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European Commission - Press release

Commission refers the United Kingdom to the Court over its failure to protect marine species

Brussels, 29 September 2016

UK in Court over failure to protect harbour porpoise in UK waters.

The European Commission is taking the United Kingdom to the Court of Justice of the EU for its failure to propose sites for the protection of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), a marine mammal regularly found in UK waters.

EU legislation on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (the Habitats Directive, Council Directive 92/43/EEC) requires Member States to propose a list of sites for a number of species and habitat types, ensuring their protection from threats which could seriously harm them and to maintain and restore them in a favourable status in the whole of the EU by taking the conservation measures needed.

Due to the unfavourable status of the harbour porpoises in the EU, 13 Member States, other than the UK, have designated sites for its protection in about 200 Natura 2000 sites. The UK has so far formally proposed only one small site in Northern Ireland (the Skerries and Causeway Special Area of Conservation) and one site in Scotland (the Inner Hebrides and Minches Special Area of Conservation).

As the UK has an extensive marine area, it has a particular responsibility for the protection of this species. The Commission has repeatedly urged the British authorities to fulfil their key obligations for the conservation of the species, as other Member States have done already.

Today's action follows a letter of formal notice sent to the UK government in June 2013 and a reasoned opinion sent in October 2014. While the UK has recently conducted a public consultation on a number of potential sites in English and Welsh waters and this month formally proposed one site in Scottish waters, more needs to be done. The continued failure to propose and designate sufficient sites leaves the areas where the species occurs in greatest densities without the protection required. This refers in particular to the requirement to carry out adequate assessments of potentially damaging developments or activities, such as from offshore wind farm construction, oil and gas exploration and fishing.


Council Directive 92/43/EEC requires the establishment of the Natura 2000 network, the EU-wide network of protected natural areas, made of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), and Special Protection Areas for birds (SPAs) under the Birds Directive. Each Member State identifies and proposes sites that are important for the conservation of species and habitats listed in the Habitats Directive occurring naturally in their territory.The Commission subsequently approves them as Sites of Community Importance (SCI). Member States then have up to six years to designate them as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and to introduce the necessary management measures to maintain or restore the species and habitats present to a good condition.

The harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is a small whale closely related to the family of oceanic dolphins. As its name implies, it stays close to coastal areas or river estuaries, and as such, is the most familiar porpoise to whale watchers.

More information:

- General information on infringements proceedings in the areas of Environment.

- On the key decisions of the September infringements package, please refer to the full MEMO/16/3125.

- On the general infringements procedure, see MEMO/12/12 (an info graph).

- On the EU infringements procedure.


Press contacts:

General public inquiries: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 67 89 10 11 or by email

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