Grey Seals are protected by the Habitats Directive, image - Tom Marshall
The Wildlife Trusts view on the EU referendum has been based principally upon the non-financial benefits of the UK’s membership of the EU for our charitable cause, notably:
• Collaboration for wildlife which knows no boundaries.
• Strong ambitious laws to protect and restore Europe’s natural world.
• Consistent and high environmental standards across Europe
• Long term policy and legislative stability
• A legal safety net and framework.
But there are other benefits alongside these, including funding benefits. So what are the funding issues?
A full analysis of the potential implications for wildlife of a Brexit is available here. This covers the major negative impacts of past EU agricultural production subsidies which led to further intensification of farming to the detriment of wildlife. It also notes that in the 1990s the Common Agricultural Policy was substantially reformed and links to food production were no longer a requirement. Now people who own or manage farmland can claim payments simply for managing the land for the public good. They can also apply for funding through a different part of the Common Agricultural Policy to create and manage wildlife habitats. Amongst other things, these payments enable farmers to leave the margins around their farms unploughed for the benefit of wildlife and traditional forms of grazing have been supported to allow meadows and heathlands to thrive. The Wildlife Trusts give over 5,000 days of wildlife advice to farmers a year and we encourage farmers to enter these “agri-environment” schemes, often helping with form-filling so that the wildlife on their land benefits.
Local Wildlife Trusts also manage their own land - over 90,000 hectares, meaning they can also apply for agricultural payments to invest in wildlife habitat on our land. Payments received from EU via this route make up around 6% of the total income of The Wildlife Trusts movement. This funding goes towards practical land management for the good of the environment and the public. For example, through the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, The Wildlife Trusts in England have used rare native livestock breeds to graze nearly 3,500ha of land and manage over 800km of hedgerows for wildlife. You can read about some of our Conservation Grazing projects here.
There are other EU funding streams as well that we are eligible to apply for.
Nationally we recently secured £1.3m of EU LIFE funding to promote the conservation of Red Squirrels.
Obviously we don’t want these funding streams to disappear. If farmers can’t secure this funding in the future this would dramatically alter our countryside for the worse from a wildlife perspective. If we as The Wildlife Trusts lost these funds it would reduce our ability to achieve our charitable purposes.
Some are saying this presents us with a conflict of interest. Far from it, this illustrates an area where there is an alignment of purpose between our charitable aims and EU policies.
If the UK leaves the EU we could no longer apply for LIFE funding and it is unclear whether the UK government would sustain agri-environment payments to farmers, although the Treasury currently contributes 50% of all farm payments. But it is the risk of losing opportunities for collaboration and the supporting framework of EU environmental legislation that has driven The Wildlife Trusts’ UK Council's conclusion on this topic – you can read more about our position here.
The Charity Commission has issued extra guidance for charity trustees regarding charity involvement in the EU debate, and we are confident that we are acting completely within these guidelines.