The Future of Environmental Protection in Europe

This morning I chaired an ECR Rural Economy Policy Group meeting on The future of Environmental Protection in Europe.


This morning I chaired an ECR Rural Economy Policy Group meeting on The future of Environmental Protection in Europe.

Participating in the event we had Finlay Carson MSP, Scottsih Conservative Spokesman on Fishing and Farming, Mark Demesmaeker MEP, Andreas Baumuller, World Wildlife Federation EPO Head of Natural Resources and Ariel Brunner, BirdLife Europe Senior Head of Policy. 

Remarks from Finlay Carson MSP

I very much appreciate the opportunity to come here and speak today to give a Scottish perspective on The Birds and Habitats Directives and Scotland.

State of Nature report in 2013, leading professionals from 50 wildlife organisations in Scotland have pooled expertise and knowledge to present the clearest picture to date of the status of our native species across land and sea.

The report reveals that over half of UK (56%) and Scottish (53%) species studied have declined since 1970.

In Scotland, more than one in twelve species assessed are at risk of becoming extinct (504 out of the 6,000 species studied). While across the UK as a whole, over one in ten species assessed are under threat of disappearing altogether (1,199 of the nearly 8,000 species studied).

There are many inspiring examples of conservation action that is helping to turn the tide. From pioneering science that has revealed the reasons why nature is changing in Scotland, to conservation work – such as the restoration of areas of our uplands, peatlands, meadows and coastal habitats. But much more is needed to put nature back where it belongs.

The Bird and Habitats directives establish special areas of conservation (SACs) ( in the Habitat Directive) and special areas of protection in the (SAPs) in the bird directive. These are areas where protection of animals and fauna takes place and are collectively called NATURA sites.

There are 239 designated SACs in Scotland, including 3 that the border with England. Together they cover approximately 936 000 hectares or about 3,717 square miles. Some of them are as small as a wee burn or small stream, vitally important for the rare and threatened freshwater pearl mussel….. and the other end  over 150,000 hectares lies within the MORAY FIRTH marine SAC. Home to the bottlenosed dolphin. This area is almost as vast as the peat bogs of Caithness, Sutherland and Isle of Lewis…. These peatbogs now recognised as vitally important in terms of our biodiversity and the flora and fauna that they support, but also in the fight again climate change as carbon sink

£400,000 is being invested in peatland restoration to help reduce emissions and allow Scotland to build on its ambitious climate change plans,

In my home constituency the Upper Solway Flats and marshes are part of well over a million hectares of Special Protected Areas in Scotland. Some small sites covering only a few hectares of cliffs or lochs are critical for nesting seabirds and roosting migratory geese.

The smallest SPA of all is in the heart of Edinburgh’s Leith District and is only 1000square metres. Despite its small size and surprising location is home to one of the largest common tern colonies in the UK.

There are however Issues with the Directives

Since the Directives came into force the way in which Scotland’s natural environment is used has changed significantly.   The increasing urbanisation of rural areas, the diverse way in which the marine environment is used, and the spread of renewable technologies such as wind farms have raised questions of the Directives that remain unanswered.
The consultation done by our very own  Ian Duncan MEP last year shows a number of issues emerging:
There is a greater need for flexibility in the Directives for local land managers to tailor environmental protection to the specific SAC or SPA in question
The costs of complying with the Directives are too high
There is significant overlap between the Birds and Habitats Directives and other land use priorities such as marine spatial planning for fisheries, and land use for renewable energy generation.  This leads to confusion and frustration among stakeholders.

There is some concerns over MPA

Scotland's Marine Protected Areas network is shaping up with many now legally enforced. Forward-thinking local stakeholders are rolling up their sleeves to make the most of them however despite the initial aim of engaging with all Stakes holders the dredged-scallop and trawled-prawn lobby continue to distrust the process. Coastal communities want to see a stronger, more diverse, marine economy. Marine tourism is a key element of this, already contributing £3.7 billion to the Scottish economy, with a huge potential for sustainable growth.

Worldwide, MPAs raise the profile of their regions, attracting investment and providing local jobs and well-being. Visitors are keen to go sea angling, sailing, kayaking, scuba diving, take long strolls on beaches or get into more active games and sports by the sea. And what better way to end the day than with some creel-caught local prawns or hand-dived scallops?
For example MPAs will not bring back the Clyde's large fish stocks on their own, but they will help.

