The “single biggest threat to UK and European nature in a generation” is looming as EU laws come under review shortly.
More than 90 voluntary organisations from across Europe, including Friends of the Earth, BirdLife International, and World Wildlife Fund, have come together to fight the threat to key EU laws that protect key wildlife habitats. The European Commission is reviewing the Nature Directives, putting legislation that has saved species from near extinction at risk.
The news comes just as the need to protect our species and habitats becomes crucial: 77% of Europe’s animals are threatened by habitat destruction and, over the last 30 years, Europe's green areas have lost a staggering 420 million European birds. Changes in use to rural land, overfishing and pollution mean that 25% of marine mammals, 38% of freshwater fish and 15% of land mammals all face extinction within the EU.
What do the Nature Directives do?
The Birds and Habitats Directives apply protective measures to one fifth of European land and 4% of marine sites, maintaining habitat diversity, regulating hunting within the areas and protecting migration paths and endangered species. Particular attention is paid to a network of ‘special protection areas’ known as Natura 2000, with officials closely examining the impact proposed projects or developments will have in these areas. When a proposal of overriding public interest needs to take place on the site (often for military or public health reasons) the commission can ask for compensatory measures and suggest ways to reduce environmental impact.
Weakening the legislation, which protects 27,000 sites and 1,000 species across Europe, would have devastating consequences for the animals facing extinction only a few decades ago. The white tailed eagle, which had disappeared from many regions of Europe by the 1970s, now numbers at around 10,000 pairs, while the world’s most endangered feline, the Iberian Lynx, has increased its population from only 100 animals to an estimated 230. Similarly, large carnivores including the brown bear, the wolf and the wolverine, which had almost been completely eradicated from Europe, have almost doubled in numbers in the last decade thanks to the legal protection extended to them in Natura areas.
When properly implemented, these laws work to balance the needs of ecosystems with expansion, and there is little evidence to suggest they block economic development. A cleaner, more sustainable environment is beneficial to civilian's own quality of life, and the safeguards placed around these areas account for less than 1% of administrative costs for local businesses. Farming, hunting and transport is regulated rather than banned, and the tourism and recreational activities related to these directives was estimated to bring an additional €50 to €90 billion to the economy in 2006 (Bio Intelligence Service 2011).
How can I help?
Supporters of the Nature Directives are asking for your support to help strengthen and implement these laws further rather than withdraw them. EU citizens have until the 24th July 2015 to take part in a public consultation on this issue while it examines the effectiveness of the legislation. You can have your say in one easy click as the voluntary organisations have launched a 'Nature Alert' electronic tool (see below).
As Angelo Caserta, Director of BirdLife Europe said: ‘We have the scientific evidence showing that these laws work when implemented, and numerous examples that these laws are no obstacle to any good economic development. So, my question to [the EU] is simple: with all there is to do in Europe, why undo nature laws?’
If you want to help defend European wildlife and habitats, simply opt to support the campaign. You can also make your voice heard by adding your name to the online petition: