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A Victory for Nature: huge public campaign saves EU nature laws

8th December 2016

European Commission confirms EU nature protection laws will be saved after record-breaking campaign – now put the laws to work, says BirdWatch Ireland

BirdWatch Ireland, Ireland’s largest environmental NGO, is thrilled to announce to its members and supporters that our EU nature laws have been saved, following an epic two-year campaign by conservation groups across Europe.  Today, EU President Jean-Claude Juncker and his Commission have confirmed that the EU’s flagship nature laws – the Birds and Habitats Directives – will remain in place and will neither be rewritten nor weakened, as had been initially proposed, ending two years of uncertainty over the laws’ future.  The Commission has also called for a plan to better implement and enforce these laws.

This is a win for the record half a million people, including 8,000 people from Ireland, who called on the Commission to save and enforce these laws as part of the Europe-wide #NatureAlert campaign.

BirdWatch Ireland has been working on the #NatureAlert campaign for two years.  It was launched by BirdLife Europe (a network of bird conservation organisations of which BirdWatch Ireland is the Irish partner) and other NGOs in response to the European Commission’s review of the Birds and Habitats Directives.  An unprecedented coalition of over 200 NGOs across every EU member state gathered in response, calling for the Directives to be saved and better implemented – not ‘modernised’.  A record-breaking 520,325 citizens also called for the Birds and Habitats Directives to be saved and better implemented – more than 94% of the total responses received by the European Commission during its public consultation on the Directives in 2015.  This constituted the largest response to any European Commission consultation to date, and indeed was the biggest public consultation in EU history.

In addition, 25 Irish rural Small and Medium Sized enterprises also signed the Nature Declaration as part of this campaign stating that these laws were essential for their livelihoods.  Jim Kennedy of Atlantic Sea Kayaking in West Cork, one of these signatories, said, “It is fantastic to see that the voices of so many people were heard today.  Some of these people are our customers who want to see seabirds, dolphins and whales when out kayaking with us.  Our business relies on clean water and wildlife.  We need these laws for tourism and for our livelihood.  It is a good day for biodiversity and a good day for us.”

The EU nature laws are fundamental to nature protection in Ireland and Europe, safeguarding the more than 1,400 threatened species and one million square kilometres of natural habitats in Europe that fall under their protection.  They have been fiercely defended by scientists, the public, businesses, the European Parliament and many national governments.

BirdWatch Ireland welcomes the decision and also emphasises that tough work still lies ahead to turn this decision into a real victory for nature.  Strong proposals to implement and enforce these laws and tackle the drivers of nature loss are required.  In addition, the benefits to people of the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive and the Natura 2000 network has thus far not been well communicated in Ireland.  There is a job to be done here by the Irish Government to win the support of the people for the best nature laws in the world.

Oonagh Duggan, BirdWatch Ireland’s Acting Head of Policy, Communications and People Engagement, said, “This was an epic campaign where Irish citizens, businesses and NGOs rallied to defend the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive.  Thank you to everyone who wrote letters and signed petitions, and of course to the 25 Irish businesses that signed the Declaration supporting these laws.”

She continued, “I have no doubt that, were it not for these laws, we would have significantly less protection for nature in Ireland.  It is our job now to work to ensure that there is better implementation of these laws, which will hopefully provide greater clarity and certainty for all, and ultimately greater protection for threatened species and habitats.  Our environment is our life-support system, and we must protect it in order to protect ourselves.”

Main photo: Hen Harrier by Neil O'Reilly

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