Nature alert

Flag_of_Europe.svgNow is the time to show that you are a European.

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.







11 Replies to “Nature alert”

  1. European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker has these Directives in his sights and has asked the Commissioner for the Environment, Karmenu Vella, to overhaul and modernise them. There is little doubt that ‘modernise’ is a euphemism for weakening the directives and making them more pliant to the wishes of big business. This is an awful direction in which to be pushing European environmental policy and it is essential that as many citizens as possible, across the whole EU, should use the opportunity provided by the consultation to express strong support for both directives and push for stronger, more effective implementation of them.
    It is true that the two directives give rise to some economic benefits but that should not, in any case be a requirement of them. We would not countenance the bulldozing of the Louvre, the Parthenon or Salisbury Cathedral even if it was financially expedite to do so and nor should we countenance the destruction – direct or through neglect – of the places that are important to wildlife and every bit as uplifting and inspiring to the human spirit as those monuments.

  2. Mark et al.,

    It is of course, not just sites but species too that are protected. And jobs! I am not sure how many individuals’ livelihoods are intrinsically linked to the EU Directives but it must be in the thousands. I say must be, because the membership of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management ( is in excess of 5,000 and many will work with bats, great crested newts and the nuances of the EU Directives within the planning system. Not a year (or quarter) goes by without some case-law orientated around some detail of these Directives being tested in a court of law…and wildlife coming on the right side…much to the annoyance no doubt of the developer. But often, the developer has not undertaken the advice of the ecologist in the lead up to submission…and then of course rues the day. But I would say this, wouldn’t I?

    More recently, the UK courts have taken a more lenient view of the EU Directives…I can’t go in to details here at the moment but it seems odd that in a series of case-law over a period of years, the requirements have got more stringent & then gradually slackened to the point that we might be, with the strictest interpretation, back to where we were at the beginning! Is there political influence I wonder?

    The EU Directives are also important for those that are employed in the tourism industry too of course. There must be millions of pounds spent in places such as the Yorkshire Dales (where I am typing this in the foothills of the Craven Limestone Complex SAC, in Malham ( How vulnerable will this protected area (though not that well protected – it is literally being eaten by sheep) be if we weakened the Directives?

    The Directives are therefore, far more important than just wildlife. It will touch on so many more people, including the families who work within them. Weakening them will have a negative cultural, social, economic and natural heritage effect in my view.


  3. Time to look at this from the European strategy for sustainable development angle too. To quote the European Union “to be be sustainable, growth must be decoupled from negative environmental impacts and be based on sustainable consumption and production patterns. This means that short term economic gains at the expense of the environment should be replaced by a more sustainable model of economic and social development, which may constitute the basis for greater efficiency and competitiveness, both at a Union level and internationally”.

  4. FoE have also circulated the same to their network so with luck it will be a case of critical mass if enough membership NGOs adopt a scatter gun approach? Hopefully the software will be able to sort duplicate offers otherwise we might be open to criticism.

    I recall many years ago my MP telling me ‘petitions’ were not taken as much notice of as letters which took more effort.

    So, perhaps in parallel a swathe of letters and personalised / bespoke emails to Ministers, MPs as well as EU?

  5. Done it Mark. One of my earlier jobs was classifying SPA’s in England. Mid -Essex Coast estuaries for example and Severn Estuary. Would like to think they will be properly protected for generations to come.

  6. I am shocked by the mild positions that I see, regarding this move. I think that this is the most ugly and perilous situation in Europe after World War II and it can lead to thousands of irreversable mutilations of the face of the continent, especially in Estern Europe, where huge natural treasures are still surviving. If the Natura 2000 sites are disappearing, the Carpathians will be devastated ten folds faster. I think that this Junker has proven to be, beyond doubt, a very corrupt person, wich represents the interests of despicable companies, not the interests of Europeans, and wee desperately need to organize huge protests and ask for his resignation. And this is not only about nature. If he represents wrong interests in this field, it’s obvious that he might represent such interests in other fields too. But is seems that Europeans have become numb and this might be the end of our democracies.

  7. Mark, this is a slight aside, but relevant, and I’m posting it here because I didn’t see your post-election blog until today and as that is a few days old I don’t know if anything I post there will get seen. I refer to your comment:

    Good things about the general election result:

    – the British people won’t vote to leave the EU.


    I am sure you have reason to believe that, but all I ask is please, please don’t be complacent about it. We need you, and others like you who are widely listened to, to make your voice heard when the campaigning starts – probably sooner rather than later. Please don’t just assume it won’t happen, because that’s how we end up with the results we don’t want.

  8. Mark, % of land designated is not the same as “strength” of implementation – whatever that means – although I know what you mean :0) I think there are problems with the implementation of the birds directive – largely by scale at the sector and site level – instead of at larger scales. And related to that I remain concerned of some abuse of the alerts system – only some. The focus on trends and % with low numbers is statistically unsound – but a feature of the fine sector and site based approach. All that said – I have no expectation that any other nation within Europe has anything better or more appropriate – maybe Holland or some scandic nations. Of course the US model makes more sense and with some species it is clearly more successful – but I have not seen any quantitative assessment of whether it is better at conserving birds.

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