Select Committee on European Communities Twenty-Second Report


EU policy opportunities for supporting the Habitats Directive, 1994-1999

MONITORING COMPLIANCE WITH AND EFFECTIVENESS OF THE BIRDS AND HABITATS DIRECTIVES
(CONTINUED)

51.  We consider that the Commission should, in monitoring and assessing compliance with the two Directives, adopt a similar approach. However we were told by the EEA that the Agency relies almost entirely upon Member States to provide the data to do this. Little standardisation between Member States is yet evident, with the result that it is difficult to compare and to draw Europe-wide conclusions from the data gathering and monitoring that does occur. The exception appears to be birds, for which a common approach has often been adopted by NGOs and Member States.

52.  The staff of the EEA and the Nature Conservation Topic Centre in Paris are dedicated individuals who readily recognise these shortcomings. We were left with the clear impression that the resources to prepare standard monitoring programmes and to negotiate them with Member States were inadequate, with the result that there was little prospect of an early resolution of the problem. Indeed, Mr Pritchard (DETR) considered that the Topic Centre was "exceptionally under-resourced" (Q 729).

53.  We cannot emphasise too strongly that the purpose of the two Directives and other EC instruments beneficial to biodiversity could be frustrated if good data upon which to form decisions are not available. Furthermore we are unclear how the effectiveness of existing EC policies can be evaluated unless a serious attempt is made to standardise methods to monitor the status of species and habitats.

54.  This situation needs urgent attention at the political level in the Union. We recommend that a well resourced co-ordinated monitoring programme be a priority component of the EC's developing Biodiversity Strategy.

HANDLING OF MARINE AND COASTAL MATTERS AT THE COMMUNITY LEVEL

55.  Members of the Sub-Committee were concerned to be told by the ETCNC that the Marine and Coastal Topic Centre (based in La Spezia, Italy) did not consider biodiversity issues or to the Habitats and Birds Directives to be within its remit. As the ETCNC had no marine expertise, this meant the subject received little attention (see, for example, QQ 586­9, 593­6). There thus appears to be a vacuum within DG Environment and the EEA at present. The Executive Director of the EEA acknowledged this and told the Sub-Committee that steps were in hand to remedy the deficiency over the coming 18 months. However the Sub­Committee was left with the clear impression that marine and fisheries issues were seriously under-resourced and consequently not being addressed in an integrated manner at the level of Community institutions. There is a need for a single Topic Centre, adequately resourced to advise on the full range of Natura 2000 sites, terrestrial and marine, and with an extended remit to compare and evaluate the Biodiversity Action Plans of the Member States with a view to improving consistency of data and monitoring. We recommend that the relationship between the Nature Conservation and the Marine and Coastal Topic Centres be reviewed and rationalised with this end in mind.

56.  The Committee notes that, after four years' work, the Commission has published a Communication on fisheries and nature conservation in the marine environment.[33] There has been a LIFE[34] funded programme on the implementation of the Habitats Directive in the marine environment[35] and, sponsored by the Commission and a UK charitable foundation,[36] a bilingual European newsletter on fisheries and the environment, launched in 1998,[37] has now (in October 1999) reached its fourth volume. The issue of fisheries and the Common Fisheries Policy is on the list of sectors to be dealt with as a part of the high level "Cardiff process" (initiated by the UK Presidency) on integrating environmental considerations into other policy areas (see paragraphs 8 and 13). The Fisheries Action Plan is due to appear in the spring of 2000. It will be a major challenge for the new fisheries Commissioner, Franz Fischler, to take forward the agenda for integration. The Government should encourage the Portuguese Presidency, in the first half of 2000, to ensure that there is continuing importance attached to the process of integrating CFP and other marine policies with the EC Biodiversity Strategy.

AGRICULTURAL EXPERTISE AND THE EUROPEAN ENVIRONMENT AGENCY

57.  The Sub­Committee was concerned to be told by the Executive Director of the EEA that the Agency had no senior member of staff who was expert in agriculture, despite having pressed for an appointment for three years. In view of our comments about the key significance of agriculture for biodiversity (see paragraphs 15­24), we consider this lack to be serious and call upon the Council to give the matter urgent consideration when next reviewing the EEA's budget.

