One thousand nature sites at risk from EU transport projects


Over 1000 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. The report will be presented in the European Parliament later today. Some of the most threatened birds in Europe, including the Red-breasted Goose and Dalmatian Pelican, as well as countless pristine and biodiverse habitats, could be put at risk if the priority transport projects go ahead unchanged. Dalmatian Pelican and Red-breasted Goose are both at risk of global extinction and both birds have important European populations.

Red-breasted Goose
Red-breasted Goose, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk (Photo: Will Bowell)

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, are likely to be affected by the 21 Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) Priority Projects analysed for the study. The RSPB's Dr Helen Byron is one of the report's authors. She said: "This new analysis highlights the scale of the threat to Europe's best wildlife sites 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."

Dr. Clairie Papazoglou, Regional Director of BirdLife's European Division, added: "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; a requirement under EU environmental law. As a minimum, EU funding needs to be denied to all projects which do not fully comply with EU legislation."

Some of the potentially most damaging projects include:

  • Priority Project 18, which aims to remove 1,568km 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 that 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.

Dalmatian Pelican
Dalmatian Pelican, Greece (Photo: Nikos Panagiotopoulos)

The results of the report demonstrate that all modes of transport have environmental impacts, even rail despite the lower carbon-dioxide emissions. Therefore, it is essential transport projects are developed in the most sustainable ways to reduce potential impacts on Europe's fragile, and already heavily eroded, environments. Dr Helen Byron added: "Most of the damage can be avoided if nature protection is factored into planning from the earliest stages. However, in many countries such smart planning is a long way off. Urgent improvements in planning procedures by using existing EU rules are therefore needed."

In particular, the report partners 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;
  • to establish a strong mechanism to resolve conflicts between TEN-T and Natura 2000 at a strategic level;
  • to 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;
  • to enforce EU nature laws strongly in relation to transport projects.

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. It's now time for a root-and-branch review of how these mega-projects 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. 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 from the following link from 13th May onwards: www.birdlife.org/eu/ten-t.html.

Written by: RSPB