14/06/2016 09:34 BST | Updated 15/06/2017 06:12 BST

What Does the European Union Mean for Our Environment?


You'll no doubt be aware that the U.K referendum on remaining in the European Union is near, June 23rd to be precise. While there's a lot of propaganda floating around for reasons to leave and stay, we're looking simply at facts about what would happen to our environment either way.

Information, research and context for this article it should be stressed has come from a number of sources, some openly lobbying to remain, some not. The point here is definitely not to sway anyone, just to set out a sort of timeline both past and future as to what it means for the U.K to be both in and out of the EU.


flickr | Bobby Hidy

One of the most notable areas of environment influence the EU has is on European fisheries. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) sets out quotas for how much of each fish each state can catch, in an effort to ensure that fish are caught at limits that make them sustainable. This has brought with it a major loophole however, that in turn causes a lot of issues with the public.

As a result, fishing boats have little choice but to dump back in the ocean any fish that exceed their quota for the catch. This can often be tons and tons of perfectly good fish. Along the sequence this means that the fish cannot breed and contribute to the replenishing numbers, causing the species to be put under huge pressure.


flickr | Marine Stewardship Council

This issue is being caught between and rock and a hard place, as the EU prevents you catching too much, but not having that regulation might mean over fishing and depletion of an entire species. With the EU policy, businesses and whole communities that rely on the fishing industry are given a glass ceiling for their economy. Without it it's pretty obvious that we'd over fish our seas completely anyway. See what we mean about the rock and hard place?

Our membership of the EU has been influencing our environment since day one of us being a part of it back in the 1973. Back then, the UK was lovingly known as the 'dirty man of Europe' thanks to policies in the country that had led to the highest rate of sulphur dioxide emission on the continent with seas that were little better than open sewers thanks to a mentality of 'dilute and disperse'. The seas were so full of filth and muck that people wouldn't dare to roll up their trouser legs for a paddle.

Joining the EU however meant that these issues were slowly but surely reversed. The environmental pioneers of Europe were Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Denmark, who between them began to drive up environmental standards for the whole EU. The continent's impact on UK environment meant that emissions have been capped, sewage systems have been more efficiently managed and more hygienically dealt with and the waste and nitrates have been lessened.

Leaving the EU wouldn't necessarily undo all of these things in a heartbeat, but certainly they're not worth dismissing as EU dominance over the UK. Who's going to dispute that cleaner water and cleaner air is a good thing?

The knock on from this EU driven clean-up of our oceans has been a dramatic flourishing in sea life. Waters flooded with toxins and waste quite obviously cause wildlife issues, but limiting that gives them breathing space and allows steady growth that isn't stifled by poor conditions.

The European habitats directive is another aspect of our membership that has shaped the UK countryside. It's an old and long servicing piece of the EU's structure, that protects (you guessed it) hundreds of different European habitats. Under its guidelines, each country must take steps to ensure to continued prosperity of its habitats, through national parks, volunteering and pretty much any other means necessary to preserve them.


flickr | Peter G W Jones

Leaving the EU would allow the UK to work towards its own conservation efforts that are specific to their needs, rather than overhauled ideas that may not be fit for purpose in each individual case. Each struggling habitat is its own case with its own problems, meaning it needs its own special treatment, something that is somewhat difficult to give as part of a broader scheme for protecting habitats.

However, having that legislation in place does put the initial pressure on the UK to at least do something. If you take that away, would enough initiative be taken to act on the issues such as rising sea levels, expansion of farm land or over fishing?

Again, there's no intention here to make the reader lean one way or another on the referendum, but simply to present some instances on where the EU and UK have collaborated on matters of the environment. It's about considering instances, not persuading voters. We'll leave that for the politicians.

By Guy Bezant - Online Journalism Intern

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