’s not good enough.  The stakes are too high.  The millions that care about wildlife and the natural environment deserve some answers.

  • The lack of any referral to wildlife and the environment is just disgraceful. Unfortunately this is I believe, due to the terrible introspection the this Country is developing under the current leadership, All the debates by the politicians and the media are dominated by the " what's in it for me scenario". There is no attempt to discuss what the UK can contribute to the EU and the World.. As a result wildlife and the environment which needs people to thinK of issues other than those related directly to themselves, suffers accordingly.

    We so disparately need a much more outgoing approach emphasised by John  F Kenndy when he said "Ask not what your Country can do for you but what you can do for your Country" ; followed by " My fellow citizens of the World ask not what America (EU) can do for you but what together we can do.".

    I am afraid to say, this Referendum, the thinking of this Government and those advocating leaving the EU, is nowhere near JFKs out going approach. It's approach is one that fosters isolationism and and selfishness. The whole thing is a potential disaster for this country. Wildlife and the environment suffer accordingly under these conditions.