WWF names and shames Natura 2000 laggards

Farmers, industry groups, weakening EU conservation scheme, claims NGO

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has identified five EU countries where, it claims, economic interest groups are successfully pushing their governments to make weak nature protection plans under the EU habitats directive. The environment group says the UK, France, Germany, Ireland and Finland are all succumbing to pressure from sectoral interests opposed to having areas identified as part of the EU conservation network Natura 2000.

Under the habitats directive each country should have already produced a proposed list of Natura 2000 sites, many of which are now being scrutinised by a panel of experts that will judge whether the plans provide sufficient nature protection. The WWF claims that lobbying from farmers, hunters, foresters, port developers and peat extraction companies in certain countries is having a detrimental effect on this process.

The approval process for the proposals is at a halfway stage as the definitive meetings of the expert groups are to take place over the next year, with a possible finalisation date of 2001. The WWF hopes this will leave enough time to raise public awareness of the value of Natura 2000 so that public pressure in its favour can counter any opposition. As part of its awareness-raising effort, the NGO has drawn up a list of habitat types and species in each EU country that it believes would still be at risk if current national proposals are not improved.

Campaign coordinator Marta Ballasteros said there was a widespread misconception among industry and many members of the public that having land declared part of the Natura 2000 network would mean banning economic activities there. "There is no place in the directive that says economic activities will not be allowed. It just says there must be a management plan with conservation objectives," she said.

The WWF has also criticised delays in implementing the directive (ENDS Daily 4 March). The full list of Natura 2000 sites should have been adopted last year, but Germany has not yet even submitted a list of proposed sites.

Follow Up:
WWF, tel: + 32 2 743 8806.

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