The UK is lagging behind other countries in the European Union (EU) in terms of its nature conservation, according to the European Commission (EC).

The EU has some of the best environmental laws in the world, but the EC’s statistics suggest that some countries, including the UK, are failing to implement them fully, particularly the EU Birds Directive.

The EC’s league table shows that the UK has an incomplete network of sites for bird conservation, putting it behind at least 10 other countries, including France, Belgium, Denmark and Estonia.

The UK has 265 Special Protection Areas, just over 6% of the total land surface area. Of the 27 EU members, only five countries have a smaller percentage of their land area designated as Special Protection Areas.

Andre Farrar, the RSPB’s protected areas campaigner, says: ‘The UK has some of the finest conservation treasures in Europe and we should be setting a lead example for bird protection.

‘Of particular concern is the lack of sites protected for seabirds at sea. Considering we have some of the largest populations of some seabirds in Europe or even the world, it is staggering that the number of marine designed sites falls below those of many other European countries.’

The Birds Directive, which is 30 years old today (April 2), has a number of protective measures, including the classification of Special Protection Areas for rare or vulnerable species, restrictions on the sale and keeping of wild birds and requirements to ensure that the introduction of non-native birds don’t threaten other biodiversity.

Alistair Gammell, the RSPB’s international director, says: ‘The deepening pressures on our natural world, not least those of a changing climate, indicate that the Birds Directive has an ever-more crucial role in safeguarding Europe’s wildlife heritage—not only for our benefit, but to hand on these very special places and their species to future generations of Europeans.’

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