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Irish tardy on SPAs

European Court condemns Ireland on insufficient bird protection

BirdWatch Ireland, Ireland's largest conservation charity and BirdLife Partner, warmly welcomes the ruling by the European Court of Justice that the Irish Government has failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law in relation to the designation and classification of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for wild birds. The Court also found that the Irish Government had failed adequately to protect some of Ireland's most threatened bird species, including the Kingfisher Alcedo atthis, the Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax and the Corncrake Crex crex.

Upholding five complaints made against the Irish State by the European Commission, the Court ruled that Ireland had failed properly to classify and/or protect several Important Bird Areas (IBAs) identified by BirdWatch Ireland, and had neglected its duty both fully to protect threatened birds and habitats and correctly to implement provisions of the EU Birds Directive. Dr. Stephen Newton, Senior Conservation Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, said "One of the main issues against the Irish State was its failure to 'translate' IBAs identified in 2000, including important breeding sites for species such as Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis and Corncrake that had been identified by much earlier surveys, into SPAs. These sites then deteriorated for a variety of reasons by the mid 1990s, to such an extent that the local extinction of the species concerned occurred. "

Dr. Newton continues "on the east coast, in Dublin Bay, an internationally important wintering site for migratory waders, small parts of the mudflats were excluded from the Sandymount Strand and Tolka Estuary SPA, perhaps since they had been earmarked for development. We concur with the ECJ's ruling that such areas are 'an integral part of the entire wetland ecosystem and for that reason ought also to have been classified as an SPA'." Furthermore, BirdWatch Ireland welcomes the Court's recognition that land management outside designated areas is also important in the protection of bird species considered as having unfavourable conservation status. Here it concerns the declines of formerly common farmland species such as the Skylark Alauda arvensis, which has been lost from most tillage and lowland grasslands in Ireland because of intensive silage production and the switch to the use of winter cereals.

According to Siobhán Egan, Policy Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, "This judgement is a clear signal to the Irish Government that it needs urgently to make up for lost time and put in place the necessary protection measures for threatened bird species and habitats, both to prevent further infringements of EU law and the continued destruction of our natural environment. Birds are crucial indicators of the health of our environment and represent an important asset to tourism and to Ireland's natural heritage. The Irish Government needs to invest in protecting them. Without doing so, the unsustainable use of natural resources and the loss of biodiversity will continue unabated."

4th July 2014