Tuesday, 3 July 2007

EU targets Cyprus over failure to protect birds

The European Commission has opened infringement procedures against Cyprus – and almost all other new Member States – for insufficient implementation of EU bird protection law, according to BirdLife Cyprus. It has decided to take a strong stance against Cyprus’s failure to protect key habitats for priority bird species and against last month's controversial decision to allow spring shooting for the first time in 14 years.

The Commission today sent a first warning letter to Cyprus for not complying with the hunting provisions of the Birds Directive. Cyprus breached EU law by allowing spring hunting of Turtle Doves on 6 and 9 May. Like Malta , which has already received a warning on this issue, Cyprus risks being taken to the European Court if it does not now ban spring hunting once and for all.

The official excuse that Turtle Doves were being shot in May for causing “serious damage to cereal crops” is not upheld by analyses of the doves' diet (composed almost entirely of the seeds of cereal field weeds) and is very unlikely to impress the Commission.

Nicosia also received a similar ‘Letter of Formal Notice’ from the Commission (representing step one in the opening of a legal infringement procedure) over the failure to designate sufficient Natura 2000 areas for birds in Cyprus . Only seven of the 16 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) identified by BirdLife Cyprus have so far been designated as Special Protection Areas (SPAs), as required under the Birds Directive.

All SPAs should have been designated upon accession in May 2004 and the inventory of IBAs – representing the best available evidence on priority bird habitats on the island – should have been adopted as the basis for SPA designation. IBAs such as the Oroklini and Paralimni lakes, Akamas and Diarizos have not been turned into SPAs, leaving priority species such as Black-winged Stilts, Spur-winged Plovers, Long-legged Buzzards and Rollers unprotected.

“Cyprus must now ensure the ill-advised decision to allow spring shooting last month was a complete one-off, never to be repeated, otherwise we will face being taken to the European Court by the Commission,” said BirdLife Cyprus Manager Martin Hellicar. “The Interior Ministry must now also move swiftly to designate all of our key bird habitats as SPAs, a long overdue action, especially when one considers the imminent threats to many sites from poorly planned developments,” he added .

Cyprus is not the only EU Member State in hot water over bird protection. The Commission today also decided to take Germany and Poland to the European Court of Justice because of insufficient designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) as required by the Birds Directive. It was also decided to send first warning letters on the same issue to eight more countries that joined the EU in 2004.This means that apart from Estonia now all the new member states from the 2004 round are in legal trouble on bird protection.

Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at BirdLife International in Brussels, states: “We welcome the legal actions announced today as a significant step forward, but regret that so many governments need to be forced to turn their nice words into action. We hope the affected member states will now speed up their efforts to comply with EU legislation and honour their own commitments to ensure Europe stays on track to reach the 2010 biodiversity target.”

Photo: Turtle Dove by Steve Young