Why it is in our nature to stay in the EU
The Times, 3rd February 2016
I've been a conservationist for the best part of my life, not only because the protection of nature, of wildlife and landscape is in itself to me a matter of supreme importance, but because it's the essential underpinning of a sustainable and balanced economy.
Ever since 1973, when the UK joined the then European Economic Community (EEC) Britain has played a key role in shaping European environmental policy.
And Europe has in turn brought significant environmental benefits to us.
That is the reason why Environmentalists for Europe (E4E) is being launched today, in the run-up to the European referendum.
E4E has, as its Patron, Bill Oddie, the wildlife and animal welfare campaigner, and, as co-chair with me, Baroness Young, the former chair of English Nature and former chief executive of the Environment Agency.
We are supported today by Laura Sandys, chair of the European Movement UK, as well as by Lord Deben, chairman of the Climate Change Committee, Matthew Spencer of the Green Alliance, the author Michael McCarthy, Baroness Parminter, Caroline Lucas, MP, and Richard Benyon, the former environment minister. I believe we are united in our conviction that Britain's membership of the European Union brings benefits to this country's environment that would be lost if we were to walk away from Europe.
By being "in", Britain benefits from environmental legislation and funding not only for the fight against climate change and pollution and in its efforts to preserve nature and wildlife, but also through the creation of jobs and financing for research and development here at home.
European investment in green projects, for example, has multiple benefits.
In October 2015, the first UK project to be supported by the new European Investment Fund was the Galloper Wind Farm off the Suffolk coast.
Its 56 turbines will be capable of providing enough clean energy for 336,000 homes and is set to create over 700 jobs.
The EU's Eco Innovation programme funds 48 environmental projects in the UK.
Aside from the obvious benefit of cutting emissions and our dependency on fossil fuels, the implementation of individual energy efficiency measures could create up to two million jobs across the EU and a further three million from development of the renewable energy sector.
The EU has one of the most advanced legislative frameworks to protect nature.
The EU's Natura 2000 network is today the largest coherent network of protected areas in the world, aimed at conserving natural habitats and wild fauna and flora, both terrestrial and marine.
In the UK, over 600 terrestrial sites, covering eight million hectares, benefit from the strong protection provided by the Natura 2000 programme.
Under the EU Life+ programme Britain received £42 million for 11 projects to support nature and biodiversity.
The EU has shown leadership on international environmental and climate protection issues, exemplified by the UN Climate Change conference held last year in Paris last year.
This showed that, as part of the EU, the UK can be a driver for meaningful international agreements, and our voice in championing environmental concerns can be amplified on the world stage.
It is not possible in today's world, when influence is dependent on international collaboration, to cut our country off from our nearest neighbours.
Outside the EU we will have far less scope to influence their priorities and share in the benefits of their partnerships, and our environment would be worse off as a result.
Of course, the environment is not the only issue which will influence voters as they try to make up their minds in the historic referendum which confronts us. Nor should it be.
But I personally believe that our country's greatest resource – its nature – will be better protected and better preserved for future generations if we remain an active, full, partner within Europe.