What has the EU done for UK nature?

Sam Lowe

07 February 2016

Some of the UK’s best loved sites are protected by the EU, including Cannock Chase, Flamborough Head, Dartmoor and Snowdonia.

According to the RSPB, over 60% of our species have declined over the past 50 years.

These are only the species we know about. We could also be losing species we haven’t yet discovered.

But, believe it or not, it could be worse. EU laws – like the Nature Directives – are helping to protect and re-establish UK nature.

Nature is not something we can afford to lose. Access to nature is good for both our health and wellbeing.

What is the EU doing to help protect nature?

The Nature Directives protect valuable sites across the EU. These sites are home to Europe’s most threated species and habitats.

Some of the UK’s best loved sites are protected in this way, including Cannock Chase, Flamborough Head, Dartmoor and Snowdonia.

Flamborough Head puffins

Before the Directives, we were losing 15% of our protected sites a year. Now it’s down to 1%.

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What more needs to be done?

Nature still needs better protection from the impacts of intensive farming – such as pesticides and over-grazing.

We need corridors of nature to better connect protected nature sites, especially as climate change is already meaning that some species need to move in response to rising temperatures.

Glencoe National Park Scotland

We also need to bring back the bees, birds and butterflies to our farmland.

The EU is reviewing the Nature Directives. Friends of the Earth is campaigning to ensure that the nature laws are kept in place, strengthened and better enforced across the EU.

Thanks to public pressure, Environment Minister Rory Stewart said the UK doesn’t want to weaken the Nature Directives – calling for them to be better enforced.

Lake District

Would leaving the EU hinder or help nature?

Nature doesn’t recognise national borders. It runs through, over and in some cases under them.

It’s impossible to get our plant and animal species thriving without working with other countries in the European Union.

If we exited the EU, many of our much-loved nature sites would no longer be protected by the Nature Directives. We’d be left with notably weaker national protections.

It’s possible that a post-Brexit government would prioritise the protection and restoration of nature.

However, this appears unlikely.

Flamborough Head

The UK has a poor track record of putting nature first. Many of our protected sites remain in poor condition and some are under severe threat from activities such as illegal sand dredging.

The farming minister and prominent leave campaigner, George Eustice, told The Guardian that "the birds and habitats directives would go" if we vote to leave the EU, describing them as "spirit crushing".

Instead of being a barrier to progress, the EU Nature Directives simply need to be implemented properly – according to a major report.

Acting on this could result in improvements for nature in the UK and EU as whole.

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In the financial year 2014-2015, 90% of our income was from individual donations. Less than 1% of our funding was from the EU.

Promoted by Anne Schiffer on behalf of Friends of the Earth Trust, registered charity no. 281681, company no. 1533942, of The Printworks, 1st Floor, 139 Clapham Road, SW9 0HP

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