BRITAIN’S membership in the EU has been a ‘crucial’ factor in shaping UK environmental policy according to a new report.

Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow, who is a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, helped produce the report by the cross-party group.

It concluded that EU and UK policy on things such as air and water pollution and biodiversity is inextricably linked – and that EU environmental policy progress has been a two-way street.

On one hand, EU membership allows the UK to pursue its environmental objectives internationally, and influence the strategic, long-term direction of policy.

On the other hand, membership has ensured that environmental action in the UK has been taken on a faster timetable and more thoroughly than would otherwise have been the case.

Mrs Pow said: “Over the course of the inquiry it became clear that being a member of the EU has helped to strengthen and shape UK policy in this area.

“As a wildlife champion and a vice-president of the Somerset Wildlife Trust I could not ignore the evidence given by bodies such as the RSPB who have nothing but praise for the Nature Directives and explained that they provide more comprehensive protection than is afforded by national legislation alone.

“Our birds, wildlife and water do not respect borders so any threats to these must be tackled with our European neighbours.”

The inquiry heard concerns that a UK outside the EU would still have to follow some EU environmental legislation, but with significantly less ability to influence how it is developed. Ministers told the committee that a vote to leave would result in a ‘long and tortuous negotiation’.

The vast majority of witnesses said that there were benefits to solving some of our environmental problems multilaterally, and that EU membership has ensured that the UK environment has been better protected.

Committee chairman Mary Creagh MP said: “The UK has cleaned up its act since we were dubbed the ‘dirty man of Europe’ in the 70s. EU environmental laws have played a key part, and mean we bathe on cleaner beaches, drive more fuel-efficient cars and can hold government to account on air pollution.”