Almost half a million EU citizens, including hundreds of Maltese, have called on the European Commission to save Europe’s nature laws in a public consultation – the highest number of responses ever reached in the history of the EU. The public consultation formally closes at midnight on Sunday, after a surge in signatures caused the EC to extend the deadline by 48hours.
BirdLife Malta and Friends of the Earth Malta are among the 120 environmental NGOs across Europe forming the ‘Nature Alert’ campaign, which calls on the European Commission not to weaken the laws that protect nature.
The Nature Alert campaign was launched in May after the Commission announced it would be looking into whether the existing EU nature laws – the Birds and Habitats Directives – should be changed. Campaigners are urging the EC to ensure that the laws are better implemented and enforced, but not changed.
The Birds and Habitats Directives protect 1,000 key species and over 27,000 natural sites in Europe through the Natura 2000 Framework. In Malta, 14% of land is protected as Natura 2000 sites under the Nature Directives, with 41 areas protected for the nature they hold, including Dwerja on Gozo, Majjistral, Buskett, and Filfa. In addition, 5 Marine Special Areas of Conservation safeguard marine life in these areas of Maltese waters, such as the sea around Għajn Tuffieħa.
Each of these areas host fragile ecosystems such as sea grass meadows, reefs, caves, brackish water and garigue. A variety of rare, declining or sensitive species such as the Yelkouan Shearwater (Garnija), national bird the Blue Rock Trush (Merill), Maghrebian Mouse-Eared Bat (Farfett il-Lejl Malti) and Maltese Freshwater Crab (Qabru), are protected through these conservation areas.
The Birds and Habitats Directives have also been important in ensuring that Malta falls in line with the EU to bring in less damaging hunting practices, leading to changes such as shortening of the hunting seasons, better framework regulations and an improvement in monitoring measures.
Steve Micklewright, Executive Director of BirdLife Malta, “While illegal hunting and trapping in Malta remains a problem, the situation would be much worse if it weren’t for the regulations brought in under the Nature Directives. These laws are the backbone of nature protection across the EU, and it is vital they are kept to ensure that we don’t turn the clock backwards with regards to nature protection.”
Elena Portelli, Project Officer at FoE Malta states, “We are a country of limited natural resources, and progressively declining natural areas. Now is the time to send a clear message to the Commission that people in Malta and across the EU appreciate and enjoy our beautiful natural landscapes, and believe that the Birds and Habitats Directives play a significant role in their protection.”
The full results of the consultation are likely to be published in autumn 2015, and a final decision on the future of the laws is expected by June 2016.