Press Release

Nature sites at risk from EU transport projects

May 13, 2008

Over a thousand protected nature areas in Europe are under serious threat from high-profile EU-funded transport infrastructure projects according to a new report by BirdLife International, RSPB and other environmental groups [1], which was presented in the European Parliament today.

[mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]379 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and 935 Sites of Community Importance/potential Sites of Community Importance (SCIs/pSCIs), designated under the EU’s Natura 2000 programme [2], are likely to be affected by the 21 Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) Priority Projects [3] analysed for the study [4].

Some of the most threatened birds in Europe, including the Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis and Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus, as well as countless pristine and biodiverse habitats could be put at risk if the TEN-T Priority Projects go ahead unchanged.

Dr. Clairie Papazoglou, Regional Director of BirdLife’s European Division said “This new analysis highlights the magnitude of the threat to Natura 2000 from transport development. The 21 Priority Projects analysed are just the tip of the iceberg, implementation of TEN-T network as a whole could have much more severe impacts. However, the EU’s transport and nature policies do not have to be on a collision course. The vast majority of these impacts can be avoided if Natura 2000 areas are taken into account in the early stages of planning. This is required by EU environmental law [5]. As a minimum, EU funding needs to be denied to all projects which do not fully comply with EU legislation.”

Priority Project 18 which aims to remove 1,568 km of ‘bottlenecks’ on the Rhine-Main-Danube corridor to improve its navigability could affect 14 SPAs/79 SCIs in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary plus a further 48 Important Bird Areas [6] which should already be designated as SPAs in Bulgaria and Romania.

Priority Project 6 the railway axis linking Lyon to the Ukrainian border via Italy, Slovenia and Hungary will include 750 km of new high-speed lines and a 52 km tunnel under the Alps and could affect 35 SPAs and 105 SCIs/pSCIs.

The results of the report demonstrate that all modes of transport have environmental impacts, even rail despite their lower carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore it is essential that transport projects are developed as sustainably as possible, reducing potential impacts on other environmental resources.

According to the authors of the report most of the damage can be avoided if the protection of nature is factored into planning from the earliest stage. However, in many countries such smart planning is very far from happening. Urgent improvements in planning procedures by using existing EU rules are therefore needed.

In particular, the NGOs call upon the European Commission to:

* ensure that biodiversity considerations are taken into account at the earliest stage of work currently underway to review and revise the TEN-T network,
* establish a strong mechanism to resolve conflicts between TEN-T and Natura 2000 at a strategic level,
* establish a fully operational system to scrutinise spending on transport projects to ensure that EU funding is not provided for projects which damage Natura 2000, and
* strongly enforce EU nature laws in relation to transport projects as in the recent Via Baltica case.

At the national level governments should place more emphasis on the development of sustainable transport projects – big technical solutions, such as the planned works on the Danube, may not be the most cost effective and sustainable solutions. Here proper implementation of EU environmental legislation will have a key role. In helping the design of alternative solutions it will both prevent the most damaging impacts on biodiversity and provide planning security to developers who can be confident that their transport projects will not be challenged on biodiversity grounds at a late stage which can escalate costs and cause long delays.

Jos Dings, Director of Transport and Environment (T&E) said: “The story of Europe’s priority transport infrastructure projects is a classic example of old-fashioned political horse-trading. The projects were chosen behind closed doors and pushed through without consideration of the economic and environmental risks [7]. It’s now time for a root and branch review of how these megaprojects get picked. It’s not hard to get it right and avoid conflicts, the EU just needs to follow its own rules.”

EEB Secretary General John Hontelez pointed out that from a global perspective; European nature is perhaps suffering the most from habitat fragmentation. “Natura 2000 was put in place to protect Europe’s natural areas from further degradation but will fail to achieve this goal if not properly integrated into Europe’s transport policies. With the eyes of the world on Europe this May during the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity, Europe must now show it is serious about protecting its own natural capital.”

Anelia Stefanova, EU Affairs coordinator of CEE Bankwatch Network, said: Alternative options and solutions exist, whether it’s just a different route for a motorway or a conceptually different solution for addressing the transport need. And in fact the greener alternatives are often less costly. This is clearly the case in the highly controversial Via Baltica case in Poland.

The report ’TEN-T and Natura 2000 study: the way forward’ can be downloaded here.

More information

BirdLife International, European Division, website:

Dr Helen Byron, International Site Casework Officer, RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), Tel: +44 7713 255675

Herlinde Herpoel, Media & Communication Officer BirdLife European Division, Brussels, Tel: +32 494 542 844

Notes for the editor

[1] BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation organisations working in more than 100 countries and territories that, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting them.
The RSPB is BirdLife’s Partner in the United Kingdom.

Transport & Environment (T&E)
T&E is the principal environmental organisation campaigning specifically on transport at EU level. Together with our 51 member organisations in 23 countries, T&E works to promote an environmentally-sound approach to transport and mobility.

European Environment Bureau
The EEB is a federation of over 145 environmental citizens’ organisations based in most EU Member States and accession countries. The main aim of the EEB is to protect and improve the environment of Europe and to promote knowledge and understanding of EU environmental and sustainable development policies amongst the general public in the EU to enable them to play their part in achieving that goal.

CEE Bankwatch Network

The CEE Bankwatch Network is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) with member organisations currently from 12 countries across the central and eastern European region. The aim of the network is to monitor the activities of the international financial institutions (IFIs) which operate in the region, and to propose constructive alternatives to their policies and projects in the region.

[2] Natura 2000 is the European ecological network, which is comprised of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated under the Birds Directive and Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) identified under the Habitats Directive. When completed, the Natura 2000 network is expected to cover about 18% of the territory of the European Union.

[3] The Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) is the EU’s Transport Infrastructure Framework. This was initially adopted in 1990 and now includes Priority Projects on 30 international axes plus wider transport projects. By 2020 it is envisaged that the TEN-T will include 89500 km of roads, 94000 km of railways, 11250 km of inland waterways including 210 inland ports, 294 seaports and 366 airports (European Commission, 2005). [Full reference for this is: European Communities (2005) Trans-European Transport Network – TEN-T priority axes and projects 2005, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. Available from]

[4] Methodology of the report: Using data from the European Commission, Natura 2000 sites falling within 2 or 5 km of Priority Projects were identified. Local information was then used to evaluate whether the sites falling within these buffers are actually likely to be affected by the Priority Projects within the Priority Axes.

[5] The key pieces of EU environmental law are the ‘Birds Directive’ (Council Directive 79/409/EEC), the ‘Habitats Directive’ (Council Directive 92/43/EEC) and the Environmental Impact Assessment legislation (Council Directive 85/337/EEC as amended by Directives 97/11/EC and 2003/35/EC on Environmental Impact Assessment for projects and Directive 2001/42/EC on Environmental Assessment for plans and programmes).

[6] Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are identified by BirdLife International based on standardised, scientific criteria and considered as candidate SPAs within the EU.

[7] Europe’s priority transport projects were chosen in 2003 by a so-called ‘high-level group’ led by former Belgian European Commissioner Karl Van Miert.

Pictures illustrating this story are available from RSPB Images. To download pictures click on the following hyperlink and copy and paste the user name and password below when prompted.
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