Birds and Habitats Directives need more flexibility, says NFU President

The NFU has written directly to the European Commission on the EU Birds and Habitats Directive to highlight key messages from the agricultural sector.

The evaluation looks at how the Directives work in practice and is part of a broader ‘Fitness Check’, which takes stock of EU legislation to ensure that it is fit for purpose. The consultation consists of a range of questions, including whether the directives have met their nature conservation objectives, whether the associated social and economic benefits are appreciated and, if so, whether they are doing so at a reasonable cost.

In a letter to European Commissioner Karmenu Vella, NFU President Meurig Raymond highlights the need for more balance within the Directives with important priorities, such as food production. The existence of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) demonstrates the importance of farming and food production to the EU.

“It is important that the regulatory framework provided by these Directives is flexible in meeting the needs of both agriculture and the environment,” said Mr Raymond. “British farmers are proud of their hard work to enhance the British countryside, protect the environment, maintain habitats for native plants and animals, protect watercourses and support wildlife species. They want to be able to continue this and we look forward to playing an active role in shaping the Commission’s consultation response.”

In the letter, Mr Raymond writes: “The Birds Directive places greater emphasis on the protection of wild birds over and above other wilder habitat management or species – we have seen this with the hedge cutting rules. We are required to cut hedges later, which is likely to have a detrimental impact on butterflies and moths, due to the way in which they use hedgerows as part of their life-cycle. Meanwhile, the Habitats Directive recognises the difficulty in returning habitats to favourable status and doesn’t set timescales for achieving this. However, the Water Framework Directive has set timescales for achieving favourable status on these sites. The result is an impractical, unrealistic objective, which would be impossible to achieve in some instances.

“We believe more effective action could be taken at national rather than EU level. The distribution of species across the EU varies greatly, so the need to protect those species varies greatly across Europe. Where protected species are relatively common in England, protection would be better led by our Government.”

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