Select Committee on European Communities Twenty-Second Report


APPENDIX 7

Summaries of views and information obtained during Sub-Committee C's visits
to Denmark and the Republic of Ireland

THE WORK OF THE EUROPEAN ENVIRONMENT AGENCY IN RELATION TO
NATURA 2000 AND EU BIODIVERSITY POLICY

Natura 2000 sites

1.  Effective management of sites is crucial if they are to compete with continuing increases in diffuse pollution (especially by ozone and nitrogen) or invasive species. Many sites are at present not self-sustaining. Whilst the designation process has been going on, the Commission has not had the resources to enquire into site management schemes. Member States are adopting differing approaches and the Agency does not have sufficient information to be able to give an overview. DG Environment has yet to set out the requirements for a common Europe-wide system of management and reporting. The Agency, with the help of the Nature Conservation Topic Centre, hopes to develop proposals for such a system, without which comparisons between Member States cannot be made nor trends determined. It has been agreed that the Agency should not have a direct enforcement role, but its tasks include providing the information necessary for supporting enforcement action by the Commission. At present it lacks resources to do this systematically, being over-reliant on information in the form provided by the Member States. It has a general picture of the comparative performance of Member States in implementing the Birds and Habitats Directives, but not in the degree of detail which would be required for pursuing individual cases.

Atlantic Biogeographic Region: Review Meeting in Kilkee, Ireland, in September 1999

2.  Final decisions on Sites of Community Importance are taken by the Commission; the purpose of the review meetings is essentially technical—to assess whether species and habitats are covered adequately across the region by the Member States collectively. Some Member States are more inclined than others to accept the principle of collective responsibility. The role of the Agency and the Topic Centre is to collate information for the meeting and to identify the gaps to be filled. The Agency feels that not all of the species and habitats present in the United Kingdom were adequately represented in the lists considered at the meeting.

    Note  Other points arising from the discussion at the EEA are covered in paragraphs 11, 28, 47­49, 51­52, 55 and 57 of the Report. See also the further oral evidence from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (QQ 686-699) and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (QQ 726-734), and the further written evidence from WWF (pp 58­66).

NATURE PROTECTION IN DENMARK

3.  The Danish Protection of Nature Act 1992 (see box) is substantially equivalent to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in Great Britain. One feature of the Danish legislation is that it is regularly reviewed and amended to take into account EU legislation and local domestic circumstances. The 1992 Act consolidates and updates previous legislation. The purpose of the Act is to contribute to safeguarding nature and environment in Denmark, thus ensuring sustainable social development in respect of human conditions of life and for the protection of flora and fauna.

4.  The principal objectives of the Act are:

  • To protect nature, with its stock of wild animals and plants and their habitats, as well as its scenic, historical, natural science and educational values;
  • To improve, restore or create (our emphasis) areas of significance for wild animals and plants etc.
  • To provide public access to nature and to improve the opportunities for open air recreation.

The main powers available under the Act to achieve these objectives are set out in the box.

The Protection of Nature Act 1992 (Denmark)

The Act protects certain habitat types absolutely, above a certain size, usually 2,500 m2. Listed habitats include lakes, watercourses, heaths, bogs, marshes, moors, salt marshes, swamps and coastal meadows, humid permanent grasslands, uncultured dry meadows etc.It is prohibited to alter the state of these habitats and the amount of fisheries that can be applied to them is regulated or prohibited.Stone walls, dykes, and the like are also strictly prohibited.

The Act applies to about 9.3 per cent of Denmark, totalling some 404,000 hectares in extent. It was applied without compensation.

The local councils in Denmark, who each have detailed environmental duties and appropriate staff and resources (they have some of the same powers held by the Environment Agency and the statutory conservation bodies in Britain), are responsible for overseeing this provision and registering the protected habitats.

Special "protection lines" apply to certain linear features or watercourses:

·  It is prohibited to alter the state of beaches or dunes within 100 metres of the start of the "landward" vegetation. New fences or other development are also prohibited unless connected with "traditional" agriculture.

