27th JULY 1999
By the Select Committee appointed to consider Community
proposals, whether in draft or otherwise, to obtain all necessary
information about them, and to make reports on those which, in
the opinion of the Committee, raise important questions of policy
or principle, and on other questions to which the Committee considers
that the special attention of the House should be drawn.
Biodiversity in the European Union: Interim
Report United Kingdom Measures
PART 1: INTRODUCTION
The background to the
1. In February 1998 the European Commission
issued a Communication entitled A European Community Biodiversity
SubCommittee C (Environment, Public Health and Consumer
Protection) considered the Communication at the time of its deposit
with Parliament in March 1998. The SubCommittee was then
engaged on other work which precluded detailed examination of
the proposals; it noted however that EU biodiversity policy would
be a strong candidate for a future inquiry, particularly with
the approach of the millennium and the importance of reviewing
progress on the establishment of the Natura 2000 network of protected
sites of Community importancea crucial component of the
EU's strategy for biodiversity (see paragraph 11 below). It
also felt that it would be appropriate to revisit the 1992 Habitats
and Species Directive,
the draft of which had been the subject of a Report in 1988, following
an inquiry by the then SubCommittee F (Environment).
The scope of this Report
2. The Committee has decided to report in
two stages: first, with the present Interim Report, which focuses
on issues relevant to the implementation of the Birds
and Habitats Directives in the United Kingdom, on the effectiveness
of UK wildlife and countryside legislation, and on measures which
may help with the achievement of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan
and its component plans. It is accompanied by the bulk of the
written and oral evidence received up to the middle of July 1999.
3. In the autumn,
before the end of the current Parliamentary session, the Committee
will be producing a Final Report. This will look at the wider
picture in Europe, drawing on evidence from visits and on further
analysis of earlier evidence, and will attempt comparisons between
Member States in relation to progress towards Natura 2000 and
implementation of the EC Biodiversity Action Strategy.
What is "Biodiversity"?
4. Biological diversity, or biodiversity,
is the variety of life forms in the environment. It embraces the
whole range of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects
and other invertebrates, plants, fungi, and micro-organisms, including
viruses and bacteria. Diversity in this all-embracing sense includes
diversity between and within ecosystems and habitats, diversity
of species, and genetic variation within species.
The 1992 Earth Summit and Convention
5. The importance of biodiversity was recognised
at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
(the "Earth Summit"), held in Rio de Janeiro. For example,
Agenda 21 (the world-wide programme of action for sustainable
development adopted at Rio) includes the passage:
"Our planet's essential goods and services
depend on the variety and variability of genes, species, populations
and ecosystems. Biological resources feed and clothe us and provide
housing, medicines and spiritual nourishment. The natural ecosystems
of forests, savannahs, pastures and rangelands, deserts, tundras,
rivers, lakes and seas contain most of the Earth's biodiversity.
Farmers' fields and gardens are also of great importance, while
gene banks, botanical gardens, zoos and other germplasm repositories
make a small but significant contribution. The current decline
in biodiversity is largely the result of human activity and represents
a serious threat to human development."
6. Another major component of the Earth
Summit was the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, signed at
Rio by over 150 countries, including the European Community and
its Member States. Article 6A of the Convention requires each
Contracting Party to "develop national strategies, plans
or programmes for the conservation and sustainable use of biological
diversity or adapt for this purpose existing strategies, plans
or programmes which shall reflect, inter alia, the measures
set out in this Convention relevant to the Contracting Party concerned",
and to "integrate as far as possible and as appropriate the
conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity into
relevant sectoral or cross-sectoral plans, programmes and policies".
The European Community's Biodiversity Strategy
7. The strategy (see paragraph 1) emphasises
the Community's obligation to ensure that its own policies and
instruments contribute to the conservation and sustainable use
of biodiversity. It stresses the link with the EC Fifth Environmental
Action Programme and the implications of Article 174 (ex 130r)
of the EC Treaty, in particular the need to integrate environmental
concerns into other sectoral policies. Four strategic themes are identified, and specific objectives
are detailed within eight policy areas.
EC Biodiversity Strategy: Themes and Policy Areas
and sustainable use of biological diversity
Sharing of benefits arising out of the
utilisation of genetic resources
Research, identification, monitoring
and exchange of information
Education, training and awareness
Policy Areas Conservation
of natural resources
Regional policies and spatial planning
Energy and transport
Development and economic co-operation
8. The strategies, plans and programmes
prepared by States Parties to the Convention are generally known
as "Biodiversity Action Plans" (BAPs). As the Community
is a signatory to the Convention in its own right, the Community
Biodiversity Strategy will be more than a synthesis of Member
States' BAPs. Later in 1998 the Commission published an account
of progress with the strategy, in its First Report on the Implementation
of the Convention on Biological Diversity by the European Community.
