Select Committee on European Communities Twenty-Second Report


73.  We now bring together the specific recommendations from both this Report and the Interim Report. (The numbers in brackets at the end of each recommendation refer to the relevant paragraph numbers in the Reports.)

Concluding remarks of the Interim Report
(1)We were pleased to learn from Ministers of the Government's positive commitment to promoting biodiversity, and not least its determination to press for more rational Community policies on agricultural support in the context of Agenda 2000. However, this may be the last opportunity the United Kingdom has for introducing improved wildlife and countryside legislation before the Commission carries out the review of Member States' compliance with the Habitats and Species Directive. We are concerned that without a demonstrable commitment to strengthening the national statutory protection available to Natura 2000 sites the UK may be found wanting. (IR 65)

UK Sites of Special Scientific Interest—the requirements for improved protection
(2)Just as the 1992 Biodiversity Convention contains a set of positive objectives, the Birds and Habitats and Species Directives also clearly define the objectives of site selection and designation. We note that DETR is actively pursuing the strengthening of domestic wildlife legislation. We concur with the opinion of those witnesses who have recommended that, as a first step, measures should be enacted so that nature conservation becomes an explicit statutory purpose of SSSIs. We hope the Scottish Executive will similarly improve legislation in Scotland. (IR 38)
(3)The Government, the devolved administrations and the statutory nature conservation agencies would thereby be under an explicit duty of care towards SSSIs, with a view to ensuring that SSSIs are well managed and contribute fully to the targets set in the UKBAP. The "competent authority" approach adopted in the Habitats Regulations 1994 should be expanded to cover all SSSIs. (IR 39)
(4)In relevant cases, we strongly recommend that the agencies should be given the power to make what might be termed "Management Orders", which could be issued by the relevant territorial minister following a request from the statutory conservation agency. Such orders would allow the agencies to take action to prevent the loss of biodiversity interest from an SSSI suffering neglect, or a refusal by the owner or occupier to undertake proper management. (IR 42)
(5)We agree with the statutory nature conservation agencies and NGOs on the need for improved measures to control damaging activities by third parties—for example motor bike scrambling or walkers with dogs out of control—perhaps with powers for the statutory nature conservation agencies to act in cases of default. (IR 43)
(6)In cases where deliberate damage to an SSSI occurs in contravention of Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, we recommend that the courts should have powers to order the restoration of the site at the perpetrator's expense or, if that is physically impossible, to order other compensatory measures. We believe these might have a more deterrent effect than fines. (IR 44)

Natura 2000: site selection issues
(7)In the United Kingdom, core areas of qualifying (semi-natural) habitat should be notified (as now) as SSSIs (or ASSIs) to allow the operation of management agreements and other action to maintain favourable conservation status. We see considerable merit in declaring an enlarged area as SPA or SAC around a core SSSI to incorporate these essential feeding or nesting places within the boundary of the European site. This would ensure that the conservation interest is properly recognised within the planning system and by all competent authorities. This larger area could also qualify for enhanced payments under the agri-environment programme to aid its positive management. (IR 26)
(8)The approach which we have proposed, by notifying Natura 2000 sites that include land not of SSSI status, would alleviate pressures on the conservation resource in some cases. In others, rigorous attention by the competent authorities will be required to assess and avoid possible damaging impacts. We were impressed by the evidence given by the Environment Agency, who told us of the progress being made in the regulation of water abstraction and discharge consents and the operation of flood defences. (IR 28)
(9)It is essential that the UK statutory nature conservation agencies select sufficient numbers of sites as SPAs or SACs by using agreed scientific criteria, and with all the relevant data to hand. More could be done to harness the knowledge of the NGOs and research institutions. The statutory nature conservation agencies should inform those bodies who make a reasoned and scientifically supported case for site selection why (in the case of a rejection) the agency is not recommending the site (or a portion of it) for classification as SPA or SAC. (IR 30)

Statutory nature conservation advice in the United Kingdom
(10)The Government and the devolved administrations of the UK should set out their reasons, properly argued on the basis of science, should they decide to overrule or ignore the advice of English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales or the Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service on the classification of appropriate SPAs and SACs. In the interests of transparency, the agencies' advice must be publicly available at the time it is passed to the Government. Science should be the deciding factor when making decisions on the classification of SPAs and SACs, not social or economic criteria—which are to be considered on their merits if a development proposal should arise at a later stage. (IR 31)

Target national coverage of protected species and habitats
(11)Greater thought should be given to the percentage of a protected species' national population or a listed habitat which should be included in areas classified as SPA or SAC. The JNCC considered that 50 per cent (as used by WWF) was an arbitrary figure, but it does not appear to have its own targets. Such targets need to be set, not only to determine whether more SPAs or SACs that should be classified, but also to identify the effort and resources required to address the needs of these protected habitats and species in the wider countryside. (IR 32)
(12)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.(41)

Protection of candidate SPAs and SACs
(13)We consider the policy of the UK in offering candidate sites protection through land-use planning policies is a sound stop-gap measure. We consider that this should be recommended to other Member States as an example to be followed. (36)

