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Faulty nature assessments fail Europe’s wildlife

A persistent failure to properly carry out evaluations to protect nature sites across Europe – required by EU law – has been highlighted in new analysis recently shared with the Commission.

Appropriate assessments are required by the Habitats Directive to protect Natura 2000 sites, to ensure that any activities or developments do not cause harm to wildlife and habitats. In some cases these procedures have been bypassed entirely, hampering the effectiveness of these laws.

ClientEarth, together with the European Environmental Bureau and CEEweb for Biodiversity, has supported Justice and Environment in sending the European Commission suggestions for how this problem can be addressed.

Activities must only take place if they will not adversely affect a site. Where adverse effects cannot be ruled out, the Habitats Directive requires a precautionary approach, meaning that the activity should not be authorised.

The report reveals a failure to properly understand these rules by experts whose job it is to undertake the assessments and also public authorities who need to make decisions based on them. This is putting protected areas at risk.

Issues with availability of data, quality of site management plans, integration with other regimes such as Environmental Impact Assessment, adequate consultation with stakeholders and the qualification and independence of experts have also been identified as problematic.

ClientEarth lawyer Alice Puritz said:

“The appropriate assessment system and rules are complex. We need to make sure that experts and decision-makers alike fully understand them and that best practice is integrated into the appropriate assessment system consistently across all Member States.

“The fitness check found that both the Habitats and Birds Directives, known together as the Nature Directives, are fit for purpose. The Commission now needs to deliver on its promise to ensure better implementation of these laws by providing adequate funding and resources to support Member States in tackling these worrying problems. This is vital to ensuring these Directives do their job properly.

“The European Commission will release an Action Plan later this year, which will outline how the Commission plans to achieve its promise of better implementation. A Plan that incorporates these recommendations for how the Commission can work with Member States, businesses, environmental organisations and support independent experts would be a step in the right direction.”

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