If your Nature's Home magazine has arrived, you may have seen an eight-page article highlighting the role that the EU Nature Directives (Birds and Species and Habitats Directives) have played in saving some of our most iconic wildlife places: including the Dorset heathlands, Ramsey Island, the Cairngorms and Rathlin Island.  These laws have protected nature across the EU for over 35 years.  Through them, more than 27,000 places are protected across the EU including 900 in the UK.  

Ben Hall's image of Ramsey Island, loved by lead singer of Stornoway, Brian Briggs, and part of the Ramsey Island and St David's Peninsula Coast Special Protection Area

After the EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella visited our Wallasea Island Wild Coast project in Essex last month, I wrote that Mr Vella had an opportunity over the months ahead to defend the Nature Directives against plans to open them up and weaken them.

Then, last Friday the European Commission published a report (here) on progress with biodiversity conservation across the EU in the lead up to 2020, by when EU Member States, and indeed countries across the globe, have pledged to halt the loss of biodiversity.

This was Mr Vella’s opportunity to stand up for wildlife and upholding European law, and I’m delighted to say he has not disappointed.

Although the report shows that nature is still in trouble, and that we still have a long way to go to achieving our 2020 biodiversity targets, it clearly highlights the environmental and socio-economic benefits that have been generated by the Birds and Habitats Directives, and the Natura 2000 network of sites they have established. For example, the directives have been instrumental in saving special places like Lewis peatlands and Dibden Bay, helping the recovery of species like the bittern, and providing 4.5 million jobs across Europe which depend on the ecosystems that Natura 2000 protects.

The report also states the need for improved implementation, and in a blog (here) accompanying the release of the report, Commissioner Vella has written;

This review shows that the window for halting biodiversity loss is still open. Better implementation of the current legislation, and bolder, more ambitious enforcement, will keep that window open. It's within our power to protect nature, so let's seize the opportunity – while we still can.”

The Fitness Check of the EU Nature Directives has yet to run its course, but perhaps it is beginning to look like common sense, and cold hard facts, are winning through. This is in no small part due to the 520,000 people across Europe (of which over 100,000 came from the UK) who responded to the #NatureAlert campaign. Commissioner Vella’s blog is clear, “We know how much nature matters to citizens.

And now is the time to for European citizens to call on their national governments to defend the nature they love.  In December 2015, Environment Ministers from every EU country meet to discuss how we make sure our wildlife is recovering by 2020.  Central to this must be the role of the Nature Directives.

The UK lead at this meeting will be Environment Minister, Rory Stewart MP.  At our parliamentary reception last month he said he wanted the UK can lead the world in nature conservation. I applaud this ambition. We are therefore asking people (see campaign action here) to translate this ambition into support for the EU Nature Directives when he goes to Brussels.  

I hope that Mr Stewart and other European Environment Ministers agree with Commissioner Vella that it makes sense for finite political energy to be focused on implementation of existing laws rather than opening them up to years of uncertainty.  Yes, they can be made to work better for wildlife and for people but the laws themselves are fit for purpose.

That is surely the conclusion that politicians who want to save nature must reach.

  • Well done, Martin. RSPB at its very best - I am looking forward to NH hitting my mat ! I think we need to remember why Europe is so important - at its very heart, that France and Germany went to war 3 times in 69 years, with the most devastating consequences for successive generations. It is now 70 year since we have had a war in western Europe and that is the big picture we need to remember as we argue over the straightness of bananas. And that the best of conservation has been spread across the whole continent by the EU Directives which are the sort of vision of a better future we should all be striving for, against the pressures that divide us. Surely nothing is more uniting that the birds that cross all borders and depend on every country as they migrate every year without any awareness of the different human nationalities they are traversing ? And also the birdwatchers and conservationists - a common feeling and purpose which unites birdwatchers and the Birdlife partnership across the continent, breaking down differences in our common interests and concerns.