EC instruments which can be used for enhancing biodiversity

58.  In addition to the agri-environment schemes (see paragraphs 17-24) and specific environmental Directives, a considerable range of instruments is available under the CAP and other programmes (notably the Structural Funds) which can be deployed to the benefit of biodiversity (see table opposite). Some Member States make more imaginative use of them than others. We recommend that environmental and other Directives and regulations should always be examined to see if in their application opportunities to enhance the conservation of biodiversity can be taken. Where nitrate "control measures" are required it may well be cost-effective to consider "habitat-based" measures—which can also create amenity and biodiversity benefits, as well as reduce nitrate pollution. This may be specially relevant given the obligation to restore biotopes (including wetlands) contained in the Birds and Habitats Directives.[38]

THE LIFE PROGRAMME

59.  The EC LIFE programme[39] has two components. The first deals with sustainable development and supports innovative projects to demonstrate sustainable development in practice. The second (LIFE-Nature Regulation 1973/92) is targeted at securing the protection and enhancement of biodiversity, particularly within the Natura 2000 network. During the period 1996-99 it had an annual budget of Euro52 million.

60.  The LIFE-Nature programme has assisted conservation efforts in all Member States. Its importance, given the modest size of the overall budget, is in providing pump-priming monies and official encouragement to address difficult cross-sectoral problems.

61.  There is, however, far too little money in the budget to underpin the management of the Natura 2000 network, let alone address problems in the wider countryside. We agree with the evidence from RSPB, WWF and others that it is therefore necessary to make the mainstream CAP and Structural Funds work in support of the conservation of biodiversity, rather than against it (IR QQ 60, 61, 126). We were therefore disturbed to hear from the European Environment Agency that some Member States had used their influence to win some of the LIFE-Nature budget for projects which did not address these priority actions. We consider it is essential that the EC LIFE funds are increased in order to help fund the restoration of damaged biotopes, the protection of the Natura 2000 network and address the needs of particular dispersed species which are not at a favourable conservation status.

SOME COMPARISONS WITH OTHER MEMBER STATES—DENMARK AND IRELAND

62.  Visits by members of Sub-Committee C to Denmark and the Irish Republic proved valuable in demonstrating how an integrated approach to environmental management can produce multi-purpose benefits. Both Denmark and Ireland, like the UK, have a well developed agricultural industry, with similarities in land form, farm type and farming methods. The approach towards tackling nitrates was particularly instructive. Details of the visits are in Appendices 6 and 7.

63.  The Committee's overall impression from the visits was that whilst it was interesting to compare practice, no ideal model emerged. There was a striking contrast between (on the one hand) a highly decentralised system in Denmark, with considerable powers devolved to autonomous agencies and the county councils—only broad policy being retained by central government, and (on the other hand) the strongly centralised arrangements in Ireland. In Denmark we also noted an orderly system of consultation between politicians (national and local) and farmers, NGOs and other interest groups, feeding in to a process of regular updating of nature conservation legislation and other measures. In Ireland, by contrast, there appeared to be little direct input from ministers, the Dáil or the outside world generally, although we saw no evidence to doubt that support for government nature conservation policies in general is high.