Only 2 miles from my home illegal electrofishing is reaping havoc with the razor clam beds in Fleet and Luce bay in the Solway Firth. Marine Scotlands inability to control this activity could have long term devastating effects on a potential sustainable and economical valuable industry.

Managing Emerging Challenges

Brexit presents both a challenge and an opportunity to rethink how we manage environmental protection in Scotland.  Many of the protections and powers contained within the Directives will come to the UK Government and the Scottish Government to decide upon.  There is a real opportunity here to tailor our environmental protection regulations to the needs of Scotland’s natural environment and to update the regulations to reflect the way we now use our natural environment.
WE must ignore the negative voices that suggest that once the UK leaves the EU our regulations and environment laws and regulations will somehow result in a watering down…. I would like to suggest that we can build on the existing laws and taylor them in a far more direct way to protect our unique habits in Scotland

Remarks from Andreas Baumuller, World Wildlife Federation EPO Head of Natural Resources

Thank you Mr. MEP Ian Duncan for the invitation to this event!
Let me allow to first look back and draw some conclusions for the future:
The 2016 edition of the WWF Living Planet report which looks at our planet in different ways paints a bleak picture of the state of our nature. Predicting that, if current trends continue, as much as 67% of wildlife populations will have declined by the end of this decade, the report concludes that “the evidence has never been stronger and our understanding never been clearer” … and “the most common threat to declining populations is the loss and degradation of habitats”.
In a way – this is nothing new. We know that our environment is in crisis, and we’ve known this for a long time. It is an old story packed in another new format – this time called WWF Living Planet Report. In respect of biodiversity, for example, already the EU’s 2006 Biodiversity Action Plan and the accompanying Technical Annex with over a hundred measures were no different from any of the other warnings we have had over the last 10 years.
I think it has to be said that we have a public policy failure – a failure not only in Europe. It is after all a systemic failure. As everyone here knows, we are not valuing the baseline of our life, our nature or in other terms biodiversity or ecosystems. Like climate change, it is an externality – a cost to society not born by the polluters themselves - , and perhaps as Lord Stern said – along with climate change the biggest and potentially most catastrophic market failure ever. Because, the nature as such can not be put into an economic business model. The model as such is not comprehensive enough.
Therefore with some small exceptions our environmental policy has to be seen as a box of patches to heal the wounds but not sufficient to complete the real healing.
Some of the small exceptions are the EU Birds and Habitats directives, effective, popular and communicable and a necessity to change things on the ground.
Therefore important that Member States speed up the implementation and making use of the full potential of this modern piece of EU legislation. Or the Water Framework Directive – holistic and ambitious. But still far away to compensate for the systemic policy failure caused by unsustainable policies.
So what can we learn?
First of all, most if not all comprehensive policy solutions have - at best! - taken the form of an action plan. In EU terms, action plans are among the weakest type of instruments. The recent most relevant holistic approach for our planet, the Sustainable Development Goals, has only got the form of an EC Communication. There is hardly legislative power, the formulation is purely aspirational.
Second, we have been relying on a vague language of integration and mainstreaming. And there are no real sanctions. Neither legislative nor financial. Therefore, no doubt, integration with other policies has and is a weak part of all these policy actions concerning the environment.
And third, there is simply not enough political will to make the environment a priority. We saw and still see that under the Juncker Commission. Lack of political will is not a cause of policy failure – for me it is a symptom. A symptom that there is not enough political understanding of what environmental protection is and why is it important.
To conclude and to come back to the today’s title: “The future of Environmental Protection in Europe – lessons learnt & looking ahead”.
What we need in future:
1. Legislative power instead of aspirational content.
2. Real integration instead of vague formulation.
3. Political will at all levels (European Commission, Member States and European Parliament) with a long term perspective of the benefits for all people and our planet instead of short term gains of a few.
These recommendations can be implemented at EU level and can be implemented at Member States level. Is therefore valid for the EU 28 or 27 plus an UK even if outside of the EU.
The biggest challenge?
In policy terms: the real integration as this involves a full understanding of the values of our planet and of our life.
In thematic terms: the future of the EU Common Agriculture Policy. Because the existing system forces farmers to manage their land unsustainably. It is unfair for consumers and producers and at the same time the biggest driver of biodiversity loss and degradation of natural resources.
And the must do: Member States need to speed up the implementation of key environmental legislation including the Birds and Habitats Directives. The European Commission need to enforce these laws as they are “fit for purpose”!
Thank you for your attention!

Remarks from Mark Demesmaeker MEP attached.