1. ITV Report

Will Brexit harm our Westcountry beaches?

Fistral beach in Newquay attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Credit: ITV News Westcountry

Scientists and Environmentalists have told ITV News Westcountry that they have received no concrete assurance from the UK Government that EU laws protecting the coastline will be replicated into British law after Brexit.

The UK was once known as "the dirty man of Europe", when it originally applied for EU membership back in 1973, in the days when raw sewage was pumped directly into the ocean.

The EU Bathing Water Directive was introduced in 1976, and in the decades that followed, the UK slowly began to adhere to its recommendations.

In 1987 just two beaches in the South West were considered to have Blue Flag status for cleanliness, but that number has now grown in 26.

Dawlish Warren in Devon is one of 26 'Blue Flag' beaches in the South West. Credit: ITV News Westcountry

A recent YouGov survey also suggested more than 80% of people want the current EU standards on Environmental law to stay in place after Brexit.

The Government has hinted that many variations of current EU laws will be enshrined into UK law after March 2019.

However, many environmental groups are concerned that laws protecting British wildlife may be watered down in order to facilitate trade deals or appease certain industries after Brexit.

Sion Williams, the Friends of the Earth campaigner for the South West and Wales, says the EU has had a big role to play in the improvement of our beaches:

Plymouth Marine Laboratory is a world-leading research body that monitors the health of the coast and our oceans.

Researchers there say being a member of the EU has benefitted the health of our beaches and sea-water. Due to the protective laws in place, and also efforts made to share information and make improvements among member nations.

Professor Melanie Austen from the Marine Laboratory is worried that our standards may go un-checked after Brexit:

A potential drop in beach cleanliness could also have a major impact on tourism according to one local Member of the European Parliament.

Molly Scott-Cato, the Green Party MEP for the South West fears that if our standards fall below EU member nations, tourists will be put off from visiting.

She said:

"The EU will keep a close eye on our beaches and if they find they have fallen beneath standard and they might threaten public health, then they could instruct or recommend to European tourism companies that they don't send groups or parties here anymore."

– Molly Scott Cato, MEP for South West England (Green)
There are concerns that a drop in beach and bathing water cleanliness could have a big impact on tourism in the South West. Credit: ITV News Westcountry

Those who monitor our coasts do want re-assurances sooner rather than later, that the UK will continue to maintain high environmental standards post-Brexit.

Britain in theory could follow the example of Norway, a non-EU member, but a European nation that sets high environmental standards.

The Environment Agency is still responsible for monitoring the state of bathing water, in a statement a spokesperson said:

“Huge improvements in water quality have been made over the last few decades. Our beaches and rivers have better water quality than any time since before the Industrial Revolution.

The Environment Agency is responsible for creating a better place for people and wildlife ­­– that work remains as important as ever.

There will be no immediate change to what we do and how we do it – we will continue to protect people and enhance the environment.

We will also continue our work carried out under existing European Union (EU) laws and policies, which still apply."

– Environment Agency Spokesperson

Meanwhile the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said:

“Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.

The decision to leave the European Union creates new opportunities for a Green Brexit in both environmental and farming policies. "The Repeal Bill will ensure that existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law after exit."

– DEFRA Spokesperson

Watch Nick Smith's report in full here: