UK defies its own evidence on nature protection laws

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Barn Owl, Gloucestershire. [The Co-operative/Flickr]

This week, several major European countries have called on the EU not to undermine important legislation protecting our wildlife and habitats. The UK was not among them.

The Commission is assessing whether the Nature Directives are fit for purpose or if they need revision. There is ample evidence that they work and should be protected. Yet despite clear calls from across Europe and in the face of its own evidence to the Commission, the UK has gone silent.

As the momentum builds towards a decision, the UK’s lack of support is becoming increasingly conspicuous.

Environment Ministers from Germany, France, Poland, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia and Luxembourg collectively wrote to Commissioner Vella on Monday (26 October). They warned that Europe’s nature laws should not be revised. Each also stated their willingness to better implement the laws. This is a considerable and unprecedented step in the fight to protect habitats and wildlife in Europe.

The calls to protect the Nature Directives come not only from EU governments. This week, the seven MEPs tasked with reviewing the success of the Biodiversity Strategy also wrote to the Commission with the same message: these laws protect nature and are proven to work.

Why is the UK government not speaking out?

Defra’s own evidence submitted to the European Commission as part of the fitness check points to the great value of the laws, and states clearly that they have been of unquestionable benefit to European conservation:

“Without the Directives, the level of coherence and cooperation across the EU in implementing policies to protect species and habitats would undoubtedly have been less.”

The Birds and Habitats Directives also make a “significant contribution” to achieving EU sustainable development objectives, according to the UK’s submission.

Defra’s evidence also tackles the impact of the directives on development, noting that the “rigorous requirements of the legislation” have actually improved collaboration between developers and conservationists. This has reduced conflict and delays while encouraging early engagement and constructive, forward-thinking interaction.

 “The laws enable member states to set a shared level ambition for protecting habitats and wildlife without compromising economic growth,” it adds.

The fate of the Birds and Habitats Directives is currently in question, but the government seems unwilling to call for this legislation to be protected. Yet the evidence that these laws work has been building for years, both in Europe and at home. In fact, the UK undertook its own assessment of these laws in 2012 and concluded that they were working well when implemented properly. If the UK wanted to speak up alongside the other governments in support of the nature laws, there’s ample evidence, much of it from their own findings, to back them up – so why aren’t they doing so?

Consultants for the Commission have been gathering further evidence on the effectiveness of the Nature Directives, with the findings to be presented at a stakeholder meeting in November.

At such a crucial time for Europe’s nature, the UK must take a strong position in defence of the laws that protect it, and speak up alongside the governments who have already done so.

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