Select Committee on European Communities Twenty-Second Report


PART 2: THE EVIDENCE AND THE COMMITTEE'S OPINIONS

Biodiversity and Policy Integration

11.  An overview of the challenges facing the European Union in developing a Community strategy for biodiversity has been given by the Executive Director of the European Environment Agency:

  "Biodiversity may be one of the most difficult tasks for the Agency. It has had an enormous struggle to get out of a tunnel vision, as this has meant producing reports which some would say go beyond Community competence. But knowledge is no threat to subsidiarity! The June Report (Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century) has tried to broaden the vision, and has had some success because production was shared with the different sectors within the Commission.

  "Member States still have a long way to go in integrating biodiversity with other policies, but prospects have improved since the Cardiff Summit, with the requirement for sectoral Councils (transport, energy and agriculture) to report back on integration at Helsinki in December. The environment hasn't improved sufficiently—end of pipe solutions are being in part neutralised by economic factors. So far the biggest success has been in limiting some projects through environmental impact assessment.

  "For Natura 2000 purposes most Member States are proposing sites which are already designated for nature conservation purposes, and few are creating new sites as a result of the Birds and Habitats Directives. The EEA has been taking the line that Natura 2000 is only part of the biodiversity agenda: there is a need for a much broader approach, which takes in corridors, diffuse habitats, semi-natural areas, etc. How, for instance, can various instruments, such as LIFE and CAP, be used to protect species and habitats outside the designated sites? It is understandable that the Commission attaches priority to completing the Natura 2000 network: the Agency would argue that you cannot monitor biodiversity through Natura 2000 alone. There is also the risk of complacency once the network of sites has been designated: the future management of sites is crucial, as is the capacity to adapt to change.

  "Enlargement is a real challenge, and up to now nature conservation has been poorly addressed. Simple compliance with EC Directives is not enough: there is a need to establish an inventory in accession countries. Legislation is not the whole answer.

  "One of the biggest unrecognised emerging problems is fragmentation of space—i.e. by transport infrastructure, disseminated occupation, or urban and rural sprawl, leading to fragmentation and loss of habitats. The Mediterranean coast in particular is a disaster, with threats from second homes, tourist resorts, new infrastructure and other forms of development, driven also by easier access to remote areas. For instance, sales of four-wheel drive cars have gone up by over 40 per cent over the past year, opening up remote areas in some countries.

  "Mapping can be a powerful tool in convincing people what is happening. Climate change will provide leverage for shifts in energy and transport use, but will have less leverage for nature conservation policy. Here the more immediate impacts will be decisions on land use planning and transport infrastructure. These raise difficult issues of subsidiarity and compliance for all Member States."[15]


BIODIVERSITY ACTION PLANS AT INTERNATIONAL AND NATIONAL LEVEL

12.  As we explained in our Interim Report (paragraphs 7-8), an important feature of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is that the EC is a signatory of the Convention in its own right. This means that there is a parallel process whereby EU Member States draw up national biodiversity action plans (BAPs) as parties to the CBD, whilst at the same time contribute collectively to the EC Biodiversity Strategy. As the IEEP has commented, the preparation of species and habitat action plans under the UK Biodiversity Strategy has emphasised the need for action beyond the Natura 2000 network of protected sites (IR p 71).

THE PRINCIPLE OF INTEGRATION

13.  Agriculture, forestry, fisheries, development control and the management of water resources are matters of special significance to the maintenance and sustainable use of biodiversity. Following from the Amsterdam Treaty and the Cardiff Summit, the Community has recognised that it must take biodiversity and environmental issues into account in all its policy making. We look to the Government and territorial administrations of the UK to build on their existing policies to achieve this.

DEVOLUTION: A PARTICULAR ISSUE FOR THE UNITED KINGDOM

14.  Much of the direct action necessary to implement the Birds and Habitats Directives will be the function of competent territorial authorities. Similarly the UK BAP requires action in all four countries of the UK. We were told by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) that they were unable to undertake all the necessary actions required of them by the UK BAP (Q 667). There is therefore a requirement for strong political oversight to ensure that policies are integrated with the needs of biodiversity. At all levels, at Westminster and in the devolved administrations, concerted action to complete the UK share of the Natura 2000 network and to develop the UK BAP will be required. As was pointed out to us by witnesses from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), it is the UK Government, not the devolved administrations, that would be brought before the Court of Justice in the event of alleged failure to comply with the Directives (IR QQ 339-342). The UK Government, and the devolved administrations, will want to be assured that all Ministers[16], including those with responsibilities for agriculture, transport, education, industry and (above all) public expenditure and fiscal matters, are properly advised on policy issues relating to biodiversity. The staff of biodiversity policy units in each national and devolved department should liaise closely with JNCC, the relevant country statutory nature conservation bodies and relevant conservation non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in their areas.

