Consultation finds support for strengthening EU nature laws

13th November 2015

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Nicola Anderson

Over 88% of respondents to an EU-wide consultation on the fitness of the birds and habitats directives support strengthening the rules.

A draft report on the responses shows that most Europeans think that neither their national governments (70%) nor the EU (56%) are doing enough to protect the environment. The majority of respondents (89%) believe that areas where nature is protected should be expanded, and 88% support strengthening existing nature and biodiversity conservation rules.

The public response to the online consultation was unprecedented, the report says, with more than 520,000 people stating that the directives were important for protecting nature.

Over half of respondents from the construction, extractive and transport industries said that the directives were important for safeguarding Europe's biodiversity (54%).

The European commission is reviewing the birds and habitats directives to investigate whether the legislation and its implementation are proportionate and delivering as intended.

The commission's consultation evaluated the directives against five criteria: effectiveness, efficiency, relevance, coherence and EU-added value. Respondents believe that considerable progress has been made in the implementation of the directives' measures and that they have made a significant contribution towards the EU's biodiversity goals.

The report estimates the direct costs of designating, protecting and managing Natura 2000 sites at around €5.8 billion a year across the EU. There are also indirect costs associated with loss of development opportunity and the administration needed to comply with the directives.

Businesses and environmental groups differed in their responses on whether there are substantial unnecessary burdens, according to the report. But they shared the view that burdens are often caused by inefficient implementation at national, regional and local level, it notes.

Conversely, the directives delivered financial benefits including enhancing ecosystem services worth €2-3 billion a year, and €50-85 billion a year through tourism, the analysis found.

The draft report highlighted studies that have found that the benefits of the site and species protection ensured by the directives greatly exceed the costs of implementation. However, some business respondents gave examples of where they believed the costs had been disproportionate compared to the benefits, it says.

The directives have also led to innovation in conservation that would not have occurred without them, according to the report. For example, the establishment of Natura 2000 as a coherent network based on scientific information has led to a substantial increase in the extent and coherence of land and marine protected areas, it states.

Andreas Baumüller, head of EU natural resources at WWF Europe, said: "We are glad that this in-depth assessment has finally proved by evidence that EU nature laws are the most effective tool in place to preserve our natural capital and that no time needs to be wasted in changing them. Better implementation is what we need."

The draft report was prepared by a consortium led by Milieu, with the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEЕР), ICF International and Ecosystems. It will be discussed at a high-level conference with member states and stakeholders to be held by the commission on 20 November. The commission is due to publish its final assessment of the directives in spring 2016.


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