One of the consequences of the spread of industry, the intensification of agriculture and the extension of human settlements has been pressure on natural habitats: change to ecosystems, the destruction of woodlands and wetlands, and a growth in the threats posed to animals, plants and natural areas. Natural selection and extinction are both features of the evolutionary process, but human activity has added new breadth and depth to the threats posed to wildlife. Just how serious those threats have become is difficult to say, however, because science has been unable to agree on the number of species on earth, or on the extent to which they are threatened. About 13000 species of mammals and birds have been identified, as well as 10 550 reptiles and amphibians and about 25 000 flowering plants, but estimates of the total number of species range as high as 5 to 15 million, and debates rage about how many are threatened by human activity.
Western Europe is home to relatively few species, in part because of its temperate climate, and in part because of the legacy of several centuries of man-made change to the natural environment. They continue to face considerable pressure from human activity, the problems ranging from the general to the specific: the loss of wetlands to land reclamation, pollution, drainage, recreational use and forest plantation; the fragmentation of habitats through man-made changes to the landscape; the loss of sand dunes to urbanization, recreational use and forest plantation; the replacement of natural and semi-natural woodlands with managed forests based around exotic species; the loss of meadows and other semi-natural agricultural habitats; the intensification and specialization of agriculture and forestry; and the threats posed by forest fires, hunting, fishing and collecting (EEA, 1998, chapter 8). In addition, concerns have been voiced in recent years about the possible long-term effects on species distribution of climate change.
Biological diversity, or biodiversity, was defined by the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity as 'the variability among all living organisms from all sources, including . . . terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and ecological complexes of which they are part', and refers not only to variety among species, but also to genetic variation within and between species, and to variety among ecosystems (quoted in EEA, 1998, p. 145). There was no mention of the problems faced by nature in the First EAP, only passing mention in the Second EAP, and policy developments since then have revolved mainly around two key pieces of legislation - the 1979 birds directive designed to protect wild birds and their habitats, and the 1992 habitats directive designed to protect wildlife and natural habitats.
Early European initiatives were controversial, since the Council and the member states questioned the legal basis for EU action on the grounds that it was moving away from the economic goals of the treaties and the principles upon which initial
Community environmental policy had been based (Johnson and Corcelle, 1995, p. 298). DGXI subsequently went to pains to argue that nature conservation was an integral part of land use policy, could be compatible with agriculture and other economic activities, and could also stimulate the creation of new jobs (see, for example, the editorial by environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard, Natura 2000 Newsletter, 1 May 1996). Its arguments have tended to fall on deaf ears, however, and the prompting for much of the EU biodiversity policy that has developed since then has come from a combination of pressure from the European Parliament, and the requirements of international law.
The 1979 birds directive (79/409), which was adopted in April 1979, grew out of Commission research indicating a reduction in the number and populations of migratory bird species stemming from the use of chemicals in agriculture, from hunting, and from habitat destruction caused by pollution, agricultural intensification and development. Recitals to the directive referred to the Community objectives of improving living conditions, promoting harmonious development of economic activities and continuous and balanced expansion, but were otherwise vague on the economic justification. The directive was aimed at promoting the protection of migratory birds naturally occurring in their wild state in the EU, and their eggs, nests and habitats; these species were listed in two annexes. For the 'particularly vulnerable species' listed in Annex I, member states are expected to take strong measures, including the creation of special protected areas (SPAs), particularly wetlands, and to prohibit the hunting or capture of these birds. The original list of 74 species was expanded to 144 by directive 85/411, and by 1996 stood at 182. Meanwhile, Annex II species - of which there are 72 in all - are less immediately threatened, and can be hunted within certain limits; for example, the use of snares, explosives and certain automatic and semi-automatic weapons is prohibited.
The birds directive was followed up by laws on a select group of species. Regulation 348/81 banned the import of parts and products from whales and other cetaceans, including leather articles treated with cetacean oil. Directive 83/129 - which was generated mainly as a result of pressure from the European Parliament - led to a ban on the import of seal pup skins and related products, such as shoes and clothes (except for those resulting from traditional hunting techniques used by Inuit people), and regulation 2496/89 banned the import of raw and worked ivory from African elephants. Given levels of public support for all three ideas, none of these laws was particularly controversial.
