Saturday, 9 July 2016

Brexit and the UK Environment

One of the arguments for voting Leave in the EU referendum was that EU bureaucrats exerted too much control on the UK, forcing member states to accept too many regulation that maybe they would better without.  Too much red tape.  Too many stupid rules.  In some cases, yes, this may have been true but when it comes to the environment the EU has been instrumental in getting some pretty good cross-European policies adopted.  Let me give you a few examples

What has the EU ever done for the UK Environment?


Natural species do not understand man-made boundaries and therefore having environmental policies that stretch across Europe has helped to protect vulnerable species.  High environmental standards and a legal framework across Europe together with EU funding has protected many species in the UK; the bittern is a good example.  This large but secretive bird was on the brink of extinction in the UK due to loss of its habitat - reed beds.  Funding from the EU via the EU Birds and Habitats Directives enabled reed beds to be re-established and now the bittern population is rising.  And not only has the bittern benefited - other reed bed species are now thriving and this in itself encourages green tourism that helps the local economy.

Bittern - Image from Flickr


In the 1970's Britain could not boast many really clean beaches and in fact in 1976 there were only 27 beaches with water classified clean enough to bathe in.  Pressure over the following years from the EU meant that by 2011, 597 beaches were designed as bathing beaches and raw sewage is no longer routinely pumped into the sea as was the case in the 70's.  Almost all UK beaches now meet meet EU quality standards.

EU Funding via the LIFE programme

In 1992 the European Commission launched the LIFE programme and since then has co-financed 4306 environmental and wildlife projects across the Union.  Between 2014 and 2020 €3.4 billion has been allocated for protection of the environment and climate.  In the UK  235 projects have been co-financed with 162 focusing on environmental innovation, 66 on nature conservation and biodiversity and seven on information and communication. These projects totalled €967 million and €241.5 million was funded by the European Union.


One example of LIFE funding has been the MoorLIFE 2020 project which has recently received €12 million funding from the EU to preserve 2,500 hectares of blanket bog in the Peak District and South Pennines.  These bogs contain large amounts of peat that was laid down thousands of years ago and if destroyed would add to atmospheric CO2 levels.  The money will also create new habitats for wildlife.

Car Emissions

Under the Euro 6 EU legislation all cars across the EU now have lower levels of harmful exhaust emissions which improve air quality and fuel efficiency. 

Funding for Renewable Energy Projects

The European Investment Bank lends billion of euros to help combat climate change.  The UK has received the most funding of any EU country in the form of Green Bonds that have been used to develop renewable energy projects.

As with so much surrounding the EU referendum result to leave the EU, the future of the environment in the UK is not clear.  It is possible some funding may still be available but certainly not to the levels previously seen.  Then there is business - it is fair to say that many environmental initiatives do cost businesses more money and in many cases they would prefer not to implement them.  At the moment, with the UK as an EU member, businesses can be forced to comply but once out of the EU who is going to ensure standards are maintained?   Will the beaches continue to remain clean, will habitats be preserved/created and will there still be enough funding for renewable energy projects?  And what about when the Government of the day is looking to save money?  You can bet your last bittern that the environmental funding will always be one of the first areas to be cut.

What are your views on the future of our environment as we move sever our links with the EU?  I certainly feel we will see it harder to maintain environmental standards in the UK over the coming years.  Do you agree or do you think we see little change and other advantages will outweigh any losses? 


  1. Excellent article, I feel very uncertain about what will happen to the UK environment now we've voted to leave the EU.

  2. It's telling that Boris's dad (who helped push through the Habitats Directive) is saying that Brexit is bad for the UK environment - I do fear for it too