Working with non-governmental organisations and other interests
(14)Following the example of BirdLife International's work in relation to the selection of SPAs, we believe that the Commission, the European Environment Agency and the Nature Conservation Topic Centre could help develop similar initiatives and approaches for 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. (45)
(15)In the UK, 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. (46)

(16)We cannot emphasise too strongly that the purpose of the Birds and Habitats 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. (53)
(17)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. (54)

Biodiversity in the wider countryside
(18)The reform of the CAP so that farmers are encouraged to manage their land in ways which benefit biodiversity is thus essential if the Natura 2000 sites are not to be left as "islands" within an increasingly hostile farmed landscape. (IR 35)
(19)All landowners and occupiers have a moral duty of stewardship and care for biodiversity. However, where action involves loss of income or recurring extra expenditure this should be eligible for support through agri-environment measures. (IR 37)
(20)Biodiversity objectives will not be achieved without a wide range of complementary policies, especially in the fields of agriculture and forestry, other countryside policies, devolved and regional planning for sustainable development, air quality, protection of the aquatic environment and fisheries policy. (IR 47)
(21)Outside the designated areas we believe that the statutory backing for the Directives and biodiversity conservation is much less clearly transposed into UK law. For the avoidance of doubt, this must be addressed. We therefore recommend that the Biodiversity Action Plan process is put on a statutory basis so that it can be accorded proper weight in decisions taken by local authorities and statutory nature conservation agencies, and at the level of policy and plan-making in each of the constituent parts of the UK. This could be reinforced by acceptance on the part of central and devolved government and their statutory agencies of an explicit collective responsibility for furthering the conservation of biodiversity. (IR 50-51)

Agri-environment schemes
(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". 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. (22)
(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. (23)
(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, 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. (24)

Agricultural advice
(25)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. (68)

Maximising the benefits for biodiversity from other EC instruments
(26)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. (58)
(27)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. (61)

Enlargement of the Community
(28)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. (28)
(29)We recommend that the agri-environment measures be an essential factor in any farm support system extended to the candidate states. 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. (32)
(30)As we pointed out in our 1998 Report on the Tacis Programme, there is widespread awareness in the CEECs and 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. 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. (34)

Integration of biodiversity and Natura 2000 work within the Commission, the European Environment Agency and the Nature Conservation Topic Centre
(31)The case for closer integration within DG Environment of biodiversity and Natura 2000 work, and the resource implications for the Commission, the European Environment Agency, and the Nature Conservation Topic Centre, are matters which should be revisited when the current organisational upheaval in the Commission has settled down. (49)

Agricultural expertise in the EEA
(32)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, 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. (57)

The marine environment of the United Kingdom
(33) In the United Kingdom, we remain to be convinced that SPAs and SACs classified in the marine environment will receive adequate statutory protection. The process of identifying and classifying such areas is still at an early stage but greater clarity as to how such areas will be managed (and by whom) and protected from inappropriate use is required in domestic law. (IR 55)
(34)Urgent ways of making progress must therefore be found. We support the action of the JNCC in identifying areas worthy of protection, such as sea lochs, marine reefs and cetacean sites. The Directives set minimum levels of protection to be achieved. The UK Government should act now to interpret the requirements positively, and to go further than the existing specifications. (IR 56)
(35)We believe that a new approach to protect sites in the marine environment is now required. The time has come to review the relevant provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Better legislation to provide workable and effective protection for important areas of nature conservation interest in the marine environment is needed as a matter of urgency. (IR 57)

Coastal zone planning in the United Kingdom
(36)We encourage all those with interests in the coastal zone to work together and pool ideas and resources and thus speed up the decision making process. Scottish Natural Heritage's firths initiatives, and English Nature's estuary forums, in which the relevant interests already work together, could be further developed by the production of management plans to guide decision-making. This should ensure a more orderly and (it is to be hoped) speedier decision-making process. (IR 59)
(37)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. (72)

Handling of marine and coastal issues at the Community level
(38)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. (55)
(39)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. (56)

Exchanging experience at a practical level between Member States
(40)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. (66)
(41)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. (66)

United Kingdom devolution issues
(42) We consider that the guidelines for the selection of SSSIs should continue to be the responsibility of JNCC for Great Britain. We recognise that alternative guidelines for ASSIs in Northern Ireland are appropriate. However, the selection process for the Natura 2000 sites should be applied in a consistent manner across the UK. Those responsible in central and devolved government should assure themselves that standards are being met and that progress is sufficient to meet the UK's European and international obligations. It is essential that, as the lead department, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions establishes effective interdepartmental procedures to ensure compliance on a UK­wide basis with the standards for SSSIs and classification of Natura 2000 sites. (IR 62)
(43) This will require an audit process, independent of the statutory nature conservation agencies, to gauge performance and to compare outcomes against UK policy and standards in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The JNCC is not empowered to do this and, as a joint committee of the agencies, is not appropriate. Mr Meacher said, of himself, "the buck stops here". It is therefore the responsibility of DETR to ensure that it puts in place the proper institutional structure, with adequate transparency to engage public confidence. (IR 63)
(44)The UK Government, and the devolved administrations, will want to be assured that all Ministers, 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. (14)
(45)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. (19)

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