The European Commission have launched a public consultation as part of the REFIT analysis of the Habitats and Birds Directives.
As I said in my previous blog, the Commission is doing an assessment of the nature directives and is currently in an evidence gathering phase. An initial questionnaire was sent to all 28 Member States and then more in depth investigations are being carried out in 10 countries of which the UK is one.
Throughout this process the UK NGO community has worked together to defend the Directives culminating in 100 UK NGOs signing up to a joint response to the Commission. This level of response is unprecedented within nature conservation and recognises the very real concern we have about the possible outcomes.
But this is not just a simple evidence check of the directives – we’ve already done that in England and shown both their value and their lack of threat to growth or development. The process is being driven by a political agenda that sees the environment as a barrier to growth. The Commission will produce a report, with recommendations, which will then go to Ministers for a decision – at which point it becomes a political decision and anything can happen!
This is why it is so important that we get as many people as possible to take part in the public questionnaire; for politicians, numbers matter.
There was a suggestion from the Commission early in the process that they did not expect a large response from the UK. Their belief was that few people knew about the directives, and maybe that is true. However, we have a long and proud history of nature conservation legislation and for many the pivotal piece of work was the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act (WC&A) that produced lists of protected species and strengthened our protected area network.
There have been several pieces of legislation since then but none seem to have reached the same level of awareness as the W&CA. We may know that if we find a roost of noctule bats in the wood they are protected, but we may not be sure which piece of legislation is providing that protection.
Good for woods and wildlife
The Habitats Directive is actually very good for both woodland and woodland species. Wye Valley Woods, the New Forest, and Trossach Woods are all designated as Special Areas of Conservation, which means more protection against inappropriate development and the opportunity to apply for funding for management. Bats, dormice and pine martens, amongst others, are offered protection.
The problems with the Directives, where they occur, tend to be down to disagreement about interpretation of the rules or lack of full implementation. Are they perfect? No, but they are good and could be much better if they were fully implemented.
Loss of the Directives threatens nature, people and business
Most people in the UK and Europe want nature to be protected and improved; we believe that the uncertainty about the future of the Directives caused by the ‘Fitness Check’ could be:
- Bad for nature – threatening to weaken vital protection for species and habitats when what is needed is proper implementation of the laws
- Bad for people – jeopardising the protection of biodiversity also jeopardises the wider health, well-being and ‘ecosystem services’ benefits that nature provides
- Bad for business – threatening the stable regulatory framework for sustainable development that the Directives provide, leading to business uncertainty and investor risk