I don’t know

Are the current EU Habitats and Birds Directives fit for purpose, and delivering as expected? The EU has organized a public consultation to find that out. All members of the public and organizations have been invited to contribute. The period of consultation will last until July 24th. We strongly urge everybody, anybody, to take part in it.

Why? This survey comes across as a Machiavellian masterpiece. Its very own “Objective of the consultation” states this too: “This fitness check does not consider possible future changes to the legislation. If required, this would be done in a separate assessment.” In other words: the check assesses the performance and the practicability of the existing legislation. No more, no less. The EU does not question their legislation as such, nor how the ideation prior to its emergence has been phrased in it, nor how the values it was based upon have been defined or described.

The questionnaire itself, and how it has been structured, is a manoeuvre within the same diversionary tactic. To answer its questions, one needs to be the perfect genius knowing and comprehending all the ins and outs of the EU legislation and its making since the dawn of the making and before, the impact of all policies and regulations as such and on one another, to what extent they may meet or support their or other strategic EU objectives on whatever level or in whatever field, and whether this has been effective, significant, successful, beneficiary, important, contributing, efficient, consistent, value-adding, …, or not. This, taking into consideration developments over a couple of decades in, mind you, 28 Member States. Pfff. We have been around, and do not consider ourselves ignorant or stupid. Yet, when reading through the questionnaire, we could only answer the bulk of the questions with “I don’t know”.

In the end, there is hope, light. The final question, the only one not being multiple choice, allows to make “further comments”. It is here that we need your help in order to change something at least, preferably (the thinking about) the legislation as it is. We will explain…

CTCF and its partners have been working on a different, hopefully more effective set-up for a protection regime of vulnerable areas. We allowed ourselves thinking the opposite of whatever whoever thought before. We ended up thinking “ecosystems” rather than “habitats”. The reasons are justifiable, and come in many colours. For instance, we found it remarkable that there is no official denomination in the Habitats Directive of what “a habitat” might be; none. Then, habitats, by their nature, are species related. Only in its Annexes does the Directive see to species, mainly botanic ones which have defined the respective habitat types. And, in their diligence to define habitats of all types, the founding fathers confused the notions of “habitat” and “ecosystem” rather often, randomly. Ecosystems, on the other hand, are easy to define, leaving no misunderstanding about their definition, in the hydrological way, scientifically, and in cultures. From there onwards we focused our plea on the ultimate environment, one which has not been covered by the prevailing habitat-approach, yet stands for what we are labouring for: the protection of “headwaters”. What’s more, we defined this utmost exemplary ecosystem:

A headwater ecosystem is the total of watercourses, their surface waters and all groundwater draining into them, which constitute a river as a basin, from their very sources down to the point at which its ecological status is altered or its ecological potential jeopardized in terms of biology, hydromorphology, and/or physicochemistry, resulting in a significant modification of the water body as such, to which there is no viable alternative for reasons of technical feasibility or disproportionate costs.

We even suggested how to implement this flagrant omission in the current legal framework:

  1. Include the definition of headwater ecosystems in the Water Framework Directive, Art. 2 in order to recognize the special character of this “habitat type”.
  1. Include this definition in the Habitats Directive, Annex I, (epigraph 24); with priority indication (*) – Art. 1 (d) as to classify this “habitat type”.
  1. Include headwater ecosystems in Directive 2014/52/UE, Annex III.2 (location of projects) and appoint them as sensitive areas in which Environmental Impact Assessments are required.

And, perhaps, the protection regime for specific indigenous brown trout (Salmo trutta) populations/lineages might be extended through:

  1. Include “indigenous brown trout” in the Habitats Directive, Annex II; with priority indication (*) – Art. 1 (g – iv) and 1 (h), and recognize it as species of interest, being an inhabitant of headwater ecosystems.

We were, at the time of presenting our cause, too avant-garde. Thus we were advised to await the public consultation. We did. With the opening of the consultation came the disappointment: it does not even consider a change of the legislation at all! If it, indeed, aims at a nondescript outcome as suspected/foreseen, it might be time to dissociate from this obsolete “habitat-thinking” rigorously? To stand on the barricades for an “Ecosystems Directive”? Yes/no? Or is that a bridge too far? A next step, perhaps? I do not don’t know.

For now, a most urgent request: please open the link below, fill up the questionnaire, and (if you agree with the above) support Continental Trout Conservation Fund’s plea to include “headwater ecosystems” in the current Directives. You can even copy the phrase in bold, our definition of headwater ecosystems, and the points 1. to 3. (or 4.) mentioned above and paste these in the box “Any further remarks?” as to make it easy on yourself. We will do so anyway. Success, and thanks! Please note: our partners do support our plea, yet they will each respond to the fitness check separately.

P.S. Please share this call with as many people as you can, and motivate them to take part in the consultation. Remember: everything can be changed, if justified. It just takes people to revolt.

The link to the EU fitness check: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/consultations/nature_fitness_check_en.htm

AEMS Rios con Vida (Spain)
Continental Trout Conservation Fund (Belgium)
EcoAlbania (Albania)
Fonds pour la conservation des Rivières Sauvages (France)
Wild Trout Trust (United Kingdom)
World Fish Migration Foundation (The Netherlands)
WWF (Austria)

Photo: Carlos Rodriquez (bichoproducciones.es)