Wildlife laws ‘at risk’ under EU review

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EUROPEAN LAWS that protect some of Yorkshire’s finest landscapes and their rich wildlife diversity are at risk of being weakened, campaigners fear.

A hundred voluntary organisations warn a “fitness check” of the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives, which form the cornerstone of Europe’s efforts to protect nature, poses the biggest single threat to UK and EU wildlife in a generation.

They fear the European Commission’s review of the legislation, which in the case of the Birds Directive has been protecting wildlife since 1979, means they are at risk of being weakened by people who mistakenly regard them as a block on growth.

The campaigners argue that a wide range of sectors ranging from renewable energy to water utilities and the construction industry benefit from the certainty the directives give them.

Any revision of the directives would cause long term uncertainty and put nature at risk from short-term political priorities, warned the ‘Joint Links group’. The group represents organisations across the UK including the National Trust, Woodland Trust, the RSPB, WWF and the Wildlife Trusts.

The Birds Directive - the EU’s oldest piece of nature legislation - provides for Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to preserve habitat for endangered and migratory birds and bans activities that directly threaten wild birds.

There are several SPAs in the region: at Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs, Hornsea Mere, the Humber Flats, the Lower Derwent Valley and both the North Pennine and North York Moors.

Meanwhile, the Habitats Directive protects more than 1,000 animal and plant species and 200 different types of habitat such as special kinds of forest, wetlands and meadows which are important for wildlife.

Rob Stoneman, chief executive of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, said he was hopeful the EU review will be constructive, as much of Yorkshire’s beautiful countryside and the species that live off it are protected by the EU laws.

“The EU Habitats and Birds Directives form the cornerstone of Britain’s nature conservation legislation that protects our best and most precious sites and our most endangered and iconic species,” Mr Stoneman said.

“The great seabird colonies of Flamborough Head, the amazing landform of Spurn Point, the high blanket peatbogs of the Pennines, the incredible limestone pavement - are all Yorkshire places protected by these Directives.

“If the Review focuses on making the Directives work better, then we have nothing to worry about. But if it seeks to weaken the legislation, making it easier to destroy our precious natural heritage, future generations would never forgive us.

“Yorkshire is considered ‘God’s Own County’ and we must look after it - in all its richness and diversity, from the rich feeding grounds of the Humber mudflats - home to tens of thousands of over-wintering birds - to the awe-inspiring moorlands of the Dales. The Directives help us to do that.”

Kate Jennings, chairman of the Joint Links group and head of site conservation policy at the RSPB, said that the directives deliver demonstrable benefits for nature, as well as significant social and economic benefits, and she is keen to see the protections they afford continue.

She warned: “For over 30 years they have protected some of our best loved and most iconic landscapes. Uncertainty over the future of the directives resulting from the ‘fitness check’ review could be bad for nature, bad for people and bad for business.”