Agenda 2000 and the special significance of agriculture

15.  The role of agriculture as the largest land use in the EU (more than 60 per cent across the Community, and over 70 per cent in the UK) is central to safeguarding biodiversity in Europe. Many of the Natura 2000 sites are farmed, usually in an "extensive"[17] manner, and the continuation of appropriate farming is essential to maintain their value for biodiversity. The modernisation and specialisation of farming continue to pose a threat to biodiversity in some areas. However, the growing problem of neglect, or even the agricultural abandonment, of formerly farmed areas within such habitats, such as chalk grasslands, lowland heaths or certain wetland habitats, pose a growing threat to species. These are examples affecting critical UK habitats, but the same problem is found in other parts of Europe where agriculture helps sustain important biodiversity features (IR Q 151).

16.  The Agenda 2000 reforms[18] go only part of the way towards reforming the CAP, as we noted in the Interim Report (paragraph 36). Nevertheless they confirm the importance of the agri-environment measures and will allow Member States to impose cross-compliance conditions (i.e. conditions or requirements on agricultural support) in order to protect the environment.

AGRI-ENVIRONMENT SCHEMES

17.  The present UK agri-environment schemes (Environmentally Sensitive Areas, the Countryside Premium Scheme, Countryside Stewardship, Tir Gofal, etc) appear to be popular with farmers and have the support of conservationists; but they are under-funded compared with some other EU Member States (see next paragraph and box). We detected a reluctance to invest further in these measures, funding of which is of course discretionary. It was put to the Sub­Committee informally that an indirect consequence of the "abatement" agreed at the 1984 Fontainebleau Summit was that, even in Objective 1 areas (such as the Highlands and Islands), there was a disincentive to increase UK government expenditure on EC agri-environment measures. We have not been able to explore this assertion in detail; and therefore do not feel it would be appropriate to offer an opinion. We have reproduced in Appendix 8 a letter from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), covering an extract from a memorandum prepared for the House of Commons Agriculture Committee, which attempts to throw some light on the issue.

18.  Estimates by the former DG VI (Agriculture) indicate that in 1998 Ireland spent approximately Euro35 annually per hectare of utilisable agricultural land—at least four times that of the UK. Even this, however, was much less than the corresponding expenditure in Austria or Finland (see box).

Agri-environment programmes


Total co-financible expenditure per hectare of utilisable agricultural area

<= Euro 5
Greece, Belgium, Spain
Euro 6-10
United Kingdom, France
Euro 11-20
Netherlands
Euro 21-30
Portugal
Euro 31-40
Denmark, Italy, Ireland
Euro 41-50
[none]
Euro 51-60
Sweden
Euro 61-70
Luxembourg
> Euro100
Finland, Austria

(EU median c Euro22)

Source: DG VI Commission Working Document
VI/7655/98: State of Application of Regulation
(EEC) No. 2078/92: Evaluation of Agri-Environment Programmes.


19.  Distinctive arrangements within each country of the UK are now evolving, some of which may be less well financially supported than others. Such variation in different incentives to farmers to conserve biodiversity on a country or regional basis could have detrimental effects on the UK's overall targets. It is a situation which needs to be carefully monitored by Government. A central biodiversity policy unit (building on the existing UK BAP process) charged with monitoring and reporting on progress with the UK BAP should be established, with the task of reporting to both Houses of Parliament, to the Scottish Parliament and to the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies.

20.  The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the National Farmers' Union and WWF, among others, told us of their concerns that funding for agri-environment schemes was inadequate (IR pp 5-6, 190-191, Q 511). The Country Landowners' Association (CLA) said it would prefer a "substantial transfer" of resources to agri-environment schemes, with corresponding simplification of support regimes (IR p 214). The Minister (Mr Morley) referred to planned increases in the budget for agri-environment schemes during the period 1999-2001 but said he would like to do more (Q 617).

