WWF - Over half of the European Union's natural areas are only "protected on paper"

9 Feb 2017 10:09 AM

Over half of the European Union’s[1] natural areas are only protected on paper rather than in practice, due to widespread delays and defaults across member states, according to a new report by WWF.

Preventing paper parks: How to make the EU nature laws work published today demonstrates the main problems on the ground and effective solutions to bring about meaningful change. The study highlights clear benefits for threatened species and local economies where effective measures have been taken by both the European Commission and national authorities to protect the environment.

The report shows that unique natural sites like wetlands, pristine mountains and rivers, and marine areas are threatened by legal loopholes, lack of adequate environmental impact assessments and inexistent or inappropriate management plans. Only 30% of areas under the Birds Directive and 41% of areas under the Habitats Directives had management plans in place, and Marine Natura 2000 sites cover only around 6 per cent of EU’s marine territory. This has left the door open to harmful industrial projects which are casuing harm, for example drying out the special Doñana wetland habitat in Spain, and large ski resort developments threatening the survival of brown bears in Pirin National Park in Bulgaria.

There is also a large funding gap of around €5.8 billion per year which is needed to manage and restore the Natura 2000 network.  This in turn would release the full potential of nature, unlocking  social and economic benefits worth  up to €200-300 billion a year.

Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF European Policy Office stated:

“Europe has some of the strongest nature laws in the world, but nevertheless we are losing species and habitats due to illegal industrial developments every day. Protection on paper is meaningless if it’s not backed up by effective management and adequate funding on the ground. This report is an eye-opener on what the EU Institutions and national authorities need to do urgently to halt the loss of nature and move towards a much needed sustainable use of our natural resources.”

The European Commission recently has committed to further improve the effectiveness of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.  The report notes that increased marine protected areas, effective measures and plans for all natural sites, increased investments and better monitoring and enforcement of legal obligations are the right responses to ensure Europe’s nature is effectively protected and restored. Strong cooperation between local authorities and the private sector has transformed parts of Europe’s natural habitat such as seasonal net fishing bans in Finland, leading to the recovery of one of the one of the rarest seals, the Saimaa ringed seal, in the world.

Trevor Hutchings, Director of Advocacy at WWF-UK commented:

"Working with nature has immediate tangible benefits for people and their economies.  So rather than being seen as a constraint to growth and prosperity, nature protections must be front and centre. It is encouraging therefore that the government’s Brexit White Paper committed to bring the current framework of EU environmental regulation into UK and devolved law. This needs proper implementation and a commitment from government to go further - through a new 25 Year Environment Plan - so that the UK can reap the full potential of a world-leading environment.”

Notes to the editor

  • The embargoed report is available  here: 

http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_preventing_paper_parks_full_report.pdf and a summary can be seen here: http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_preventing_paper_parks_summary.pdf

  • What does it take to ensure “Full and Effective Implementation” of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives? WWF urges Member States and the European Commission to step up their efforts by addressing the following priorities:
    1. Complete the designation of marine Natura 2000 sites;
    2. Develop conservation measures and management plans for all Natura 2000 sites
    3. Increase investment in Natura 2000; and
    4. Strengthen enforcement across Europe.
  • WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.
  • Visit wwf.org.uk for latest news and media resources and follow us on Twitter @wwf_uk.

[1] Natura 2000 sites