The Wildlife Trusts were, as I recall, the first wildlife NGO to support the option of the UK remaining in the EU and that was back in March. And their statement was admirably clear:
‘The Wildlife Trusts believe that our wildlife and habitats will be better off if they continue to benefit from EU environmental legislation and a cross-Europe framework for nature conservation. We have formed this view because of the positive impact they currently bring to the UK’s wildlife and the uncertainty of the alternatives. We also believe that wildlife across Europe benefits from having laws which the UK’s strong nature conservation community has been involved in designing. 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.’
It’s well worth reading the supporting documentation that lies behind that view.
Today, two months later and nicely timed to influence the last few weeks of the debate, WWF and the RSPB choose the same option in a joint article in the Daily Telegraph Leaving the EU would put our environment at risk.
In the current edition of Birdwatch both the editor, Dominic Mitchell, and myself, in my column The Political Birder, opt for Remain too.
Environmentalists, almost to a man and a woman, opt for the Remain option. This is partly because of the undoubted good that the EU has done for the environment over the years. Although quite honestly this is not the best reason for choosing the Remain option if you are a UK environmentalist because, just as with investment funds and racehorses, past success is no guarantee of future success. It is difficult to be sure that the future EU environmental record will be anything like as good as its past record – and honestly, I believe the best days of EU environmental legislation are a long way in the past.
In fact there is a perverse and altruistic view of the environment that would lead one to vote for Brexit – and that is that Brexit would remove the awful influence of the UK government from EU policy and the rest of Europe could make faster and greater environmental progress without us! I’ve been struck having travelled a lot more often than usual this spring, how badly the UK government is thought of by my fellow conservationists in Europe and further afield. I agree with them! It is difficult to imagine Rory Stewart, Liz Truss, George Osborne or David Cameron being seen as environmental leaders abroad when we see their dire and abject performance at home.
A better, and largely unspoken reason why environmentalists, real ones, want to Remain is that they look at the policies and politics and personalities of the pro-Brexit politicians and a chill goes through them. All that talk about red-tape and bureaucracy from the Brexiteers is really a call for the stripping away of environmental and social protection by a bunch of radical free-marketeers. And because there is no market in environmental goods – the song of a skylark, the carbon in a peat bog, the smell of wild flowers – the market ignores them. And that’s why we have stuffed our environment over the last couple of hundred years – partly through ignorance of what we were doing, partly because of a right-minded desire to improve fairness in society but very largely because we have fallen in love with markets that count money and don’t count much else.
Imagine a post-Brexit England (because Scotland will soon be off – and I wouldn’t blame them) governed by Boris Island Johnson, with George ‘Endless…environmental goals‘ Osborne (for he will surely survive any result), Nigel ‘Anti Climate Change Act‘ Farage, Michael Gove and Ian Duncan-Smith! What chance the environment under such a bunch? And that is what strikes fear into we environmentalists. It is partly because the EU is good for the environment, but largely because the Brexiteers look like the multiple horsemen of the Environmental Apocalypse that the environmental movement favours Remain (but they can’t say that – but I can).