Whooper swans arriving at Loch Leven, Scotland

Brexit news: beaches and wildlife at risk from no-deal

Whether you voted to leave or remain, you probably don’t want to see our standards drop when it comes to health and nature. That’s why we’re calling for a no-deal to be taken off the table.

Our report ‘No-deal Brexit: environmental impact’ explains why a no-deal is no good for the environment.

Here we look at specific examples of how a no-deal scenario would affect people, wildlife and habitats across the UK.

What is at risk under a no-deal Brexit?

Creative illustration of Eastbourne beach pier

Beaches like Eastbourne

Under a no-deal Brexit, many of our beaches could return to their previous sewage-filled state.

EU rules forced the UK to clean up beaches like Durham, Devon and Eastbourne. And now over 96%  of our beaches are safe to swim in.

But sewage is spilling out at our beaches when the system is overloaded. Heavier downpours because of climate change will make this worse. No-deal means no enforceable rules to protect our bathing waters.

Creative illustration of Eastbourne beach pier

Andy Durling, Eastbourne & District Friends of the Earth:

"We spend a lot of our time volunteering to clear up plastic pollution from our local beaches.

We are horrified by the threat of a no-deal Brexit. All our efforts are greatly aided by the EU's environmental protection laws.

Without such protection, the local nature we love would be at great risk and much of our work could be undone."

A creative graphic of a generic UK city scape

Air quality in cities like Birmingham

EU action on air pollution has stopped tens of thousands of early deaths in the UK.

Air pollution is still dangerously high in cities like London, Birmingham and Manchester. But ministers haven't got away with it. Because of the EU, campaigners have been able to take the government to court.

A no-deal Brexit would allow the government to set weaker air pollution targets and wipes out the fines for breaking them.

A creative graphic of a generic UK city scape

Jemima Hartshorn, founder of Mums for Lungs:

"The government has been slow in reacting to the public health crisis of illegally polluted air.

But without a deal, it will no longer be possible to sue the government over breaking EU limits on air pollution.

We won’t be able to get any new or tougher targets unless the government decides it wants to write its own.

Is this going to be a priority in the chaos of a no-deal Brexit?"

Creative graphic of a conservation area that appears to be a lough

Nature sites like Lough Beg

A no-deal Brexit leaves hundreds of wildlife jewels around the UK at risk, including conservation areas like Morecambe Bay, Northumberland Coast and Lough Beg.

When the UK government breaks laws that protect nature, the EU is the last line of defence.

Ongoing EU investigations against the government are likely to become meaningless without a withdrawal deal. And crashing out of Europe, means no handover period – so there won't be anyone enforcing the rules until the government gets round to setting up its own watchdog.

Creative graphic of a conservation area that appears to be a lough

Chris Murphy, a leading expert on Northern Ireland's wetland birds, on his fears for Lough Beg:

"A no-deal Brexit means this freshwater wetland together with Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Great Britain and Ireland, will lose all its protection at European level.

This means we have less chance of preventing the desecration of Ireland’s most important whooper swan site, caused by re-routing a road right through it.

Our complaint against the Northern Ireland and UK governments for failing to protect Lough Neagh and Lough Beg is being investigated by lawyers in Brussels.

A no-deal Brexit means no access to the European Court of Justice which has the power to make good any bad decisions such as the road through Lough Beg’s wetlands."

Examples of wildlife at risk under a no-deal Brexit

Creative graphic of a red kite

Red kite

Before the Nature Directives – EU laws that protect wildlife and habitats – red kites were a rare find in the UK.

But now the birds are thriving. Thanks to those laws, a series of reintroduction projects and some EU funding, there are almost 4,000 red kites spread across the UK.

Without anyone to properly enforce the rules, which will happen in a no-deal Brexit, species like the red kite could suffer.

Creative graphic of a red kite
A creative graphic of a stag beetle on a leaf

Stag beetle

Stag beetles are extremely rare, if not extinct, outside of the South East.

Thanks to EU law, Wimbledon Common is a Special Area of Conservation, which provides a protected habitat for stag beetles.

But under a no-deal Brexit there would be nobody enforcing the rules to defend habitats like these. And there would be no agreement to prevent the government from getting rid of or watering down protections.

A creative graphic of a stag beetle on a leaf
Creative graphic of a red deer

Red deer

Red deer have thrived on Cannock Chase – a Special Area of Conservation in the midlands.

Together with herons, skylarks and otters, the deer have benefited from the protection of EU laws.

Exiting without a deal leaves the future of important habitats like these in the dark.

Creative graphic of a red deer
Creative graphic of a cormorant


Birds like the cormorant and black-tailed godwit have thrived in protected habitats surrounding Cambridge.

The Ouse Washes in East Anglia has kept these species safe from polluters. It's one of 271 Special Protection Areas for birds.

Areas like these wouldn't be secure following a no-deal Brexit. EU laws that protect them, like the Habitats Directives and the Birds Directives, will still work in the UK, but the agencies that enforce them have already seen massive cuts and will have a lot more work to do.

Creative graphic of a cormorant

Why is Friends of the Earth campaigning on Brexit?

How does Brexit affect nature?