Science - March 31, 2005

Alterra discovers gaps in European nature laws

Eighty percent of the threatened plant species in Europe are not protected by the EU. A number of threatened vole species that are only found in Europe are not protected at all. There are holes in European nature legislation.

Researchers at Alterra made a survey of plants and animals found in Europe. They then examined the legal protection that the species enjoy, the extent to which they are threatened and their geographical distribution. The results indicate that a considerable number of species that according to international standards, such as the World Conservation Union (IUCN) red lists, are threatened, do not receive species protection under European nature legislation. The areas where they live are sometimes protected by the Habitat Guidelines, but they are not protected as species.

The researchers refer to this situation as one of legal gaps. These legal hiatuses mostly affect plants, of which eighty percent of the threatened species do not receive species protection. For birds the figure is five percent of the species, for amphibians eleven percent, and for other species the average is forty percent. According to Alterra the most alarming is that there are animal species that are only found in Europe and are threatened according to international standards, but receive no legal protection at all. This applies in particular to a number of vole types, such as the Balkan pine vole (Microtus felteni), Thomas’s vole (M. thomasi) and Alpine pine vole (M. multiplex). Many of the species that are not protected are found in Eastern European countries. According to Wim Ozinga, this is because these are the countries that have just joined the EU, and as a result many areas of nature have not yet been surveyed.

Ozinga explains that the survey, which he describes as ‘crude’, is a first step in investigating to what extent the habitats and species protected by the European Union fit in with the plans for the European nature network, Natura 2000. ‘There are species that live in habitats that are not included in the European protection. Then it becomes an interesting exercise to see how many species are being missed in this way.’ / MW

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