21.  In the Committee's view, the medium term goal must be to continue to seek fundamental reform of the CAP. However, as an interim measure, cross-compliance[19] offers an opportunity to use "main stream" funds to encourage practices which help protect and conserve biodiversity (IR QQ 34, 157). Cross-compliance measures are already in place to prevent overgrazing in the uplands, under the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances (HLCA) scheme. We were told by CCW that this was now being used to address the serious problems which affect important upland areas near Snowdonia for example (QQ 704-7). Elsewhere in the UK witnesses have not been able to tell us of extensive use of these powers by MAFF or the Scottish Executive's Rural Affairs Department to protect heather moorlands or other important grazed habitats. This apparently low rate of take-up perhaps indicates a lost opportunity.

22.  We consider that a package of incentives (e.g. through agri-environment schemes), regulation and good advice can be further developed by the agriculture departments of the UK to reward farmers for undertaking nature conservation management in the interests of biodiversity. As Mr Morley said: "We would like to do more and expand these schemes significantly" (Q 617). We endorse the Minister's aspirations and therefore recommend that MAFF and the relevant devolved administrations consider such a programme—applicable to all farmers—to improve and reward positive management, and to prevent the further loss of habitats and species in the countryside.

23.  Until CAP reform is successful the agri-environment programmes will continue to be vitally important measures for protecting biodiversity. Across the UK, agri-environment budgets would need to grow between three or four times to equate to the spend of the median group of Member States. We therefore recommend that the agri-environment programme budgets of each country within the UK be steadily increased. The EC median spend of about Euro22 per hectare of utilisable agricultural land would be a good target.

24.  Overgrazing in the uplands in particular should be the subject of a major review, with a view to bringing hill livestock numbers and management into line with the carrying capacity of semi-natural habitats. The planned removal of 1,500,000 sheep, to combat over-grazing on the commonages in the Irish Republic[20], demonstrates how large the problems can become. Such measures should be considered alongside schemes to assist livestock producers, so that the package of support is sustainable.

PROTECTION OF MARINE SITES

25.  We have already remarked in our Interim Report (paragraphs 53-7) on the difficulties facing Member States in protecting biodiversity in the marine environment generally, and in identifying and declaring SACs and to a lesser extent SPAs.

26.  The history of legislation in the marine environment in the UK—and, we were told, in Ireland—is based largely on the exploitation of minerals or fisheries or on securing navigation. There is no history comparable with that on land of declaring protected areas or regulating commercial activities for reasons of the conservation of biodiversity generally, rather than say to protect specific fish stocks.

27.  The question whether EC conservation Directives apply beyond territorial waters (the 12 mile limit) is a matter of controversy. The Commission recently issued a Communication expressing the view (inter alia) that "if a Member State exerts its sovereign rights in an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles (for example, the granting of an operating licence for a drilling platform), it thereby considers itself competent to enforce national laws in that area, and consequently…the Habitats Directive also applies, in that Community legislation is an integral part of national legislation".[21] The matter was also the subject of a recent legal challenge, in which the High Court held, in favour of Greenpeace, that the obligations of the UK Government under the Habitats Directive were not restricted to the 12 nautical miles of territorial waters but applied to the whole of the 200-mile band within which the UK exercises sovereign rights.[22]

Enlargement of the Community

28.  The EEA, and other witnesses, including the RSPB in supplementary written evidence (pp 55-7), have emphasised how enlargement of the Community will bring in new areas of rich biodiversity. The habitats of plants and animals, particularly in areas where endemic or specialised species occur, such as in mountain ranges in the candidate states, will have to be surveyed and catalogued early in the process. This in turn should lead to appropriate amendments to the Annexes of the Habitats and Birds Directives. We recommend that an early programme of habitats and species surveys is supported by the Community to ensure that the baseline data to make sensible decisions are available prior to the accession of the candidate states. It is not too soon for the EU to be encouraging candidate states, and providing the necessary funding, to press ahead with identifying sites that would qualify as candidate SPAs and SACs, so that other important social and economic programmes can be integrated with the EC Biodiversity Strategy from the outset.

29.  Experience to date has shown that this process can be protracted and heavily demanding of money, people and skills, even in countries with well developed protected area strategies and competent government agencies to take the lead. The most important areas for wild birds in Europe (including Central and Eastern Europe) are being catalogued by BirdLife International and its partners,[23] but an equivalent NGO effort for other groups or key habitats has not yet been developed.