LIFE-Nature Regulation 1973/92
Fund for specific projects to conserve the species and habitats of the Birds and Habitats Directives.
STRUCTURAL FUNDS Regulation 2081/93
These four funds finance programmes both "horizontally" and in certain designated regions (Objectives 1, 2, 5b and 6). Programmes are drawn up by national and/or regional authorities and can support various aspects of environmental protection and nature conservation, as well as sustainable development. The environmental objectives or measures which may be financed, according to the Regulations covering each Fund, are summarised below.
ERDF (European Regional
Development Fund) Regulation
2083/93
Productive investments and investment in infrastructure aimed at environmental protection, in accordance with the principles of sustainable development, in Objective 1, 2, 5b and 6 regions.
ESF (European Social Fund)
Regulation 2084/93
Training and education which promotes employment in any field, including nature conservation. All regions.
EAGGF (European Agriculture
 Guidance and Guarantee Fund)
Guidance Section
Regulation 2085/93
In Objective 1, Objective 5b and 6 regions, measures promoting the protection of the environment; the maintenance, enhancement and restoration of the landscape; and the protection and conservation of rural heritage. Objective 5a measures (all regions) are covered below according to specific CAP measures.
FIFG (Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance) Regulation 2080/93 Measures to help reach a sustainable balance between resources and their exploitation, including adapting fishing to the demands of EU environment policies. Also studies, demonstration projects and dissemination of information. All regions.
INTERREG Official Journal C180 1.7.94 and C200 10.7.96 Initiative for cross-border development including spatial planning and measures "compatible with the environment".
LEADER Official Journal C180 1.7.94 Local rural development projects in Objective 1, 5b & 6 regions. May include protection and rehabilitation of natural resources.
PESCA Official Journal C180 1.7.94 Diversification of the fisheries sector, fisheries management and other specific projects in Objective 1, 2, 5b and 6 regions.
COHESION FUND
Large funds for Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland. Fifty per cent of expenditure should be on environmental measures, including projects which coincide with EU environmental policy priorities (e.g. Habitats Directive), funded at 80-85% of costs. Also studies, especially related to projects financed by this fund and/or to ensure their coherence with other Community policies, 100% funded.
COMMON AGRICULTURAL POLICY
The CAP is a combination of market and income support measures and "accompanying" measures (funded from EAGGF Guarantee Section) and structural measures (EAGGF Guidance Section). Relevant opportunities are summarised below. Unless indicated otherwise, all regions are eligible.
Agri-environment programme
Regulation 2078/92
Incentives to farmers for undertaking practices which benefit the environment, including nature conservation. Also training.
Less Favoured Areas
Compensatory Allowances
Regulation 950/97
These payments to farmers in designated LFAs may be adjusted in accordance with the use of farm practices which are compatible with protection of the environment.
Afforestation of farmland and forest "improvement" Regulation 2080/92 Can provide an incentive to farmers to recreate forest habitats on farmland or to promote sustainable forest management, although these aims are not mentioned specifically in the Regulation.
Development of woodlands in rural areas Regulation 1610/89 "Improvement" of woodland in Objective 1, 5b and 6 regions, including objectives of soil and water conservation and social and recreational functions. Also awareness and advisory campaigns.
Farm investment aids Regulation 950/97 Aids to farmers in all regions for investments which may include safeguarding the environment and preserving the countryside.
CAP product support regimes
Regulations - various
Environmental conditions can be attached to subsidies under certain regimes (e.g. beef, sheep and goat headage payments).


Reproduced with permission from Natura 2000: Opportunities and Obstacles (WWF, Vienna, 1999)

64.  Both countries were active in exploiting the various available EC instruments. In Denmark the Committee was struck by the ability of the authorities to link thinking between pollution of surface and ground waters, land use and biodiversity. In particular, it demonstrated the scope for making complementary use of regulation and incentives to tackle problems of nitrates, and also for meeting policy commitments to biodiversity and requirements of the Birds and Habitats Directives. Particularly impressive were some major river restoration projects which members of Sub­Committee C visited in Western Jutland (see Appendix 7).

65.  In both Ireland and Denmark there are certain basic statutory measures to protect and buffer water courses from run-off and possible nitrate pollution. In Denmark it is forbidden to plough within 2 metres of any ditch or watercourse. Alongside lakes and major rivers a bigger "buffer zone" is required. In Ireland this buffer strip is 1.5 metres, but farmers are not permitted to apply fertilisers within 10 metres of a river bank—extending to some 300 metres around boreholes.[40] In both cases the management of these strips is done with fisheries and biodiversity interests in mind. Whilst the Sub­Committee was unable to test the compliance with these measures, it was told that farmers understood and accepted the reasons for such action.

66.  In the light of our visits, we asked the JNCC whether they felt their members had sufficient opportunities to visit their counterparts in other Member States and to share experience on best practice. It was clear that although contacts were frequent, the agencies would welcome more systematic arrangements (QQ 674­5).We recommend that the DETR and the JNCC should promote with the other Member States the idea that there should be a regular forum in which statutory nature conservation agencies could meet their counterparts from other States. We would also like to see more opportunities for government officials to observe practices in other Member States at first hand. We appreciate that DETR officials visit the Commission and colleagues in other Member States regularly. However, these meetings would tend to be "across the desk" rather than on site. We consider the benefit of seeing practical examples of how other Member States tackle common issues cannot be overstated. To be able to see new schemes or projects at first hand can trigger ideas of benefit to the UK and we recommend that opportunities of this kind are built into the work plans of the relevant key staff of DETR and the devolved administrations.

67.  In Ireland we were impressed by the use of the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) to prevent ground and surface water pollution, by ensuring fertiliser application levels were targeted carefully to the soil, farming system and local geography of each farm. One aspect of the REPS of particular note was the care taken to develop a cadre of trained advisers to assist with farm plans. We were told that attendance at a ten week course, which covered both agronomy as well as biodiversity management and environmental skills, was a prerequisite to adviser accreditation. Only accredited advisers were permitted to produce farm plans and REPS applications.

