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SPEA is an Environmental not-for-profit organization whose mission is to support research and conservation of wild birds and their habitats, by promoting sustainable development for the benefit of future generations.
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Portuguese government broke EU law, failed to protect threatened species


Portugal’s main environmental NGOs have filed a joint complaint with the European Commission, in which they accuse the Portuguese government of not fulfilling its legal obligations in at least 14 Special Protection Areas (SPA) for birds. In the formal complaint, filed this week, conservationists hold the country’s Environment and Agriculture Ministers accountable for the degradation of farmland habitat in Natura 200. This degradation threatens species like the Little Bustard, which these areas were set up to protect.

“The bad decisions and failures of the Environment and Agriculture Ministries left farmers in Natura 2000 with no support to adequately and sustainably manage farmland habitat; they pushed farmers into illegally intensifying agriculture and drastically changing the landscape,” says Domingos Leitão, Executive Director of SPEA (BirdLife Portugal). “Now there’s only one solution: suspending all new irrigation projects in the area and restoring the affected Special Protection Areas to their original state.”

In the 14 areas mentioned in the complaint, Portugal not only failed to promote adequate management and conservation of species and habitats (despite having received funds from the EU to do so); the state also used EU funding to implement measures that harmed the species and habitats these areas were supposed to protect. As a result, in the past 10 years we have witnessed a steep decline in species such as Lesser Kestrel, Bustard, Little Bustard and Roller in the region. These species were already in such a dire situation that they had been designated as a conservation priority in Europe, with dedicated conservation projects largely financed by EU funds for conservation in Natura 2000. Several of these species occur mainly in the Iberian Peninsula, with important populations in Portugal, so the Portuguese government’s responsibility to protect them is even greater – and failure to do so even more concerning.
 
The Little Bustard is sadly representative of the seriousness of the issue. The Portuguese population of Little Bustard shrunk by half in 10 years, from 2006 to 2016 – including very troubling declines within SPA. In these areas, the pseudo-steppe habitat – a patchwork of cereal-steppes and pastureland that these species depend on – was reduced and degraded, causing the alarming species declines.

The Portuguese government could have prevented this catastrophic situation if it had followed its obligations as laid out in the Birds and Habitats Directives. Instead, the Environment Ministry didn’t develop the SPA management plans which were needed to adequately manage these areas, and turned a blind eye to the intensification of agriculture in and around SPA. The Ministry of Agriculture didn’t invest enough in Agri-environment schemes specifically to maintain the patchwork of cereal-steppes and pastureland in Natura 2000: this required 200 million euros from the  Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, but the Ministry invested only 10% of that – 20.8 million euros. At the same time, it invested 368 million euros on harmful measures such as new dams, irrigation and drainage. This troubling trend has no end in sight: this year the government has invested a further 280 million euros in another 51,000 hectares of irrigation which had not been foreseen, without carrying out a strategic environmental assessment.


Photo by: Gabriel Sierra

4 September 2019






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