EU funds are being used to build roads and dams that are destroying the habitat of the Iberian lynx, the world's most endangered cat species.

In Spain, the remaining Iberian lynx population – with around 100 individuals left, including just 25 breeding females – is under major threat due to loss and fragmentation of its habitat. New construction works will hamper efforts to conserve the endangered cat.

A new WWF report, “Conflicting EU funds”, shows that despite the EU commitment to halt biodiversity loss by 2010, vast sums of European Union money are being spent on roads, dams and irrigation schemes which threaten critically endangered species and key habitats in Europe.

In many cases, EU funds are being used for activities that are recognised as major threats by the EU itself.

“Europe has to take responsibility for its own species, but at present the European Union is using its funds to both support biodiversity and undermine it,” says Stefanie Lang, Regional Policy Officer at WWF’s European Policy Office. “This is an unacceptable situation caused by wrong decisions at national or regional level and poor coordination between Member States and the European Commission.”

As the EU is shaping new funding regulations for the period 2007-2013, the report presents eight case studies where competing plans funded by the EU are damaging biodiversity.

In Spain, EU funds are used for infrastructure, such as 20 dams and 16 roads, including the new highway Toledo-Ciudad Real-Puertollano-Cordoba, that will have a detrimental impact on lynx habitat protected under the Natura 2000 network. Similarly, EU funds have been used to overexploit bluefin tuna fisheries in the Mediterranean, and to promote damaging agricultural subsidies which have resulted in the mismanagement of cork oak forests in Portugal. In Greece, while the EU Commission Directorate General (DG) responsible for the environment is supporting a LIFE project to protect brown bears, the DG Regional Development is funding the planned Egnatia Highway, which directly threatens these animals.

WWF urges to withdraw EU funds that conflict with biodiversity goals and the EU environmental legislation and saysthat EU funds must include priority measures to protect biodiversity and Natura 2000 sites. On the other hand, WWF recommends that EU Member States develop good national programmes that contribute to the 2010 goal. “If we are to halt the loss of biodiversity and preserve the remaining natural heritage of Europe, which is essential for long term economic prosperity, the EU cannot afford to continue funding the destruction of habitats and environmentally damaging infrastructures as it has in the past,” says Gerald Dick of WWF’s Global Species Programme.