How does the EU help Cornwall’s environment?
EU laws set minimum health and environmental standards in areas such as air quality, waste and resources, water, wildlife and habitats, chemicals and pesticides. Member states can set higher standards if they wish, but not lower ones.
The Bathing Waters Directive, Water Framework Directive and Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive have helped hugely in cleaning up sewage and other pollution from Cornwall’s beaches and inshore waters. Before these measures were implemented, the UK was often called “the dirty man of Europe”. Surfers against Sewage says: “These Directives have been fundamental in the protection of our wild world over the last 25 years and offer us strong and proven route to tackling the pollution and destruction that continues to threaten our environment.”
The EU Habitats Directive and Birds Directive give vital legal protection to natural habitats and bird species. Some Brexit campaigners (including George Eustice MP) have said they see these as irritations that they’d like to get rid of.
Cornwall has 25 designated European Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), from the Isles of Scilly to the Tamar Estuary. These areas enjoy legal protection from damaging development.
The EU has supported many programmes aimed at improving the environment and developing renewables technology in Cornwall, such as Exeter University’s Environment and Sustainability Institute in Penryn.
Cornish renewable energy companies have benefited from major investment from EU funds. One example is the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project in Redruth, which has been helped by £10.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund to help develop an important zero-carbon energy source in Cornwall.
If the UK is forced into trade deals with countries such as the US which have much lower environmental and health standards, it will come under heavy pressure to reduce its own standards in order for farming and other industries to compete on more equal terms. Outside the powerful EU trading bloc, it will be very hard to resist such pressure. Friends of the Earth says this “would spell disaster for our environment”.