Irish NGOs demand more protected sites

Government accused of nominating too few valuable habitats for inclusion in EU network

Five environmental groups this week demanded a radical increase in the number of Irish habitats due to join the Natura 2000 EU network of protected sites. The NGOs claim that the government has nominated to the European Commission only 60% of sites that deserve legal protection under the 1992 EU habitats directive.

Under the habitats directive, EU member states were required to nominate a full list of sites to join Natura 2000 by June 1995. All EU governments failed to comply to varying degrees, sparking a series of infringement proceedings. Ireland has been amongst the slowest, and the Commission announced court action two years ago (ENDS Daily 15 April 1998), at which point it had nominated fewer than 50 sites (ENDS Daily 27 October).

The total has now been boosted to 363, but Commission sources today agreed with Irish NGOs that this was still insufficient, and told ENDS Daily that the court action was continuing. Most EU member states have put forward 10% of national territory to join Natura 2000, an official said, but Ireland's list covers only half this. If the Netherlands can nominate 17% of its territory then Ireland should be able to do better, he added.

Last month, international environmental group WWF claimed that EU countries had under-nominated Natura 2000 sites by an average of 30% and called for a further 2,300 to be included (ENDS Daily 15 June).

* In a related development, NGO BirdLife International has called for a shift to organic production for rice farmers in southern Europe in order to protect more than 60 bird species. The group said that possible EU rice reforms, which could abolish an intervention price and free Asian and American rice products from an import tax, would have "potentially disastrous effects for Europe's wetlands, birds and some wildlife," because rice farmers would be forced to switch to other arable crops. "Rice is still the best conservation option," BirdLife International spokesperson Giovanna Pisano said.

Follow Up:
Irish Peatland Conservation Council, tel: +353 1 872 2384; BirdLife International, tel: +44 1223 27 73 18.

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