68.  The aim was to ensure that real benefits for conservation accrued at a farm level, and applications designed simply to "chase grant" were excluded. The Irish officials we met were pleased that the Commission now accepted this as an important part of the overall REPS, and matching EC funds were forthcoming. We consider that the provision of sound advice to farmers and landowners is essential to win their support for the conservation of biodiversity, particularly in the wider countryside. Many organisations and agencies offer advice to farmers in the UK, and an accreditation scheme comparable to that in Ireland would encourage best practice and rapid dissemination of new techniques through advisers.

THE MARINE ENVIRONMENT

69.  In Ireland we were told that, as in the UK, progress in the identification, selection and notification of marine SACs was behind that for terrestrial sites. We were pleased that co-operation between the Irish Government and the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee had led to an assessment procedure that could be applied to the whole coastline of the British Isles. However the overlap between the classification in the JNCC's Marine Nature Conservation Review project[41] and the habitats listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive means that further interpretation in the UK and Ireland is required before the classification of marine SACs can proceed.

70.  In Ireland this is now under way. We were told of a process of evaluation to select sites which had a good spread of listed habitats and the priority marine species listed on Annex II of the Directive. All the listed habitats and species would eventually be covered by marine SACs, although (as in the UK) difficulties in determining boundaries for cetaceans, for example, had still not been resolved.

71.  In Denmark quite large areas of inshore and coastal waters have been classified as SPA or SAC—respectively 7,164 Km2 and 7,378 Km2 (there is a high degree of overlap between the areas). These areas are highlighted on local charts and fishermen are aware of them. However the view is taken that for the most part existing fishing activity is acceptable within the classified sites. Powers however do exist to review or modify fishing methods if problems are encountered.[42]

72.  The position in Ireland concerning the management of marine SACs is not, as far as we can see, much different from that in the UK. The Heritage Department is in discussion with the Department of the Marine to determine how best to notify users of the sites and regulate activities such as aquaculture or the use of potentially damaging fishing gear, etc. It was acknowledged that fisheries legislation may need to be amended so that existing powers can be applied to benefit wider biodiversity. Applying this lesson to the United Kingdom, we recommend a review of the powers of agencies in the devolved administrations responsible for fisheries management to ensure that the powers are adequate for furthering the conservation of biodiversity.[43]


33   Communication on Fisheries Management and Nature Conservation in the Marine Environment, COM (1999) 363. Back

34   See paragraphs 59-61. Back

35   A project to establish management schemes in selected marine SACs. LIFE3200/96/550, commonly known as "the UK Marine SACs Project". Back

36   Esmée Fairbairn Charitable Trust, London. Back

37   El Anzuelo, published by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), London. ISBN 1464­6749. Back

38   Birds Directive Article 3; Habitats Directive Article 3. See IR paragraph 52. Back

39   EC Regulation 1973/92 establishing a financial instrument for the environment, OJ L206 22 July 1992. The LIFE instrument assists the development and implementation of EC environmental policy, e.g. by funding preparatory measures, demonstration schemes, awareness campaigns, incentives and technical assistance. Back

40   In the UK controls are less universally applicable. Buffer zones to prohibit the use of certain pesticides within 6 metres of watercourses were introduced by the Control of Pesticides Regulations (SI 1986 No 1510). There are, however, no legal constraints on use of fertilisers or manures except in areas declared as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (SI 1998 No 1202) or in some Environmentally Sensitive Areas. (A recent amendment to the Pesticides Regulations has introduced the concept of Local Environmental Risk Assessment, which allows farmers to apply certain less damaging pesticides within the 6 metre zone if certain conditions of soil and weather and other relevant factors apply). Back

41   Hiscock K ed. (1996), Marine Nature Conservation Review: Rationale and Methods, Peterborough, Joint Nature Conservation Committee (Coast and Seas of the UK, MNCR Series). ISBN 1-861074107). Back

42   Executive Order on the Demarcation and Administration of International Protection Areas: Ministers of Environment and Energy Executive Order no 782, 1 November 1998. Back

43   For example, the Sea Fisheries (Wildlife Conservation) Act 1992, which requires Fisheries Ministers to have regard to conserving flora and fauna. Back


 
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