photo of Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

Brexit and the environment
Protecting what we have

How will the decision to leave the EU affect nature and the environment?

On 23 June 2016 the UK voted to leave the European Union. We still don’t know what will happen next, but one thing is clear: this was not a vote to cut our environmental protections.

We also know that if we want to tackle the urgent global environmental challenges we face, then we have to work together — regardless of our background, our country of birth, or where we live.

After Brexit: What can I do for the environment?

Last year, following the EU referendum, we asked you whether Friends of the Earth should campaign around Brexit. 76% of you said yes.

We want to ensure that our environment stays protected to the same or better standards than those set by the EU. And we can’t do that without you. But where should we start? What issues should we campaign on? Where will we have the most impact?

There are so many questions to be answered. Can you spend 5 minutes letting us know what you think?

How far we've come with EU membership

UK beaches meet 'excellent' standard of the EU Bathing Water Directive
species are protected under the EU Habitats Directive
premature deaths prevented by EU action on sulphur dioxide

What has Europe done for us?

While far from perfect, EU membership has benefited the UK’s nature and environment. 28 countries joining to tackle shared challenges across the continent has led to healthier air, cleaner beaches and water, and more protection for animals, birds and their habitats.

  • In the 1970s the UK was known as the 'dirty man of Europe'. Pollution from UK coal-fired power stations was causing acid rain. Forests across Europe withered. EU action on air quality put an end to this. As a result, sulphur dioxide emissions dropped by 94% by 2011. This prevented an estimated 46,000 premature deaths between 1990 and 2001.
  • Some of the UK’s best loved nature sites are protected by the EU — places like Cannock Chase, Flamborough Head, Dartmoor and Snowdonia. Before European Nature Directives kicked in, we were losing 15% of our protected sites a year. Now it’s down to 1%.
  • In the 1970s we pumped untreated sewage straight into the sea. But EU laws, and the threat of fines, forced us to clean up our act. Now over 90% of our beaches are considered clean enough to bathe off.

Leaving the EU puts much of this at risk. There are some opportunities, such as improving the way we do farming in the UK. But we must make sure EU protections don’t get weakened.

We need strong environmental laws after Brexit

Friends of the Earth is campaigning for:

  • The UK’s environmental laws to stay as strong as, or stronger than, those in the rest of Europe
  • The UK to be an international leader on climate change
  • Any farming or land subsidies to be based on public good, eg improving biodiversity or better flood protection
  • The UK to keep working with our European and international neighbours on our joint environmental challenges.

Friends of the Earth believes passionately in democracy. We'll continue campaigning for the best environmental outcomes for all people, in the UK and abroad.

EU safeguards for nature

Across the UK hundreds of sites are protected by the EU because of their natural importance. These are sites that contain vital habitats — relied on by our most vulnerable species.

EU protections mean these habitats and species are looked after and must be taken into account in decisions about development - things like roadbuilding, mining and energy projects. These protections also mean that if a decision could damage an important natural area, any one of us can legally challenge that decision. 

Watch Christine’s story about how she stood up for a protected site that she loved.

Greener UK coalition

Friends of the Earth is part of the Greener UK coalition.

Greener UK is a coalition of environmental groups working together to ensure that Brexit is used as an opportunity to strengthen the UK's environment, not damage it.

It consists of RSPB, National Trust, The Wildlife Trusts, WWF, Campaign for Better Transport, CPRE, Client Earth, E3G, Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, WWT and Woodland Trust.

For more information on how we're working together, visit Greener UK.