photo of Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

Brexit and the environment
Protecting what we have

How will leaving the EU affect nature and the environment?

80% of our environmental laws come from the European Union (EU). These laws may be lost, weakened, or harder to enforce if we're outside the EU.

Therefore, Brexit could pose a serious threat to our natural environment and our health.

We need to make sure the government transfers these laws – and enforces them properly.

Find out more about how Brexit will impact our environment.

Why is Friends of the Earth campaigning around Brexit?

Brexit could have a wide-ranging impact on a number of environmental issues: fracking, air pollution, bees, food and more.  

Brexit wasn't a vote to cut our environmental protections. In fact, 83% of the British public think we should keep these protections.

We're campaigning around Brexit to make sure our environmental laws don't fall through the gaps.

Green Brexit?

Friends of the Earth commissioned an independent academic report to identify the environmental risks for the UK after Brexit.

UK Environmental Policy Post-Brexit: A Risk Analysis confirms that environmental laws could be weakened. Birds and wildlife habitats are at risk in a range of post-Brexit scenarios.

The report shows the government's 25-year environment plan is short on detail – and weaker than EU laws in some areas. Plus, without an independent watchdog, it can't hold the government to account.

How far we've come with EU membership

377
UK beaches meet 'excellent' standard of the EU Bathing Water Directive
1,000+
species are protected under the EU Habitats Directive
46,000
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, for example 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.

After Brexit: What can I do for the environment?

Our environmental protections are at risk of falling through the gaps after Brexit. The government's 25-year environment plan is weaker than EU standards in some areas.

So what can you do? Read and share Professor Charlotte Burns' report. Write to your MP. Sign the petition to reduce pesticides after Brexit.

The version of Brexit being proposed is putting our environment at risk. We need to act now.

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.