·  It is generally prohibited to place buildings or caravans or to alter the surface of the ground (including planting) within 150 m of a lake (surface area >3 ha).

·  It is prohibited to place buildings within 300m of a forest. For private forests this applies if the wooded area exceeds 20 ha.

·  It is prohibited to change the state of an area within 100 m of an ancient monument.

In each case certain exemptions apply or can be applied for from the relevant authorities. The councils and/or the Government Agencies have powers to enforce the Act. Amongst the powers which are seen as particular deterrent is a requirement to restore damaged or destroyed habitats.

Farmers or landowners have the right of appeal to the Nature Protection Court, who make decisions based on an ecological assessment.

5.  In addition to the general protective powers under the Act, the Government has powers to make Conservation Orders, which currently extend to about 4 per cent of the Danish countryside.

6.  The Conservation Orders pre-date the 1992 Act. They are established when the National Forest and Nature Agency, a county, a local municipality or the Danish Society for the Conservation of Nature (an NGO) put forward proposals to one of the 14 county nature conservancy boards, with whom the decision lies. The conservation orders prevent development, prohibit cultivation or control (or allow) access.

7.  The Government has established a committee to advise ministers on the discharge of functions covered by the Act, which is chaired by the Environment Minister. By statute this committee comprises farmers, landowners, forests, hunters, leading NGOs, universities etc.

Nitrate Strategy

8.  The Danish Government has a national nitrate strategy which aims to reduce point source and diffuse emissions of nitrate from agricultural land and housed pig units. This strategy has set a target of a 50 per cent reduction in nitrate levels by the year 2003. Furthermore the strategy envisages 20,000 ha of woodland planting in riparian areas, and the re-creation or restoration of 16,000 ha of wetland. The basic rationale behind this is the ability of these habitats to reduce levels of nitrates from soils and water. At the same time, the authorities at local and national level recognise the potential benefits of such action for landscape values, fisheries, recreation and biodiversity. They are seeking to capitalise on these benefits in a targeted manner. Other measures to be employed include the reduction of nitrogen fertiliser application by 10 per cent and an increase in organic farming.

9.  Although restoration schemes with similar objectives have been undertaken in the UK (e.g. restoring water levels on parts of the Somerset levels and moors), it is doubtful whether that any single project, in relation to national budget, national area of habitat or any other proportional measure, has approached the scale of the Danish schemes. It took 10 years to gain the support of all the stakeholders for the project, but officials felt that it was time well spent which would bring substantial future dividends.

HABITAT RESTORATION IN DENMARK

10.  The Danish Government has a substantial programme of habitat restoration measures, many aimed at streams, rivers and freshwater habitats. A Watercourse Act 1982, provides the framework for this action to protect and restore rivers and streams. The Skjern River project is a particularly important example.

The Skjern River Project

This important river was straightened and largely canalised in the 1960s allowing the floodplain to be extensively modified and drained for intensive agricultural use—mainly cereal cropping. However this, together with the growth of the pig industry in the upper catchment, led to a serious nitrate pollution problem affecting not only the river, but also the large coastal lagoon (now declared an SPA and SAC) into which it flows. This in turn caused a collapse of the migratory fish population (salmonids and the hoating), as well as growths of algae. The Nitrates Directive triggered specific action by the Danish Government, but the beneficial impact on the fishery and the potential benefits for birds and habitats were considered from the outset.

The river catchment has thus been targeted for concerted action to restore the river within its floodplain. Some 2,500 ha of land have been acquired, a small area compulsorily, over a 10 year period. Much local discussion and debate was necessary to win the support of the local authority and community for the work, and a budget of some £25 million has been earmarked to acquire the land and implement the engineering works.

