REFIT of the Birds and Habitats Directives- Draft emerging findings.

By Amy G. Fensome, Policy Intern

Last week the consortium of consultants working on the REFIT “Fitness Check” of the Habitats and Birds Directives released a draft of their findings ahead of the stakeholders’ conference on Friday 20th November.

The review collated data from a wide range of sources including the BES and addressed 5 key evaluation criteria: effectiveness, efficiency, relevance, coherence and EU added value. This last criterion evaluates the benefits and change resulting from EU legislation above and beyond what could have been achieved with action taken at the national or regional level.

Overall the consultants report that the Directives are considered to be effective and coherent but require better implementation and stronger enforcement, which require greater funding. The species protection standards have led to the control of illegal hunting practices and to the reversing of declines across a range of Annex I bird species however the impacts of the measures taken so far are not yet sufficient to meet the overall aims of the Directives. The Directives alone cannot deliver the EU 2020 goal of halting biodiversity loss without complementary action being taken in key policy sectors such as agriculture. The key findings are summarised here.

The review reports that the Directives are not an impediment to sustainable development. The Natura 2000 network is valued at €200-300 billion for ecosystem services and €55-85 billion for jobs and tourism whilst €5.8 billion annually is invested in the network. Many businesses support keeping the Directives as they are, in part because consistency is important. Considerable support also comes from conservation NGOs, Member States and an unprecedented response from the public (over 520,000 responses to the public questionnaire). A separate document, issued at the same time, provides a detailed account of evidence gathering and contributors which we have summarised here.

On Tuesday the 17th November, The All Party Parliamentary Group for Biodiversity, chaired by Barry Gardiner MP, held a panel discussion on the future of the Nature Directives. The meeting, which was well attended with representatives from a number of conservation NGOs, game and countryside organisations and government authorities, opened with a speech from Stanley Johnson. As one of the “founding fathers” of the Directives during his time working for the European Commission he was unlikely to fault them but his views chimed with those of the consultation and perhaps a number of those in the audience; namely that there is a “huge weight of approval” for the Directives and that the review was an attempt to weaken legislation; that to open the Annexes for re-evaluation could be “dangerous” and finally, that we need to “get on” and implement the Directives as they stand rather than meddle with them.

The issue of implementation and enforcement of the Directives was taken up again by Andy Baker, of Andrew Baker Consultancy Ltd, who argued for a stronger regulator saying that “the government has starved Natural England of resources”. Andrew Spencer, from CEMEX and the business representative, emphasised the role of clear and consistent regulation saying that this is important if communities are to trust businesses such as CEMEX. He also suggested that the Directives support rather than hinder business and encourage innovation. Many businesses, he said, are against changing the Directives as this would create uncertainty which could inadvertently damage their performance and competitiveness. Finally, Kate Jennings, of the Joint Links NGO coalition, made the point that relying on national regulations alone could fail biodiversity, something to bear in mind as we approach the EU referendum.