For some strange reason, and the reason is fairly shrouded in mystery, the EU has decided to review the Birds Directive and the Habitats and Species Directive. The Dutch government was, it seems, one of the prime movers behind this and by chance will hold the presidency of the EU when the results of this consultation become public and are considered. [And I note in passing that the UK government will hold the rotating preidency in the second half of 2017 – what a good time to have a referendum on our EU membership!].
When governments call for review of directives their aim is rarely to strengthen them – the fear is that they will be weakened. Do you remember that Gideon Osborne called for a national review of those same directives early in the life of the coalition government (see here) – a review that gave the directives not only a clean bill of health but noted their appropriateness.
My local patch, Stanwick Lakes, where my regular walks put me in step with the changing seasons, are designated under the Birds Directive as part of the Upper Nene Valley Special Protection Area for Birds. This designation has not blighted the area – in fact it has protected it and made the enjoyment of the local environment more secure for we residents of the area, and visitors to it, including thousands of Golden Plover and waterfowl in winter. It’s a good bet that some of your favourite haunts for seeing birds, flowers or butterflies are protected by these directives too (SPA list, SAC list). And when you travel abroad you will find that the places you seek out for their wildlife are also protected by other national governments under the same directives.
You would sometimes get the impression from commentators from industry that the UK is implementing these joint directives with more vigour than other EU countries – nothing could be further from the truth. Have a look at the Natura barometer in the latest Natura 2000 newsletter (which also describes this review process) and see that the UK is far closer to the bottom of the list than the top in terms of percentage of land designated.
And remember that the State of Nature report showed that UK wildlife was in decline – so it would seem bizarre to start weakening the directives that aim to protect it.
Four EU-wide networks of nature organisations, FoE, EEB, Birdlife International (of which the RSPB is the UK partner) and WWF, have got together and produced a one-stop shop for busy ordinary nature-loving EU residents to respond to the consultation. Here in the UK, over 100 organisations, brought together by Wildlife Links in different parts of the UK, are promoting and supporting this public consultation. What they have done is to provide you (and me) with a very easy way to respond to the consultation – click here. The hope is that hundreds of thousands of nature-loving Europeans will fill in this response and show support for nature and for the best bits of the EU legislation that protects nature. So please take the very short bit of time to send a response. If you prefer to do so in Spanish, Lithuanian, French or Romanian then those options are also available.
Chair of the Joint Links’ Habitats and Birds group Kate Jennings, (RSPB), said: “The Habitats and Birds Directives are the foundation of nature conservation across Europe and are scientifically proven to be effective where properly implemented. The Directives deliver demonstrable benefits for nature, as well as significant social and economic benefits.
For over 30 years they have protected some of our best loved and most iconic landscapes from the Scottish Flow County to the sand dunes and marshes of the north Norfolk coast. They are essential to the protection of species large and small, from the Basking Shark and the Harbour Porpoise, to the Dartford Warbler and the Hazel Dormouse.
The strength of support from 100 voluntary organisations across the UK shows how significant the Directives are in safeguarding Europe’s biodiversity. Uncertainty over the future of the Directives resulting from the ‘Fitness Check’ review could be bad for nature, bad for people and bad for business.”
So, please take a few moments to add your name to the response – it may be the best thing you have ever done for nature.