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European Court awaits as Portugal fails to protect Natura 2000 habitats

alentejoPortugal’s lamentable performance in protecting certain natural habitats is to be exposed – the European Commission is taking the government to the EU Court of Justice for breach of habitat protection laws.

Despite formal warnings to Portugal’s government that it should attend to its Natura 2000 commitments, the Commission today announced that court action is necessary due to Portugal’s failure to protect many countryside areas and their species.

The Commission said Portugal has failed to designate Special Conservation Areas (SACs) for the protection of natural habitats and species included in the Natura 2000 network and by doing so, has failed to establish the necessary conservation measures for those areas.

Portugal reluctantly designated seven SACs in Atlantic-facing regions before the end of 2010 and 54 Sites of Community Importance in the southern region before July 19th, 2012.

Brussels is not impressed at the half-hearted efforts to-date, and commented, “the current measures adopted under the Portuguese sectoral plan for the Natura 2000 network and other sectoral and special plans (e.g. rural development plans, such as PRODER, and municipal plans) are not sufficiently complete or concrete to allow an adequate level of protection or the designation of Special Conservation Areas.”

The Commission has, “repeatedly urged Portugal to fulfil its obligations,” sending a formal notice in February 2015 and a reasoned opinion in May 2016, both of which seem to have been ignored.

The EU’s 1992 Habitats Directive requires the establishment of the Natura 2000 network, a network of protection of natural areas across Europe which consists of Special Conservation Areas and special protection zones for birds. This was not an optional exercise, it is part of being in the European Community with each member state responsible for identifying and proposing its important sites for the conservation of species and habitats.

Portugal’s government rightly has been accused of paying lip-service to this EU initiative as some Natura 2000 zones rather inconveniently have delayed tourist developments in the middle of protected countryside areas.