Scientists prove that European bird protection law saves threatened species

RSPB Media Release

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The European Union’s Birds Directive – often believed to be one of the world’s most progressive and successful nature conservation laws – has had a huge impact in protecting Europe’s most threatened bird species – including many in the UK, says new research by the RSPB, BirdLife International and Durham University.

The research, which is being published [today, Tuesday 28 July, 2015] in the journal Conservation Letters [note 6], reveals that the most consistent single determinant of a species’ fate is whether it is afforded the highest level of protection under the Birds Directive or not. In the language of The Birds Directive this means whether a species is listed under Annex 1 or not.

The research also shows that Annex 1 species fare better in those countries which have been EU members for longer.

Dr Fiona Sanderson is an RSPB scientist, working for the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, and lead author of the paper. She said: “We analysed information on all bird species breeding across the European Union. Our findings confirm that species with the highest level of protection under the Birds Directive, such as Dalmatian pelican, spoonbill, griffon vulture and greater flamingo, are more likely to have increasing populations, and that these results are most apparent in countries that have been members of the European Union for longer.”

Martin Harper is the RSPB’s Conservation Director. He said: “With such strong evidence of the effectiveness of Europe’s nature laws, coupled with record levels of public support across Europe, the European Commission has a strong mandate to ensure these laws are maintained. These laws are delivering for Europe’s nature and its citizens, and now is not the time to jeopardize the effectiveness of these laws and the progress made. Instead, we should realise the full power of the laws, and implement them to help more species.”

The scientists used information from two time periods: the last 30 years; and 12 years. They then analysed the population trends separately with the results highlighting the benefits of protection for the Birds Directive.

Using a sophisticated statistical model, the scientists were able to exclude other factors such as changes in climate and habitat, yielding clear evidence that the majority of species prioritised for action under the Birds Directive are responding positively and directly to the level of protection.

Dr Paul Donald is the senior author of the paper. He said: “Our research proves that, in an era of unprecedented climate change and habitat loss, those threatened birds protected by the Birds Directive are more likely to prosper.”

Information from other reports shows that in the UK a number of Annex 1 species are faring better in comparison to species which don’t enjoy the same level of protection. [For a full list of Annex 1 species nesting in the UK, please see note 4]. Over a 25-year period [note 5], the following UK nesting species, listed under Annex 1, increased by the following percentages: avocet (504%); white-tailed eagle (850%); marsh harrier (988%); osprey (462%); bittern (567%); Dartford warbler (663%); red kite (2,054%); nightjar (114%); corncrake (163%); and crane (1,660%).

Stop press:

On 30 April the European Commission launched a public consultation on the Birds and Habitats Directives. In Europe, four environmental networks launched the Nature Alert campaign [note 3] in response to the EU Commission’s suggestion to evaluate whether the existing EU nature laws should be changed. In the UK, 100 organisations came together under the Joint Links [note 2] umbrella to collect and submit evidence in support of these vital laws.

Over half a million (520,325) people from across Europe, including over 100,000 people from the UK, have supported the call not to amend the legislation. This is by the largest public response to any consultation published by the European Commission. The consultation closed at 11pm on Sunday 26 July, 2015.

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