RSPB Conservation Director Martin Harper’s blog
Today I am delighted to welcome Gill Moore from the Friends of North Kent Marshes – a local campaign group – to talk about why the Nature Directives are so important to her local community, and the special places they love. Gill is pictured below (on the right) with former MP Mark Reckless and another of the driving forces behind FONKM, Joan Darwell. Together with George Crozer, Gill and Joan have formed a formidable team.
The Greater Thames Estuary is protected under local, national and international law – with the Nature Directives being the strongest laws of all. It is a spectacular wetland of global importance, extremely rich in wildlife. There are tens of thousands of birds that live here, as well as hundreds of thousands of overwintering and migratory birds that travel here annually along the East Atlantic flyway from as far away as the Arctic in the North and Africa in the South.
Set in a landscape that inspired Charles Dickens to write the opening scene of his novel ‘Great Expectations’ is RSPB Cliffe Pools. The reserve contains 10% of the UK’s saline lagoons, a very rare habitat, where you can watch huge flocks of thousands of birds such as dunlin and black-tailed godwits as they wheel in the skies. The grasslands are great places to watch marsh harriers, merlins, peregrines and owls hunting. In spring you can listen to the song of the nightingale and the call of the cuckoo. These protected habitats are vitally important for lots of other wildlife too, such as harbour porpoise, harbour seals, grey seals, bottlenose dolphins, sea horses, rare bumblebees, the scarce emerald damsel fly and the water vole.
We are passionate about the wild places on our doorstep, and determined that they will be protected for future generations. For the North Kent Marshes, and for many other internationally important wildlife sites across Europe, that protection is delivered by the Directives. We are keenly aware of the strength of the EU Nature Directives and why that strength must be upheld, because we have witnessed first-hand their ability to protect the wildlife and habitats we hold dear. These laws were instrumental in stopping an airport at Cliffe in 2003 and, more recently, in September 2014, when the UK Airports Commission ruled out building an airport anywhere in the Greater Thames Estuary or on the Hoo Peninsula.
Indeed, when Sir Howard Davies delivered the Airports Commission Final Report on the 1st July this year he said that a Thames estuary airport ‘was not a plausible option’ that ‘there was a whole series of reasons why an estuary airport simply did not stack up’ and that ‘there were very serious environmental obstacles to constructing an airport in the Thames estuary. There are important breeding sites for birds, you would have to provide an alternative to them. The European Directives say that you can only take away that habitat if it’s the only place you can build an airport and we don’t think we could claim that that was the case’
We were appalled when EU President Juncker said the Nature Directives were old and must be “overhauled and modernised”, because alongside many experts we felt this would simply lead to them being weakened. The fact is that the Nature Directives form the very foundation of modern nature conservation, and politicians should not be trying to weaken them. Instead, they should be celebrating what they have achieved, and focussing on what they can achieve in the future.
Any weakening of these laws could put our most important wildlife sites in the Thames, Medway and Swale estuaries in peril. The Nature Directives are in place to protect our world class natural heritage and we must not sit idly by and allow this protection to be eroded. If it were it would be an ecological catastrophe!
We urge everyone to respond to this important consultation to show massive support for these nature laws. It is imperative that we do this now, because without strong laws to protect it – your nature, our nature, our children’s nature, could all be gone in the blink of an eye.
You can find us on twitter @fonkm
on facebook Say No Estuary Airport
To read Martin Harpers blog in full please click here