Vella seeks to reassure nature campaigners

4th June 2015

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  • Ecosystems


Jason Convey

The objectives of EU nature protection laws are not in doubt, EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella insisted in a speech yesterday.

The aim of the European commission’s review of the birds and habitats directives is to identify ways to make them more effective, he said.

The statement comes after environmental groups launched a pan-European campaign to prevent the directives being watered down by the commission, which has launched a consultation on their future.

Vella said: “Our ongoing fitness check of the birds and habitats directives is looking closely at the factors that are preventing the scale of the positive change needed to bring about a visible improvement in the state of nature at EU level.

“We are looking at whether the objectives of the legislation, which no-one is questioning, can be delivered more effectively,” he said.

Nature has for decades been seen as an impediment to economic progress, but that idea is wrong, he argued. The commission wants to move to an integrated approach where the economy builds on nature’s strengths and the natural environment is a source of sustainable wealth, he said.

He highlighted the findings of the EU state of the nature report published last month. This contained some worrying trends, but also evidence that policies can work, he said.

The commission is working on a mid-term review of its biodiversity strategy, which aims to halt the loss of biodiversity in the EU by 2020. The results are due to be published in the autumn.

Updated red lists of endangered species were published yesterday. Research on birds found that nearly one fifth (18%) of species are considered to be at risk across the EU with habitat loss, climate change and intensive farming blamed for the decline in populations.

The study, carried out by a consortium led by conservation group BirdLife International and financed by the European commission, lists 37 bird species that are common in the UK, including lapwing, puffin and curlew.

The UK contains 338 Natura 2000 sites designated for protection under the habitats directive. In May, Natural England published a report on the state of the sites and a blueprint for their long-term management. The conservation body found that almost 70% of sites were threatened by air pollution, while 60% had problems with invasive species.

Meanwhile, environmental charities in the UK, including members of the Wildlife and Countryside Link, yesterday published guidelines to help local authorities and developers prioritise brownfield sites for development, following the government’s announcement of a statutory register for brownfield land to stimulate its development. A small but important number of brownfield sites are hugely valuable for people and wildlife, the charities said.

Also this week, the Green Alliance said that politics is failing to deal with the UK’s deteriorating nature. In response, it has launched a natural environment programme to work with business on two specific projects to improve habitat protection.

The first, with Nestlé, aims to identify how to turn new thinking on the economic value of natural capital into practical policy. The second project will involve the National Trust in exploring new models for profitable land management that also protects and enhances natural systems. The Green Alliance wants other organisations to get involved and develop a new economics of land management to benefit both people and nature.


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