A vast majority of British scientists want to remain in the European Union, with only 12% backing Brexit, according to a poll conducted by the UK's leading research journal.

Of the 907 active UK scientists contacted by Nature, 83% backed staying in the EU, 12% wanted to leave, and 5% were "unsure".

When the poll only included the 666 researchers who said they definitely planned to take part in the June 23 referendum, 80% vowed to vote "in" and 14% "out".

British scientists were more in favour of the UK being part of the EU than their continental colleagues.

The journal also surveyed 954 European scientists outside the UK, of whom 77% said the UK should remain part of the Union while 14% supported separation.

Most British researchers (78%) who knew how they would vote thought UK science would be harmed by Brexit and 9% believed it would benefit.

Nature solicited the responses via e-mail, social media, and a pop-up on its website.

Pro-European scientists point out that UK universities receive around 16% of their total research funding directly from the EU. Membership also allows scientists to move freely between member states and work with no restrictions, they claim.

Those in the Brexit camp, such as cancer scientist and 2015 general election Ukip candidate Professor Angus Dalgleish, are unhappy about EU regulation of science.

Mike Galsworthy, co-founder of the advocacy group Scientists For EU, says science is becoming an increasingly more important referendum talking point.

He told Nature: "Research and innovation are actually coming more into the debate.

"It's going to get more heated around that issue."

On March 10 The Times newspaper published a letter signed by more than 150 Cambridge University scientists, all Royal Society fellows, extolling the benefits to science of EU membership.