Nature Directives are safe – now time to improve the quality

Today the European Commission took a long awaited decision on the future of the Birds and Habitat Directives. The Commission had previously opened for the possibility that they might revise and, as they put it, modernise the directives, but today’s decision means that the directives remain as they are and that more effort and resources will go to ensuring proper implementation.

The Birds and Habitat Directives are at the core of EU nature conservation legislation. They form the foundation for Natura2000, a network of protected areas, and gives strong protection for a number of identified threatened species. During 2015 a Fitness Check of the directives was carried out, looking at how the set targets were reached and if the directives ensure cost effective nature conservation. The evaluation included synthesis of scientific studies on the Nature Directives’ effectiveness for nature conservation, as well as stakeholder and public consultations.

The final Fitness Check report shows that the targets of the directives are far from reached. Many of the species and habitats covered by the directives are still threatened. At the same time it concludes that this does not depend on the directives as such, but rather on the fact that they are not implemented to a sufficient extent. Many of the Natura2000 areas do not provide enough or appropriated protection for these species and habitats and there is often a lack of resources allocated for conservation and management measures.

To a large extent this is also true for marine species and habitats. Protection of underwater nature in Europe is proceeding slowly and many habitats in European seas are in bad condition. This is also true for the Baltic Sea where all of the ten nature types listed in the Habitat Directive are still considered threatened.

it is equally important to improve the quality of the management of these areas

– It is positive that the Commission is now showing its active support for the Nature Directives and will set up an action plan for how the Member States can implement the directives better. More marine protected areas need to be set up to reach the 10% goal to 2020. But it is equally important to improve the quality of the management of these areas. This includes limiting or prohibiting fishing in areas where fishing practices threaten species or habitats. But also to follow up and evaluate if the protection has the intended outcomes, says Sofia Wikström, Marine Ecologist at the Baltic Sea Centre, Stockholm University.

In our policy brief we write more about what needs to be done to implement marine conservation legislation and ensure an appropriate protection for threatened species and nature types.

– Many Member States have plans for this, but with the Nature Directives now being safeguarded it is time to step up the game and show the Commission that they are doing what is needed to sustainably preserve Europe’s underwater nature, Sofia Wikström continues.