We shall be returning to this in more detail in a Final Report
next autumn (see paragraphs 2-3 above).
The UK Biodiversity Action
9. Following signature of the Biodiversity
Convention, the United Kingdom Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP)
was launched in January 1994 by the then Secretary of State for
the Environment (The Rt Hon John Gummer MP).
A Biodiversity Steering Group was established, with representatives
drawn from key sectors and chaired by the Department of the Environment,
to oversee the following tasks:
costed targets and individual action plans for key species and
ways of improving the accessibility and co-ordination of information
ways of increasing public awareness and involvement in conserving
ways of ensuring that commitments in the Plan were properly monitored
and carried out; and
findings before the end of 1995.
10. The present Government has been taking
forward detailed implementation of the UKBAP on the lines envisaged
by its predecessor, the lead role now being taken by the Department
of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR). In its recent
White Paper on Sustainable Development, A Better Quality of
the Government reported that specific
action plans for 45 priority habitats and for over 400 priority
species would be in place by summer 1999. These plans, prepared
with the active involvement of wildlife and nature conservation
non-governmental organisations (NGOs), identify actions and targets
for government departments and agencies, integrated with other
policy areas. The Government is also encouraging local communities
to draw up Local Biodiversity Action Plans, of which over 100
already exist, and to integrate biodiversity with Local Agenda
21 plans. The UK Biodiversity Group plans to publish towards the
end of 2000 a Biodiversity Millennium Report on the progress of
national and local policies and plans.
11. A major plank of the EC Biodiversity
Strategy is the creation of the Natura 2000 network of protected
sites for habitats and species considered to be of outstanding
international significance and therefore of importance to the
maintenance of biodiversity in the European Union.
These protected areas are selected by Member States to conserve
priority species and habitats listed in Annexes to the Birds and
Habitats Directives. The emphasis is placed upon species which
are endemic or largely restricted to Europe, or which have undergone
rapid recent declines, or which are rare in absolute terms for
example top level predators. For birds the importance of Europe
as a staging and wintering area for migratory species is emphasised.
This site-based approach is complemented by requirements to protect
the listed species and habitats through a variety of other measures
throughout the Member States' territories. Establishment of the
Natura 2000 network is being delayed by the slow progress of Member
States in implementing the Directives (see below).
The Birds and Habitats Directives
12. The Birds Directive
was adopted in 1979. It provides for the
protection, management and control of all species of naturally
occurring wild birds in the European territory of the Member States;
it requires Member States to take measures to preserve a sufficient
diversity of habitats in order to maintain populations at ecologically
and scientifically sound levels, and requires special measures
to be taken in respect of rare and migratory species.
13. The Habitats and Species Directive was
adopted in 1992. This Directive lists, in its Annexes, habitats
and species (other than birds) for which Member States are required
to take special measures to maintain or restore natural habitats
and wild species at a "favourable conservation status"
in the Community. The Directive also updates and strengthens the
site protection measures required under the Birds Directive.
14. Both Directives require Member States
to classify or designate
areas of special protection for habitats and species ("Special
Protection Areas"SPAsunder the Birds Directive
and "Special Areas of Conservation"SACsunder
the Habitats Directive). These areas, collectively known as Natura
2000 sites, are to become a coherent network of sites throughout
the European Union hosting listed habitats and species. Particular
emphasis is placed on scarce, declining and migratory species
within the EU, and on the conservation of natural habitats and
of wild fauna and flora of Community interest occurring in the
European territory of Member States.
15. The processes for establishing Natura
2000 sites differ as between the Birds and Habitats Directives,
although the end results are the same. SPAs are designated by
Member States, who then forward lists to the Commission. For SACs,
Member States propose lists of candidate SACs covering Annex I
habitat types and Annex II species. The Commission decidesin
consultation with Member States and on the advice of the European
Environment Agency and its Nature Conservation Topic Centre, based
on review by biogeographic regionwhich sites from both
lists should be regarded as Sites of Community Importance (SCIs).
The SCIs are then formally adopted, and the SACs are designated
by the Member States.
16. According to
the timetable of the Habitats Directive, Member States were supposed
to submit their lists of candidate SACs within three years, i.e.
by June 1995, but all of them have fallen well short of that target.
The process of review by biogeographic region has only just begun.
The preliminary review of candidate sites for the Atlantic Region
(which includes the whole of the British Isles) will be the subject
of a conference in Ireland in September 1999.
Implementation of the Directives in the United
17. Those Member States that had prior national
systems of nature conservation have tended to adapt these to the
Directives. This is the case in the UK, where government policy
has been to rely on the designation of Sites of Special Scientific
(SSSIs; ASSIs in Northern Ireland), first introduced under the
National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, as the
legal basis for SPAs and SACs. Proposals for the notification
of SSSIs, and for the selection of appropriate ones as SPAs or
SACs, is the responsibility of the statutory nature conservation
agenciesEnglish Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
and the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW); in Northern Ireland
the Secretary of State is advised by the Environment and Heritage
Service (EHS) of the Department of the Environment, Northern Ireland.