During the early 1980s, the Community also became party to - or implemented the terms of - several key pieces of international law on wildlife and nature, beginning with the 1979 Berne Convention on European Wildlife and Habitats. The biggest body of EU law on biodiversity has been driven by the terms of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), which was opened for signature in Washington DC in 1973 and came into force in January 1975. The convention set up a system of permits and certification aimed at controlling or prohibiting trade in endangered species of wildlife. The Community implemented the terms of the treaty by regulation 3626/82, which allowed member states to take even stricter measures than those outlined under CITES. Given that the Community was one of the three largest markets in the world for trade in wildlife - along with the United States and Japan - the regulation had a substantial impact on the reduction of trade.
Following the model of CITES, protected species were listed under three appendices to the regulation: I listed those species threatened with extinction which were or might be affected by trade, II listed those species which might become threatened unless trade was regulated, and III listed all species regulated by any party to the convention, and for which the cooperation of other parties was needed. The regulation was amended 21 times before being repealed by regulation 338/97, which adapted controls to the new circumstances of the single market and harmonized the implementation of the terms of CITES across the member states. This had in turn been amended eight times by the end of 1999. Most of the amendments to both laws extended the list in light of changes to the convention, and there are now more than 820 species listed under Appendix I, nearly 29000 under Appendix II, and nearly 230 under Appendix III.
Because there was no standard EU-wide classification or inventory of threatened habitats and species in the 1980s, it was difficult to be sure about the extent of the biodiversity problem in the EU. Furthermore, protected areas came in a confusing array of categories developed by a combination of national and international law. For example, there were 59 biosphere reserves (areas recognized within the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere programme), seven World Heritage sites (with national and universal cultural and natural value, as defined under the 1975 World Heritage Convention), 135 sites designated under the 1974 Helsinki Convention and the 1976 Barcelona Convention, and 1157 sites designated under the birds directive. There were also nearly 960 protected areas that came under five categories developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (EEA, 1995, pp. 112-13). In addition, member states had their own definitions of 'protected area', with some intended to restrict or ban all human activity other than recreation and research, while others were populated and exploited for economic gain by farmers and foresters.
The Commission responded in 1988 by broadening its view of the biodiversity problem and proposing a new directive on the protection of natural and semi-natural habitats, suggesting that a comprehensive network of protected areas be set up aimed at ensuring the maintenance of threatened species and habitat types. The proposal was adopted in May 1992 as directive 92/43, which was aimed at protecting selected habitats for their own sake rather than because they were home to valuable species. It identified species and habitat types of special Community interest, giving them 'favourable conservation status' if the natural range of the species and the area covered by the habitat was stable or growing. By 1996, Annexes listed 200 animal species, 434 plant species and 253 habitat types, ranging from estuaries and mudflats to alpine rivers, heaths, grasslands, bogs, caves and forests.
The directive provided for the creation of a network of habitats of Community significance under the label Natura 2000. Member states were asked to carry out an assessment of the listed habitat and species types within their borders, and then submit a list - including sites protected under the birds directive - to the Commission by June 1995. From these lists, a grand list of Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) was then to be developed by the Commission, which was to judge the sites according to such characteristics as their relative value at the national level, their importance as part of a migration route, and their overall value in terms of the six biogeographical zones covered by the EU: boreal, continental, Atlantic, alpine, macronesian and Mediterranean. Member states were then given six years from June 1998 to designate these sites as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), to set up the necessary conservation measures, including management plans, and to take all the steps necessary to avoid the deterioration of the habitats or disturbance of the species. New sites are to be added to the Natura 2000 network as and when needed. By 1999, all 15 member states had developed lists of proposed special protected areas covering as much as 23 per cent of land area in Denmark, 13-14 per cent in Austria and Belgium, and less than 5 per cent in France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and the UK (EEA, 1999, appendices p. 27).
