Special Protection Areas for Wild Birds: Commission moves against Austria and Portugal

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Brussels, 11 July 2000

Special Protection Areas for Wild Birds: Commission moves against Austria and Portugal

The European Commission has decided to make an application to the European Court of Justice against Portugal and to send a second warning letter (Reasoned Opinion) to Austria for non-respect of the Wild Birds Directive. The decision to go to court against Portugal concerns the failure to protect the Campo Maior special protection area (SPA), which is particularly threatened by the Abrilongo dam project. The decision against Austria relates to the failure to ensure that the necessary nature conservation safeguards were applied to a golf course project that is situated within the Worschacher Moos SPA in the Enns Valley in the Austrian state of Styria. This site hosts the Crex crex (Corncrake), a globally endangered wild bird species.

Commenting on the decisions, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: “As regards the Enns Valley, I am disturbed that the habitat of a globally endangered bird species has not been properly safeguarded. I am equally concerned at the threats to the Campo Maior SPA in Portugal, and would urge the Austrian and Portuguese authorities to make effort to fulfill their Community birds conservation obligations”.

The Wild Birds Directive (Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds) is the Community’s oldest piece of nature conservation legislation. It creates a comprehensive scheme of protection for the Community’s wild bird species, covering the conservation of the most important bird habitats as well as controls on hunting and other forms of exploitation.

The Directive includes a requirement on Member States to designate a network of protected areas (known as special protection areas or SPAs) for the most threatened species and to send to the Commission all relevant information so that it can take all appropriate initiatives to ensure the coherence of the network. There are two categories of birds: vulnerable species listed in Annex I of the directive; and regularly occurring migratory species not listed in Annex I (especially those using internationally important wetlands). Within SPAs, bird habitats must be protected from deterioration, and potentially damaging developments must be made subject to safeguards set out in Article 6 of the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna).

The above decisions reflect the Commission’s continuing concern that, more than 20 years after the adoption of the Wild Birds Directive, certain important bird areas remain undesignated or inadequately protected, thereby undermining the Community's efforts to safeguard Europe's biodiversity.

There are a number of separate but related components making up the scheme of protection under the directive. One is habitat conservation1.

A second consists of a set of prohibitions on direct threats to birds (such as deliberate destruction of nests and eggs) as well as associated activities such as trade in live or dead birds2. A third comprises rules on hunting, which limit the species which can be hunted, the periods during which they can be hunted and the methods of hunting them. For both these second and third components, it is possible to have derogations, but derogations must meet strict requirements3.

1 Articles 3 and 4

2 Articles 5 and 6

3 Article 9

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