Whilst the responsibility for selection of SPAs and candidate
SACs rests with the devolved administrations (advised by the nature
conservation agencies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern
Ireland through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)),
ultimately the UK Government is responsible for ensuring compliance
with the Directives' requirements for selection of sites .
18. In the Wildlife and Countryside Act
1981 the UK Government included provisions which were intended
to implement the Birds Directive; equivalent legislation for Northern
Ireland was enacted in 1985. The 1981 Act strengthened the protection
afforded to SSSIs, and introduced other measures to benefit certain
scarce species. In general, however, the provisions of the 1949
Act remained unaffected.
19. Primary legislation for the purposes
of implementing the Habitats Directive was not considered to be
necessary. Instead, Regulations were made in 1994 under Section
2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972.
The Regulations among other things defined the duties and responsibilities
of "competent authorities"
for the purposes of both Directivesin particular the statutory
nature conservation agencies, but also the Environment Agency,
the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), local planning
authorities and others. The competent authorities are required
inter alia to review the consents already issued to third
parties for activities which may impact on SPAs or SACs, with
a view to amending or revoking them where necessary to ensure
protection of the special interests for which the areas have been
selected. The role of the statutory nature conservation agencies
in advising other competent authorities on the rigorous tests
contained in the Regulations is critical, and we have heard evidence
that advice may not have been provided on a consistent basis.
20. The Birds Directive required Member
States to implement its provisions within two years (1981), but
it lacked a specific timetable and contained no criteria for identifying
SPAs. As a result, progress in identifying and declaring sites
has been generally slow, particularly in the early years. In the
UK, the lack of progress in declaring SPAs provoked a complaint
from the Commission in 1990. Progress has since improved, but
nearly 80 eligible UK sites remain to be classified as SPAs some
20 years after the Directive was adopted.
21. The Habitats Directive, in contrast
to the Birds Directive, established a staged process with a precise
timetable for the identification and designation of sites. The
Government decided that as the information available in the UK
was extensive and sound that it would be possible to identify
SACs without substantial new survey. Some 280 possible SACs were
consulted upon in March 1995. The Government submitted 136 candidate
sites to the European Commission in June 1995. Further tranches
have followed, and the final list bringing the total to 340 candidate
SACs, was submitted in June 1999. The Government accepts that
the designation of marine sites poses special problems.
22. The Members of Sub-Committee C who carried
out the inquiry are listed in Appendix 1. The Specialist
Adviser was Mr Stuart Housden, Director for Scotland of the Royal
Society for the Protection of Birds. Oral and written evidence
was received from, and other assistance and information provided
by, the bodies and individuals listed in Appendix 2. The
Sub-Committee's invitation for evidence, issued in March 1999,
is reproduced at Appendix 3.
23. The Committee wishes to record its thanks
to Mr Housden, to the various witnesses and to all others who
have helped with the enquiry so far.
1 COM (1998) 42 Final, 4 February 1998; the Communication
was adopted by the Council in June 1998. Back
2 92/43/EEC: Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and
of Wild Fauna and Flora, OJ L206, 22 July 1992. In this
Report we generally refer to it as the "Birds Directive". Back
3 House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities, 15th
Report, 1988-89, Habitat and Species Protection,
18 July 1989, HL Paper 72. Back
4 See paragraph 12 Back
5 Biodiversity: The UK Action Plan,
Cm 2428. Back
6 A Better Quality of Life: A Strategy for Sustainable Development
for the UK, Cm 4345, May
7 79/409/EEC: Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds, OJ L103,
25 April 1979 (referred to in this Report as the "Birds
8 Strictly speaking, in the language of the Directives, SPAs are
"classified" and SACs are "designated". For
the purposes of this Report we have not observed the distinction
very rigorously. Since it is UK policy to treat all SPAs and SACs
as protected from the time they have first been identified, we
use the term "classified (or designated) as SPAs/SACs"
to refer to all such sites irrespective of whether the process
of formal classification or designation has been completed. Back
9 Any area of land which in the opinion of a statutory nature conservation
agency is "of special interest by reason of its flora, fauna,
or geological or physiographical features" (see Section 28
(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981). Back
10 The JNCC is a statutory committee, established under the Environmental
Protection Act 1990, comprising the three statutory nature conservation
agencies in Great Britain-English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage
and the Countryside Council for Wales-with responsibility inter
alia for advising on nature
conservation issues which affect the whole of Great Britain. Back
11 The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994,
SI 1994 No. 2716 (referred to in this Report as the "1994
Habitats Regulations"). Back
12 Regulation 6 defines "competent authority" as including
"any Minister, government department, public or statutory
undertaker, public body of any description or person holding a
public office". Back