Justice for Dutch farmland birds

Today, VBN (BirdLife in the Netherlands) filed a formal complaint to the European Commission against the Dutch government for persistent breaches of the EU Birds Directive in The Netherlands. Wouter Langhout – BirdLife ECA’s EU Nature Policy Officer – explains how these infringements put the fate of farmland birds on the line.

When people think of the Dutch countryside, their mind’s eye often springs to the rural idyll immortalized by the brushstrokes of the old masters. However, the horizon looks bleak for farmland birds in the Netherlands today.

The Godwit, once a common sight in Dutch meadows, has seen its numbers plummet from 100,000 pairs in 1980 to 30,000 pairs today.[1] Experts predict that, if the current trend continues, this number will drop down to a mere 1,500 pairs. This decline is put in stark relief by the fact that the Netherlands is home to more than half of the Godwit’s entire EU breeding population.

Black-Tailed Godwit (c) Colum Clarke

Indeed, it is largely due to the decline in its Dutch populations that it was last year listed on the IUCN’s Global Red List of bird species. And unfortunately, the Godwit is not alone in its plight; populations of other iconic Dutch farmland birds, such as the Skylark and the Oystercatcher are also in freefall.

While, the Dutch government has taken some measures to address this troublesome trend, they have been nowhere near sufficient. The government’s recently published ‘action plan’ (Plan van Aanpak Weidevogels’)[2] is very weak: it has no clear objectives and, more tellingly, has no funding to secure actual implementation. In addition, while the new Dutch Nature Conservation Act allows for national, legally binding programmes to promote active species protection, the government has refused to develop any such programme for farmland birds.

All this comes after literally years of warnings from scientists, NGOs and farmers alike. Yet the Dutch government doesn’t seem to hear the alarm bells. And so today, BirdLife’s partner in The Netherlands Vogelbescherming Nederland (VBN) filed a formal complaint with the European Commission against the Dutch government for its persistent breaches of the EU Birds Directive.

The EU Birds Directive requires EU Member States to safeguard populations of farmland birds, in particular, by taking measures to conserve or restore habitats and by designating protected areas. Ultimately, Member States that fail to implement EU legislation can end up before the Court of Justice of the European Union, which can impose fines on Member States for breach of these laws. Rather than wasting time and taxpayers’ money on lengthy legal procedures, VBN hopes that the Dutch government will see this formal complaint as a wake-up call that will spur it into action to save the Godwit and other farmland birds.

Unfortunately, the Netherlands is not the only country that has neglected farmland birds. NABU (BirdLife in Germany) and DOPPS (BirdLife in Slovenia) both filed similar complaints in 2013, and BSPB (BirdLife in Bulgaria) filed a complaint in 2012 regarding the large scale destruction of grasslands and farmland habitats in the country. The EU spends 40% of its budget on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP; however, the report on the State of Nature in the EU by the European Environment Agency showed that farmland biodiversity across the board is in deep trouble – and agriculture is the main culprit[3]. Clearly, the EU’s agricultural policy fails to put the necessary money into biodiversity conservation; but worse than that, it has also been fuelling the ever increasing intensification that will turn our living landscapes into empty mass-production fields.

Public money should go to public goods. Godwits, Skylarks and other farmland birds are public goods, as their intriguing songs and elegant displays are free for all to enjoy. Unless we fix the broken CAP we are at risk of losing them forever from our fields.

Wouter Langhout is EU Nature Policy Officer for BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

[1] http://www.clo.nl/indicatoren/nl1183-aantallen-weidevogels; https://www.sovon.nl/nl/soort/5320

[2] https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/natuur-en-biodiversiteit/documenten/kamerstukken/2016/11/02/kamerbrief-over-de-aanpak-van-weidevogels

[3] http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/state-of-nature-in-the-eu

This article was first published by on 08 Nov 2016.


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