When the work is complete, the river will meander along much of its old course, and be allowed to seasonally flood within the wider floodplain. Grassland, shallow water bodies and reedbeds will replace the land currently farmed for arable crops. Extensive cattle grazing, will resume on these grasslands. Although it is too early to judge whether the work will succeed, the chances of success seem strong. The area will rapidly be used by wintering wildfowl and it is anticipated that wetland species listed in Annex I of the Birds or Annex II of the Habitats Directives will quickly re-colonise the area. A zoned approach to hunting, recreation, access and birdwatching is planned to maximise the "public" benefits.

THE WADDEN SEA: A SHARED NATURE AREA

11.  The Sub­Committee was given a briefing on the work of the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat , based in Wilhelmshaven, Germany and shared between Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. The Secretariat reports to a trilateral government conference, established in 1991, which meets regularly to oversee common policies for protecting species and habitats in the Wadden Sea (see box). The conference provides the formal framework for co-operative arrangements between the three countries which go back to 1982.

International co-operation in the Wadden Sea

The Wadden Sea is a shallow sea, often enclosed by offshore islands which extends along the north sea coast of the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. It is one of the largest areas of extensive tidal flats in the world, representing nearly 60 per cent of the inter tidal area of north west Europe.

The Wadden Sea is of outstanding ornithological importance, particularly for waterfowl which breed in the high arctic and winter on the coastal flats and marshes. 41 species are found in internationally significant numbers; and the whole area is a Ramsar[48] site and the majority of its area is designated a Special Protection Area under the Birds Directive. It forms one of the largest SPAs in Europe.

Sub­Committee C visited part of the Danish sector of the sea as guests of Ribe County Council. Over several centuries, from about 1400 until 1963, large areas of saltmarsh were reclaimed from the sea by embankments, using procedures similar to those employed on the Wash (Lincolnshire and Norfolk). Between 1963 and 1990 43 Km2 of saltmarsh were lost. 346 Km2 of saltmarsh remain. There is growing recognition that rising sea-levels and the increased intensity of storms may cause an increase in erosion and loss of saltmarsh in the Wadden Sea.

The Wadden Sea provides an exemplar of strong collaborative effort between three Member States to protect and enhance this internationally important resource. The aim is to set common objectives, and apply these as appropriate across the three states. New initiatives to restore areas previously reclaimed from the coastal marshes are under way. There is a trilateral policy which sets out the management principles and secures management collaboration. This has for example resulted in agreement not to cause further embankments to be raised, to close large areas to shell fishing interests and to zone the resource to prevent disturbance from recreational activities.[49]

THE IRISH RURAL ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION SCHEME

12.  Irish Government officials told the Sub­Committee that once it was realised that environmental concerns were likely to be of growing importance in a reformed CAP, Irish farmers were offered in 1992 a scheme under the agri-environment measures. The Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS), since amended and refined with the consent of the Commission, is a broad-based scheme for which all farmers are eligible to apply. By mid-1999 some 43,000 farms had entered the scheme, with some 7,000 more considering it. This represents approximately a third of all Irish farmers.

13.  The objectives of the REPS are:

  • To establish farming practices and production methods which reflect the increasing concern for conservation, landscape protection and wider environmental problems.
  • To protect wildlife habitats and endangered species of flora and fauna.
  • To produce quality food in an extensive and environmentally friendly manner.

14.  Applicants to the REPS are expected to reduce their fertiliser applications to some 80 per cent of the "agricultural optimum", as determined by an accredited adviser. In addition, the protection of water courses and water bodies is an important feature. The result of this is that most of the 43,000 participating farms are from the less intensively farmed west of the country. In the arable areas uptake was less, although the basic countrywide measures to protect watercourses would apply.

15.  Participants in the scheme must carry out their farming activities for a five year period in accordance with an agri environmental plan. A plan specific to each farm, has to be prepared by an approved agency. Within the target areas special prescriptions for each habitat or area are set out in guidance notes from the Department of Agriculture and Food. These have been developed in consultation with the Department for Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht and the Islands.

16.  The farm plans are produced by approved planners who have undergone training provided by the Government in ecology, land management, agronomy and other relevant subjects. To ensure the plans are of high quality a significant number are checked and field visits are regularly paid to farms to ensure compliance. Training is also offered to farmers on measures to control nitrate pollution or how to care for wildlife habitats.

