Tell the EU to prevent a Silent Spring!

Godwit and EU flag A godwit – one of the many creatures facing dwindling habitat (© Andreas Trepte - CC BY-SA 2.5 - Montage : RdR)
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Nature in Europe is on the ropes, with one third of all species currently threatened. Numerous birds and butterflies are on the verge of disappearing, yet the European Commission is about to sacrifice nature to business interests by “fitness checking” its bird and habitat directives. Tell the EU to put conservation first!

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To: the European Commission

“Biodiversity in Europe is dwindling rapidly, with one third of all species under threat. Put conservation before business interests!”

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For the past 25 years, Europe’s biodiversity has been fading fast. Birds have been hit hardest: according to figures released by Germany’s Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, only around 100,000 lapwing couples remained in 2013, while godwits are down to a mere 4,000 pairs and declining steadily.

The situation of butterflies is also dramatic: their numbers have plummeted by 40 percent since record-keeping began, and the rate of decline is accelerating. No less than 3,250 butterfly species were counted in Bavaria in 1766, and of those, 400 are gone forever.

Across Europe, the picture is similarly bleak. Most protected areas are in a poor state. Recent good news about wildcats, wolves, beavers and cranes cannot disguise the fact that nature conservation in Europe urgently needs to improve if we are to stop the loss in species diversity.

Instead, the European Commission is “fitness checking” the cornerstones of Europe’s conservation legislation – the EU Birds and Habitats Directives – that were once put in place to protect biodiversity. In the Commission’s view, the directives put too much of a drag on the economy. Conservationists fear that weakening the directives will mean the end for many protected areas and species.

The preliminary decision on the future of Europe’s environment will be reached in the coming weeks.

Please tell the European Commission to strengthen conservation rather than sacrificing it to business interests.


In the EU’s State of Nature report (14 MB download), 77 percent of all protected habitat is rated as “inadequate” or “bad”. 17 percent of bird species are threatened, while another 15 percent are near threatened, declining or depleted. More than half of the remaining species had an unfavorable status.

The major causes of species extinction are the heavy application of pesticides in intensive farming, intensive fishing, forestry, and the construction of roads, industrial estates and settlements. In many cases, EU policy runs contrary to nature conservation.

EU directives for nature conservation

The EU Birds and Habitats Directives are the cornerstones of nature conservation in Europe.

The Birds Directive of 1978 curbed the hunting of birds in the Mediterranean countries and established protected areas for migratory birds. The Habitats Directive for the conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora was adopted in 1992. It calls on the EU countries to identify habitats crucial to plants and animals and place them under protection.

Natura 2000 covers 27,000 protected areas

Natura 2000 is a European network of currently 27,000 protected areas that have been set up under the two directives. 18 percent of Europe’s total land area is currently protected.

Many such areas, such as city parks, are quite small and of questionable ecological benefit. Nevertheless, the EU regulatory framework has helped wildcats, beavers, wolves, cranes, eagles, bearded vultures and gray seals make modest comebacks.

Studies held back – and leaked

An independent report on the “fitness for purpose” of the environmental directives was produced months ago and is being held back from publication by European Commission. The news site EurActiv leaked the report, however. The report finds that the existing directives – provided they are fully and correctly implemented – are effective and efficient. They are often more stringent than national nature conservation laws and are held in high regard by the public.


To: the European Commission

Mr. Commission President,
Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

For the past 25 years, Europe’s biodiversity has been dwindling. According to Germany’s Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, one out of every six animal and plant species in Germany is considered threatened, declining or depleted.

A report produced for the European Commission paints a similarly bleak picture for Europe as a whole, noting that most protected areas are in a poor state. Nature conservation in Europe urgently needs to improve if we are to stop the loss in species diversity.

Under the circumstances, we find it incomprehensible that you want to soften the relevant European directives. Your plan to merge the Birds and Habitat Directives in the name of “better regulation” casts doubts on the value you place on nature conservation. Environmentalists throughout Europe are urgently warning against a reform: you would be risking the extinction of the lapwing, black-tailed godwit and many other species.

Please drop your current plans and strengthen conservation, rather than sacrificing it to business interests.


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