Nature Directives: Good for Wildlife, Good for Business

One of Landmark’s driving principles, since we were established in 1985, has been ‘landscape design based on sound ecological principles’.  In our 30 years of business we have seen our scope and range of services increase from pure landscape design, to incorporate ecology, environmental planning, town planning and graphic design services.  Our core commitment to the protection of wildlife and the environment has, however, remained a constant thread that underpins all of our business activities.

It is against this backdrop that I am writing this post about the current ‘fitness check’ of the Nature Directives.  The ‘Nature Directives’ (collectively the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive) are key pieces of European legislation that provide protection for Europe’s most threatened habitats and species.  Transposed into UK law by ‘The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations’, the Nature Directives are responsible for the high level of protection afforded to our network of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs).  These pieces of legislation also protect rare and vulnerable (often iconic) British species such as the Scottish wildcat, otter, bottlenose dolphin, golden eagle and hen harrier.  Elsewhere in Europe, the Directives protect species such as brown bear, lynx and the Arctic wolf.

These Directives are critical to protecting Europe’s biodiversity.  As an example of their effectiveness, whilst there are now 421 million fewer birds in Europe than there were 30 years ago, species listed on Annex I of the Birds Directive have bucked the trend and are actually increasing in number.  The benefits are not limited to ornithological interests; the network of protected areas (SACs and SPAs) create €200 – €300 billion worth of economic benefits per year.

The Severn Estuary (a site protected under the Nature Directives) is a haven for coastal and estuarine bird species.

The ‘fitness check’ that is taking place is looking, in the EC’s own words, “at whether the current regulatory framework is proportionate and fit for purpose, and delivering as expected. Specifically, it assesses the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and EU added value of the legislation”.  In today’s continual strive for economic growth, be under no doubt that there will be significant pressure to use this fitness check to water down environmental regulation and reduce the protection provided to our most valued and threatened biodiversity sites and species. On the other hand, the check could provide an opportunity to strengthen the legislation, add clarity and certainty for developers and protect Europe’s wildlife for generations to come.

Based where we are in Bristol, we are lucky to have numerous SPAs and SACs literally on our doorstep.  Much of our work involves helping responsible businesses assess how they can maintain, build and expand their business activities whilst ensuring that they do not negatively impact upon these sites.  These businesses take their responsibilities seriously and accept that if they wish to operate near to sites of such ecological importance, there are certain rules and responsibilities that will apply.  Of course there will always be unscrupulous companies for whom the seeking of short-term profit trumps all other considerations.  For these organisations, relaxation of wildlife law would be a welcome blessing.  For responsible developers and operators, however, any watering down of the Nature Directives will inevitably increase uncertainty and cost.  In a market economy, it will also create conflict between the desire to develop sustainably and the pressure to maximise financial profits for investors.

Our position, therefore, is clear.  The Nature Directives have, over the last 20 years, played (and continue to play) an important role in protecting Europe’s biodiversity.  Not only that, but they provide clarity for developers on where our most significant environmental sites are located.  This allows us, as a nation, to plan for and deliver essential development, infrastructure and services in a strategically and spatially coherent manner that safeguards and conserves the UK’s most important natural heritage.  Any attempt to weaken the Directives would be to the detriment of the principles of sustainable development, and would threaten the very sites and species that we should be leaving in trust for future generations.

Otter - one of the iconic species protected by the Habitats Directive

Otter – one of the iconic species protected by the Habitats Directive

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You have until the 24th July to make your representation to the EC’s consultation on the Nature Directives here: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/consultations/nature_fitness_check_en.htm

Or you can pledge your support to the Directives through the RSPB’s current campaign, #DefendNaturehttp://www.rspb.org.uk/joinandhelp/campaignwithus/defendnature/

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