A hundred UK conservation groups (the Joint Links Group) are warning that a review of the European Union’s nature conservation legislation – the Birds and Habitats Directives – is “the single biggest threat to UK and European nature and biodiversity in a generation”.
Decades of progress in the protection of wildlife may be derailed by the review. It will look at the cost-effectiveness of the Directives , whether they are fit for purpose, and the ‘burdens’ they place upon businesses.
Chair of the Joint Links’ Habitats and Birds group Kate Jennings, (RSPB), said: “The Habitats and Birds Directives are the foundation of nature conservation across Europe and are scientifically proven to be effective where properly implemented. The Directives deliver demonstrable benefits for nature, as well as significant social and economic benefits.
For over 30 years they have protected some of our best loved and most iconic landscapes from the Scottish Flow County to the sand dunes and marshes of the north Norfolk coast. They are essential to the protection of species large and small, from the Basking Shark and the Harbour Porpoise, to the Dartford Warbler and the Hazel Dormouse”.
Together with the global RAMSAR Convention to protect wetlands, and the biodiversity planning processes arising from the Rio Summit in 1992, the Directives give a firm legislative base not just for the protection of nature, but for its recovery.
Since the Directives came into force the loss of protected sites in the UK has fallen from 15% per year to 1%, and more than a thousand species of plants and animals and 200 habitats have been protected. Of course such measures are inconvenient to some: farmers and businesses never like their operations to be constrained. Without constraints though our wildflowers, bird and animals would be in a far worse state than they are.
The review is, in any case, looking through the wrong end of the telescope. It should be examining the effectiveness, and fitness for purpose, of the Directives in achieving their primary objectives of protecting and enhancing wildlife.
It may well be that such an approach would show where they need strengthening rather than weakening. After all, the burdens placed on the natural world by forestry, agriculture and industry are out of all proportion to those placed on business by nature.