Assessment of applications

17.  The basic REP scheme has eleven measures (see box) against which farms are assessed. Not all apply to each farm, but where the relevant features occur the participating farmer must comply with the prescription to qualify.

REPS: measures with which farmers must comply (where relevant to local circumstances)

·  Nutrient management plans (to prevent pollution)

·  Grassland management plans (to promote sustainable grassland management and protect wildlife habitats).

·  Protecting and maintaining watercourses and wells (to avoid nutrient enhancement of water bodies and strengthen channel banks by allowing the regeneration of streamside vegetation).

·  Retaining wildlife habitats (to protect a long list of natural and semi natural habitats).

·  Maintaining farm and field boundaries (to protect stone walls and the like).

·  Controlling the of use of herbicides and fertilisers near hedgerows, ponds and streams (to protect water resources and flora and fauna by restricting the use of chemicals in the vicinity of these features).

·  Protecting features of historical and archaeological interest.

·  Maintaining and improving the visual appearance of farm and farmyard.

·  Producing tillage crops without growth regulators, without burning straw and stubble and leaving field margins unaltered (to prevent damage and to extensify production).

·  Training in environmentally friendly farming practices.

·  Keeping farm environmental records in a prescribed manner.

18.  A number of supplementary measures are also prescribed. Of these, the measures relating to the conservation of flora and fauna are of particular interest.

19.  At a basic level qualifying farmers receive Euro151 per hectare subject to a maximum of 40 hectares. Additional payments are available to farmers who undertake specified supplementary measures, or who farm within an area declared as an SPA or SAC.

20.  All farmers within Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs) (which are the equivalent of British SSSIs) are required to enter "Supplementary Measure A"—conservation of the natural heritage. This requirement is also extended to all farmland based SACs and SPAs, as well as commonages (equivalent to common grazings).

21.  Extra payments apply where Supplementary Measure A is taken up. These are:
Land in target area Euros per hectare
Each additional hectare up to and including 40 ha Euro242
Each additional hectare greater than 40 ha and up to and including 80 ha Euro 24
Each additional hectare greater than 80 ha and up to and including 120 ha (maximum) Euro 18

22.  Since the average farm size in Ireland is 29 ha, these limits cover the great majority of farms (in contrast to Scotland, where the financial ceilings applied are reached quite quickly by even average sized farms).

23.  The REPS will have a budget of some 250 million Irish pounds per annum during the period 2000-2006, amounting to some Euro2.1 billion over a five year period. This is to be compared with the position in the UK, where total spend is running at some £120 million sterling per annum, on a much larger area of agricultural land.

Benefits to the environment

24.  The targeting of the REPS to prevent damage to wildlife habitats, and to enhance the conservation management of SPAs and SACs in particular, has meant that these designations are now much sought after. Officials told the Sub­Committee that they were actively lobbied by farmers to have their farms declared as NHAs, or as SPAs and SACs, in order to qualify for the higher payment levels.

25.  Officials conceded that they did not yet have the baseline data to measure the beneficial impact of the scheme on biodiversity (i.e. whether there are more species or whether population numbers have increased); but with a high degree of compliance checking, and with baseline farm plans in place, they expected to be able to measure impact quite quickly.

26.  The REPS is also noteworthy in its recognition of the extent of overgrazing, by livestock, particularly on the commonages. We were told of ambitious plans to reduce or even remove stock from up to 500,000 ha of commonage. As many as 1,500,000 sheep would be removed in total from the national sheep flock. The aim being to restore these semi-natural areas and prevent the loss of heather moorland , damage to peatlands etc.


48   Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (the "Ramsar Convention"), 1971. Back

49   See Ministerial Declaration of the Eighth Trilateral Governmental Conference on the Protection of the Wadden Sea, 1997 (Common Wadden Sea Secretariat, Wilhelmshaven, Germany). Back


 
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