The EU Referendum - our position

Monday 29th February 2016

Image credit: Amy Lewis

What we think about the UK’s membership of the EU

The Wildlife Trusts are not recommending how people vote in the Referendum. We speak only from the perspective of the implications of the EU Referendum for our environment and wildlife in accordance with our charitable objects. We recognise that there are many factors that people will consider when choosing how to vote. 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.

The implications of the EU Referendum for our environment and wildlife

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 large 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 provide its supporters, members and all those who care about our natural world with information and evidence on this important issue. We will always consider any new evidence that emerges to inform our position over the coming months. We believe it is important for The Wildlife Trusts to share its view on the matter, based on the evidence it has to date and to speak up for 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 significant positive impact on many aspects 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. We have also joined with other environmental charities to commission an in-depth analysis of the implications of a “Brexit” for the environment.

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 referenced above which was jointly commissioned with other NGOs. The Wildlife Trusts' modest financial contribution to this came from Charitable Trust funds.
• Inviting both sides in the debate 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” campaign
• We are not, and will not, be telling people how to vote
• We are not basing our position on operational financial concerns


Whatever the outcome of the vote on 23 June 2016 The Wildlife Trusts will continue to stand up for wildlife and to seek the best possible outcome for wildlife and our natural world as we have done since 1912.