photo of Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

Brexit and the environment
Protecting what we have

How will the referendum 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?

When the UK voted to leave the EU we were plunged into huge uncertainty.

Nobody knows how the negotiations will go over the next 2 years, or exactly what the UK could look like outside the EU. But together we can demand an outcome that moves our environment forward not backward.

We need to protect all the good things the EU has given us over the years, and seize the opportunities that leaving the EU could bring.

The first step is to let your MP know you care. Tell them that the vote to leave the EU did not mean a vote to trash our environment. And that we must keep protections for our most precious places and wildlife.

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

Tell your MP to protect EU nature laWS

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 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 its 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.

For 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 — our most vulnerable species rely on them.

EU protections mean these habitats and species are looked after and taken into account in decisions about development - things like roadbuilding, mining and energy projects.

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.