Landowners have welcomed an optimistic assessment for Scotland’s privately-owned protected habitats amongst a more mixed picture for the United Kingdom and Europe as a whole.
A new report on the ‘State of Nature in the EU’ was published earlier this week by the European Commission.
The publication showed that conservation efforts for birds were progressing well across Europe, with more than half of all wild bird species enjoying a secure status - but the same report also showed that significant effort was still required on many aspects of habitat management and for terrestrial species.
However, in comments following a speech at Scottish Land & Estates’ spring conference, Pia Bucella, Director of Natural Capital at the European Commission, made clear that Scotland was in a better position than other parts of the continent, with privately owned Natura 2000 sites perceived as being in better status.
Despite this positive endorsement, Scottish Land & Estates believes that the current framework needs to be examined to ensure it can provide significant benefits across Europe.
Anne Gray, Policy Officer (Environment) at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “The report is a timely one and will assist with the European Commission’s current evaluation of how fit for purpose the EU Birds and Habitats Directives are.
“We appreciate that the current protected areas and protected species approach has prevented a worse situation than would be the case if we had no protection legislation all. However, it is also clear that the current framework is not delivering significant improvements.
“Using the Scottish example, we are aware of situations where protected area status has had a detrimental impact rather than a positive one, in particular on moorland sites designated for the protection of hen harriers. In these instances the regulation was too onerous to continue running the moorland for grouse shooting and the subsequent lack of control of predators by gamekeepers saw hen harrier numbers falling.
“It is pleasing that recognition has been provided by Ms Bucella of the positive contribution of privately own sites to the conservation effort.
“However, there needs to be greater flexibility in the way directives are implemented to ensure such highlighted situations do not occur. Indeed, we need to see protection of nature sit alongside our everyday economic and social activities rather than being compartmentalised into specific areas that are protected just for nature. In this way all of society will have some responsibility for nature rather than a specific few who are charged with managing protected sites.”