UK Govt support for EU nature laws welcomed by Friends of the Earth

16th December 2015

Today’s declaration by Environment Minster Rory Stewart that the UK Government doesn’t support a renegotiation of crucial EU nature laws, has been welcomed by Friends of the Earth.

Speaking in an important debate about the future of nature protection in Brussels today, Mr Stewart told the EU Environment Council that the UK does not want to renegotiate European nature directives.  The EU laws protect important sites for nature and iconic species across the EU.

This is the first time that the UK’s position has been clearly set out in support of the directives.  The laws are currently under review by the European Commission prompting concerns that they will be weakened.

A final decision on whether EU nature directives will be changed will be made in 2016.  But there was strong agreement in today’s Environment Council that the focus should be on better implementation of the laws and a majority of Member States did not support opening them up to renegotiation.

Welcoming today’s news, Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett said:

“It’s great news that UK Environment Minister Rory Stewart has backed crucial European laws that protect our most precious nature sites and iconic species.

“Over half a million people throughout Europe have called for these laws to be maintained and better enforced.

“Protecting nature is fundamental to our wellbeing and that of future generations – weakening laws that protect nature could have a devastating impact.

“But nature is in trouble in the UK and across Europe. We need a firm commitment to enforce these laws and tackle the many threats to our natural world including, intensive farming and climate change.”


Notes to editors:

1. More than half a million EU citizens, including over 100,000 from the UK, responded to a consultation by the EC earlier this year asking for the laws to be maintained and better enforced.

2. Rory Stewart was speaking at an Environment Council meeting in Brussels in a debate about the mid-term review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy – Biodiversity 2020. The first target of the Biodiversity 2020 strategy is full implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives – known as the nature directives.  The EU’s mid-term report on the strategy released in October concluded that there has been “no significant overall progress” in halting biodiversity loss – a target the EU and its member states have set for 2020. The report warned that unless implementation and enforcement efforts become considerably bolder and more ambitious, there will be significant implications for the capacity of biodiversity to meet human needs in the future.  The Environment Council today agreed on the importance of better implementation and enforcement of the nature directives.

3. The nature directives offer legal protection to nature sites by, for example, steering development to alternative locations. This network of protected sites, known as Natura 2000, is described by the European Commission as the “centrepiece of EU nature and biodiversity policy. “The aim of the network is to ensure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats.

Some of the UK’s best loved sites are protected in this way, including Cannock Chase, Flamborough Head, Dartmoor and Snowdonia. Across Europe many of the special places protected by these laws are famous throughout the world – including the wetlands of the Doñana National Park in Spain which is home to flamingos and imperial eagles. These laws also help safeguard a specific list of more than 1,400 rare or threatened species in Europe by restricting harmful activities such as hunting and insensitive development. The European rules have been instrumental in the recovery of some iconic species, such as the bittern.


For press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.

Published by Friends of the Earth Trust