In addition to these legislative arrangements, EU policy on biodiversity also includes several funds set up to promote environmental management, including the protection of biotopes. These date back to 1982 and 1983 and the decision by the European Parliament to fund several small-scale projects, mostly of an exploratory nature. The idea was taken a stage further in 1984 with the creation under regulation 1872/84 of Actions by the Community relating to the Environment (ACE), which set aside funding to support - among other things - activities under the auspices of the birds directive. Both Parliament and the Commission lobbied to broaden the scope of funding beyond birds to other species and their habitats, but without success. ACE ran for three years and was then extended to 1991, providing a total of 30 million ecus.
Meanwhile, habitat protection in the Mediterranean and northern European maritime regions was included in the objectives of the MEDSPA (1986-91) and NORSPA (1989-91) programmes. The former supported projects in the Mediterranean area, with an emphasis on water resources, the prevention of water pollution and waste disposal; the latter focused on the coastal areas and waters of Northern Europe, emphasizing the conservation of marine life and the integrated management of biotopes. More funding came out of the LEADER programme, set up in 1991 to improve the development potential of rural areas; it funded several projects to restore species diversity through the protection and introduction of indigenous species that diversify agricultural production in marginal areas.
TABLE 9.1 Key pieces of EU law on biodiversity and GMOs
79/409 Directive on the conservation of wild birds.
Establishes general duty on member states to protect all species of wild birds found in Europe, and their habitats.
348/81 Regulation on import of whale products. Establishes common rules for imports of whales and other cetacean products.
3626/82 Regulation on the 1973 endangered species convention. Approves terms of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (Washington DC, 1973).
83/129 Directive on imports of seal pup skins. Prohibits importation of skins of certain seal pups and derived products.
1872/84 Regulation on environmental funding. Establishes
COE environmental fund for clean technologies and protection of sensitive areas.
2496/89 Regulation on imports of ivory. Prohibits import of raw and worked ivory from African elephants.
90/219 Directive on genetically modified micro-organisms.
Establishes measures to protect human health and the environment from dangers arising from contained use of GMOs.
90/220 Directive on deliberate release of GMOs. Harmonizes protection measures taken by member states in the event of the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment.
3907/91 Regulation on nature conservation. Establishes rules for action by the Community relating to nature conservation (ACNAT).
92/43 Directive on natural habitats and fauna and flora.
Establishes classification system for habitat types and species; contributed to implementation of Convention on Biological Diversity (Rio de Janeiro, 1992).
1973/92 Regulation establishing LIFE. Establishes a financial instrument for the environment (LIFE).
338/97 Regulation on 1973 convention on trade in endangered species. Brings EU into compliance with the objectives of CITES.
To support projects under the habitats directive, a new fund for nature - Actions by the Community for Nature (ACNAT) -was created in 1991 under regulation 3907/91, but was almost immediately superceded by LIFE (Financial Instrument for the Environment), a much more ambitious and broad-based fund aimed specifically at the environment and designed to set aside 400 million ecus between 1992 and 1995 in support of the Fifth EAP. It was renewed in 1996 with the creation of LIFE II, which set aside 450 million ecus between 1996 and 1999, nearly half of which was earmarked for nature protection projects related to the birds and habitats directives. In 1999, funding was made available for the first time under LIFE II to eastern European countries, with seven projects being funded in Romania. LIFE III was under discussion as this book went to press.
The most recent initiative in the area of nature protection has been a proposal from the European Commission for a strategy on biodiversity. This was prompted by the Convention on Biological Diversity, opened for signature at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, which the Community ratified in December 1993, the same month that it came into force. The objectives behind the convention are the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of species and habitats, and a fair and equitable division of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. Since it encourages signatories to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, the Council of Ministers in December 1995 agreed the need to develop a Community strategy aimed at filling in the gaps in existing policy and complementing the plans of the member states. The resulting Commission proposal used the birds and habitat directives and the proposed framework water directive (see Chapter 7) as foundations, and argued the need for a series of action plans designed to integrate biodiversity policy within policies and programmes for which the EU has competence, such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, energy, transport and tourism (European Commission, 1998a).
Was this article helpful?