EU Nature Directives June 2016
Thank you for contacting me regarding the EU Habitats and Birds Directives. I appreciate our native wildlife is facing unprecedented challenges from climate change and habitat loss.
The last Labour Government committed to introduce fundamental change in environment policy and aspired to take an approach based upon whole ecosystems rather than focusing on individual species or habitats. This included the commissioning of the UK's National Ecosystem Assessment, which has found that 30% of the UK's ecosystems are in decline. It is very disappointing that despite promising to be the 'greenest government ever' during the last Parliament, the Coalition Government set back efforts to protect Britain's wildlife and natural environment. The House of Commons' Environmental Audit Committee gave the Coalition Government a 'red card' for its record on biodiversity, and the Natural Capital Committee reported in January 2015 that England's natural environment is in decline.
I believe the UK Government has a duty to protect our natural environment and that the current Government should be doing much more. While domestic action is essential, I believe cooperation with other nations is critical to reverse the decline of nature. Indeed, before the EU Nature Directives, the UK was losing 15% of its protected sites each year but this is now down to 1%. It is clear that the EU Nature Directives protect our most threatened habitats, birds and other species. It is also the case that the Directives contribute 200-300 billion Euros to the European economy each year in natural services and tourism.
The EU Habitats and Birds Directives have been at the heart of efforts across the EU to protect biodiversity and although progress has been made, up to 25% of European animal species are still at risk of extinction and even common species suffer from continuing loss of suitable habitats. I believe we achieve much more by co-operation than by acting alone and prior to the election, my Shadow Frontbench colleagues committed to defend the directives that provide Britain with wildlife protection.
As you know, the European Commission is currently evaluating both the Habitats and Birds Directives and its review is due to conclude in the first half of 2016. Over half a million EU citizens - including over 100,000 from the UK - directly responded to the public consultation undertaken by the European Commission as part of the 'Fitness Check', the largest ever response to an EU public consultation. Over 90% called on the Commission to improve implementation of the Directives rather than weaken them. A coalition of 100 UK NGOs representing voluntary organisations with more than 8 million members across the UK has also responded to the 'Fitness Check', warning that it represents the single biggest threat to nature in a generation. I believe that making changes to these important laws at a time when biodiversity is in crisis would be bad for people, bad for nature, and bad for business.
On 16 December 2015, Environment Ministers from across the EU attended a meeting of the Environment Council at which it was agreed the Directives are essential components of European nature protection and that their effectiveness depends on consistent implementation. ThemEnvironment Council also reiterated that full implementation is key to achieving the targets of the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 and underlined the importance of not lowering the nature protection standards of the Birds and Habitats Directives. At this meeting, the UK Environment Minister confirmed that the UK is not seeking to renegotiate the EU Nature Directives and called for better implementation, rather than renegotiation. However, I am very disappointed that the UK Farming Minister has since described these directives as 'rigid' and 'spirit-crushing'.
I can assure you that I and my Shadow Frontbench colleagues will be pressing the Government to make sure it retains and improves the implementation of these vital laws. I hope it will not be too much longer before the European Commission publishes the results of its Fitness Check of the Birds and Habitats Directives and I will continue to follow this closely.