30.  The economies of the Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) will benefit from membership of the European Union. Certain funding arrangements are already in place to help prepare the CEECs for membership. We are concerned to ensure that these funds are applied in a manner which does not replicate some of the more perverse and damaging impacts that have occurred in some existing Member States.[24] The identification of important areas for the conservation of biodiversity is a critical first step, and, together with the development of environmental NGOs, and the application of appropriate environmental tests to projects and plans in receipt of EC funding, should become the norm in these countries. In short, the same environmental framework should apply to the use of EC funds within the CEECs as applies now within the Union.

31.  Support for infrastructure projects, particularly road building, has been a major component of EC funding for the CEECs to date.[25] We were shown by the Executive Director of the EEA how, unfortunately, road building and other infrastructure projects in CEECs—much of it the result of local initiative but also including projects supported by EC structural and related funds—have impacted deleteriously on biodiversity (see map opposite and box at paragraph 11.  An overview of the challenges facing the European Union in developing a Community strategy for biodiversity has been given by the Executive Director of the European Environment Agency:). Extensive natural habitats have become fragmented by uncontrolled development in rural areas and the biodiversity resource thereby seriously reduced.

32.  Investment in modernising agricultural production and re-structuring the industry could have serious impacts on biodiversity in the CEECs (IR QQ 128, 132). This must be considered carefully when extending agricultural incentives and conservation regulations to candidate states. We recommend that the agri-environment measures be an essential factor in any farm support system extended to the candidate states[26]. Indeed, if these measures were to be linked to action to anticipate implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives, they would encourage the maintenance of those farming systems which help to safeguard biodiversity both within and outside the protected areas.

33.  Without such action, we fear that considerable damage could occur before important areas are fully documented and appropriate protection measures implemented. We understand the Commission is offering limited financial support (SAPARD[27]) for agricultural modernisation and rural development, including agri-environment programmes. However we are concerned that this may be insufficient and poorly targeted.

34.  As we pointed out in our 1998 Report on the Tacis Programme[28],   there is widespread awareness in the CEECs and New Independent States (NIS) of the richness of their natural heritage. This is greatly to be welcomed. The rapid growth of NGOs in the 1990s has helped to increase awareness. What is needed now is to develop the capacity and expertise of NGOs so that they can begin to play the same sort of role that NGOs such as WWF and RSPB play in identifying candidate Natura 2000 sites. As we have indicated in paragraph 28, the early identification of sites is crucial The Commission should therefore provide for further promotion of skills and professionalism in conservation NGOs through Phare, Tacis and other EC programmes (cf paragraph 46).


15   Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán, 30 September 1999 (in conversation with members of Sub­Committee C) Back

16   By this term, we mean Secretaries of State and Ministers of the Westminster Government, Secretaries and others of ministerial standing and, where relevant, Chairmen of Parliamentary or Assembly committees in the devolved administrations. Back

17   In this Report we use this term, and the corresponding term "extensification", in a quasi-technical sense-i.e. to refer to farming which relies on low inputs of inorganic fertilisers, pesticides or capital investment in drainage, machinery and other infrastructure (the opposite of "intensive farming"). Back

18   See, for example, ECC 18th Report, 1997­98, CAP Reform in Agenda 2000-The Transition to Competition: Measures for Rural Development and the Rural Environment, HL 84. Back

19   See paragraph 16 above. Back

20   See Appendix 7. Back

21   Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: Fisheries Management and Nature Conservation in the Marine Environment, COM(99)363 Final, 14 July 1999, at paragraph 5.2.2. Back

22   R v. Secretary of State for Trade and Industry ex parte Greenpeace; judgment of Mr Justice Maurice Kay, 5 November 1999. Back

23   See, in particular, Tucker, G M and Heath, M F (1994) Birds in Europe: their conservation status. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series no 3). Back

24   For example, river canalisation and land drainage schemes carried out in Denmark in the 1960s to support high-yield arable production-now being reversed at considerable expense (see Appendix 7). Back

25   Funding for Sustainable Transport, BirdLife International, Brussels, and IEEP, London (1997)-a review of inward investment in Western and Eastern Europe. Back

26   In a previous Report (Enlargement and CAP Reform, 12th Report, 1995­96, HL 92) the Committee was highly sceptical about the extension of the CAP as it then was to the candidate states. Back

27   Special Action for Pre-accession measures for Agriculture and Rural Development. Back

28   ECC 33rd Report, 1997-98, Partnership and Trust: the Tacis Programme, HL 157. Back


 
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