By Dr Tony Whitbread
There are many aspects to think about when coming to a decision about whether to vote “remain” or “leave” in tomorrow’s referendum. The environment is just one of them. So as a last exercise we decided to do a couple of straw polls on how important the environment is to some people when deciding on their vote tomorrow.
I certainly do not claim that this is representative; it is only the views of a small number of people who are likely to be strongly skewed towards an interest in wildlife. We asked our staff and we asked our twitter followers.
Of our staff responses, all but one, with no abstentions (that’s 97%), feel that from a wildlife perspective they would prefer us to stay in the EU.
When asking our twitter followers how important the environment was in determining how they will vote (we didn’t ask which way they would vote, however), 75% said the environment was “very important”.
These unrepresentative snapshots are consistent with the great weight of evidence about the importance of the EU to nature conservation, whether from our own experience, independent reports, professional bodies or government committees. The environment is important and its care is more likely if we remain in the EU.
I feel we have been very fair in giving ample opportunity for both sides to present their environmental vision to us. We asked a similar question of both sides. The “remain” side provided the most convincing responses. If our polls are any guide, then there are at least some people who feel that the environment is important and to conserve it we should remain in the EU.
The nature of the wider discussion over the past months, however, does leave me with a question: If the point about this vote is to decide on the future of Britain, how is it that what makes Britain –its environment– has barely been discussed? The media have largely avoided the issue. The “leave” campaign has failed to present any vision. ‘Vote Leave’ offered criticisms of EU environment policy; as an example, their chief executive aimed ridicule at an EU-funded wildlife project which will, for a relatively small investment, improve our breeding population of little terns. While the “remain” campaign has shown the benefits of staying in the EU to the environment, it still feels like a side-show.
In fact the environment underpins everything. Think about the reality: we can have an environment without an economy; but we can’t have an economy without an environment. Come Friday June 24th, whatever the electorate decide on our relationship with the EU, there is still a huge challenge to our Government on the rather important task (as articulated in the Natural Environment White Paper) of “restoring our environment within a generation”.