My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
While the debate about the UK’s membership of the European Union continues, it appears that another European debate has yet to be settled.
Information obtained this week by BirdLife International’s German partner, NABU, suggests that some continue to fight hard to weaken the EU Birds and Habitats and Species Directives – legislation that is currently subject to a ‘Fitness Check’ by the European Commission.
It appears that the Federation for German Industry (BDI) is continuing to try to influence the Fitness Check findings long after the evidence-gathering phase of the process was concluded.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the BDI wrote to the European Commission in December 2015, and in January and February this year, disputing the consultants findings, proposing significant changes, and claiming the report, “gives a misrepresentation of the position of the German Industry.” The timings are significant as it implies that the BDI managed to comment on a draft report before it was shared with anyone else.
Part of the South Dartmoor Woods Special Area of Conservation protected by the EU Habitats and Species Directive and a wonderful site which I visited last week
BDI’s intervention at this late stage in the process might have been understandable if they had not been given the opportunity to state their case. However a quick search of the evidence submitted to the Fitness Check confirms not only that BDI submitted a response to the consultation, but also that their submission, at 30 pages, is the longest submission received from any private sector respondent from an individual Member State. Indeed the Commission went to great lengths to ensure that businesses across the EU were given the opportunity to provide input to the Fitness Check.
So why such a late intervention from an organisation that has already provided significant evidence to the Fitness Check?
It may be that they don’t like the initial findings of the Fitness Check.
If you remember, the consultants tasked with undertaking the evidence-based review said that, “Where fully and properly implemented the Directives have effectively reduced pressures on biodiversity, slowed declines and, with time, led to some recoveries of habitats and species.”
The Council of Environment Ministers (including our own - Rory Stewart) does not want to open up the Directives nor does the European Parliament. In addition, more than half a million people that responded to the consultation were clear that the laws were good for wildlife, good for people, and good for business and that the focus should be on implementation to help restore wildlife populations across Europe.
Perhaps the BDI’s intervention is an ill-conceived and last ditch attempt to interfere with the findings of the Fitness Check, outside the consultation process, in order to get the outcome they want, i.e. weakening the Nature Directives, regardless of the evidence or the views of others.
An industry group continuing to lobby when they don't get what they want? Shocking, I know.
With a process as politically charged as the Fitness Check of the Nature Directives, it is unsurprising that some vested interests will want the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to see through his commitment to merge the directives “into a more modern piece of legislation”. I understand from German colleagues that there are other attacks from those wishing to reduce protection for various bird species.
The Commission must hold firm. It has a duty to ensure that the process is open and transparent, and that the findings are evidence-based, in line with the Commission’s commitment to better regulation. Whatever their true intention, this intervention from German industry comes at a particularly sensitive time.
Ten days ago, the RSPB wrote to the two official campaign groups – “Britain Stronger in Europe” and “Vote Leave” – asking them to set out clearly what their proposition will mean for the natural world. We have asked them to explain how remaining in, or withdrawing from, the EU will address the crucial issues of restoring nature, sustainable agriculture and fisheries, and climate change. Voters need to know the political intentions of both sides which is why we will present whatever we get back from either camp.
So we have uncertainty at home and uncertainty across Europe.
The half a million citizens that participated in the consultation will be eagerly awaiting the outcome of the Fitness Check, including over 100,000 from the UK who provided a consultation response. The ongoing uncertainties about the future of the directives risk undermining nature conservation action and eroding public confidence in the process. It is high time the Commission explained its future plans for the nature directives, and what this means for Europe’s wildlife.
If you'd like to urge them to do so, you can join Birdlife's campaign calling on the Commission to move their review into action.
There could hardly be a better example of the hard work and vigilance of RSPB and its Birdlife partners.In the highly charged run up to the UK EU referendum I hope RSPB will be pointing out that this could be seen as a test of European democracy - whether the EU is more than a club for an insider elite - and if a private business group[ does look like swinging an issue on which an unprecedented number of EU citizens gave made their views quite clear I am sure you will lead in mobilising everyone - and hopefully more - who have Already taken the time to make their views clear.
As Winston Churchill said "races are always won or lost in the final lap" and so it probably is in this case. Politicians make a piece of wet soap seem like a non slip surface so keep up the pressure Birdlife International and RSPB. These commercial organisations like the BDI which are only interested in money and profit must not prevail.