Select Committee on European Communities Twenty-Second Report

Selection of SPAs and SACs in the United Kingdom (Continued)

38.  In such circumstances it is natural that the existing Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) should be used as the starting point for determining the Sites of Community Importance. However, we believe this has led to a conservative approach in selecting the appropriate areas to be listed, particularly as SACs. We were told by JNCC that some 15 per cent of the UK list of SACs required new SSSIs to be notified—some 50 or so (Q 680). The DETR and JNCC agreed that at the Commission's recent "moderation" seminar for the Atlantic Biogeographic Region, held in Kilkee, Ireland, the UK's approach had been found wanting by the Commission and some other Member States (QQ 686­7, 687, 727, 732). This was borne out by informal comments from Danish and Irish participants and in supplementary evidence from WWF (pp 62-6).

39.  Although we have not had access to any official record of the seminar nor received formal evidence on it from the Commission, we understand from DETR that the UK was felt not to have adequately represented a substantial number of Annex I habitats and Annex II species within its present list of candidate SACs. In addition, the geographical spread of the sites proposed within the UK was considered inadequate in a number of cases. Now that site selection is a devolved matter within the UK, this will require close working between the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Administration and DETR, with their relevant country nature conservation agencies, to put right. We were pleased this was recognised by our witnesses from JNCC, DETR and the Scottish Executive (QQ 735­6).


40.  As we noted in our Interim Report (paragraphs 34-7), many witnesses have raised concerns about the status of species and habitats listed in the Annexes to the Birds and Habitats Directives which occur outside of the Natura 2000 network (or sites protected by domestic legislation). Indeed in the UK, where the Natura 2000 network currently covers some three per cent of the land surface (or about six per cent of the territory up to the 12-mile limit), biodiversity in the wider countryside and coastal zone must be safeguarded.

41.  Other witnesses—e.g. the Wildlife Trusts (IR p 8) and IEEP (IR p 70)—commented on the small percentage (compared with other EU countries) of total UK land surface represented by the Natura 2000 network, as currently proposed. We agree with JNCC that the percentage of national territory is not the best measure of a Member State's approach to site designation. Rather it should be considered as the percentage of the relevant habitat (or species) present in the State which is protected within the Natura 2000 network. These data are not currently available for the UK. In view of their importance JNCC should make these data publicly available in due course.


42.  One of the questions raised during the inquiry was the best way of responding to environmental change. In our view the immediate priorities are to designate sites, design monitoring systems and integrate with BAPs. Adjustment of boundaries to reflect change, whether man-made or climate-induced, is a matter to be considered in the future.


43.  The Committee is of the view that there is strength in the approach adopted by the UK in informing, discussing and considering the views of those who own and manage SSSIs and the Natura 2000 sites. This is a time-consuming process and each of the statutory conservation agencies requires the resources to do this properly. We consider this is an investment which will pay dividends in the future, and we noted from comments we received in Ireland and Denmark they also saw wisdom in this approach. Local authority experience in the UK lends support to this view.[29]

44.  We noted in our Interim Report (paragraph 33) the important contribution that BirdLife International and its country representatives have made to developing common criteria for the selection of SPAs and in identifying qualifying sites. Indeed, in the absence of national lists or criteria, the BirdLife list for a country has been accepted by the European Court of Justice as authoritative.[30]

45.  Following that example, we believe that the Commission, the European Environment Agency and the Nature Conservation Topic Centre could help develop similar initiatives and approaches for other important interests covered by the Habitats Directive. This would encourage voluntary effort and the development of NGOs across the EU with expertise in those areas where information is currently scant or absent. The provision of good data is an essential pre-requisite to effective conservation action. We recommend that DG Environment consider this as part of its developing strategy for biodiversity. Appropriate funding to pump-prime the process will be required.

46.  At the UK level, we are anxious that, in addressing the acknowledged shortcomings of the UK lists, the information held by the NGO community is considered in full in the context of this review. Some larger NGOs, such as WWF, RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts, are well versed in what is required, but smaller specialist NGOs should not be forgotten. We recommend that the JNCC takes active steps to ensure involvement of the whole community of NGOs, including small specialist voluntary conservation organisations and learned societies, to assist the process of data gathering and assessment.

29   See, for instance, the evidence from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and Hampshire County Council (pp 48-54). Back

30   Commission of the European Communities v. Kingdom of the Netherlands, Case C-3/96, 19 May 1998. Back

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