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Brussels, 5 May 2010

Environment: Commission warns Hungary, Portugal and Romania over nature protection shortcomings

The European Commission is pursuing legal action against Hungary, and Portugal for breaching nature protection legislation. Hungary is receiving a second and final written warning about its failure to protect the Sajólád Wood in the east of the country, and for wider problems with the implementation of Natura 2000 in its national legislation. The Commission is also sending Portugal a final warning over an inadequate impact assessment for a tourist resort development in the south of the country. In a third case, the Commission is sending Romania a first written warning over bad application of EU nature law.

EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Natura 2000 sites protect vulnerable habitats, which in turn helps to safeguard the animals and plants which live there. Member States must comply with EU laws to protect these sites and safeguard Europe's precious biodiversity."

Final warning for Hungary

The case concerns the Sajólád Wood in Eastern Hungary, a protected area of hardwood forest. Sajólád Wood was added to the Natura 2000 (see below) in 2004, but is now severely depleted due to illegal logging and clear-cutting of several wood sections by the forest management authorities. The area was a haven for many protected animals, including the Fritillary butterfly (Euphydryas maturna), one of the most endangered butterfly species in Europe.

Although the Hungarian authorities proposed measures to offset the damage caused, these were considered to be insufficient. The deterioration of the forest has continued despite measures taken by the Hungarian authorities to protect the remaining part of the forest more effectively.

The case illustrates the practical implementation problems resulting from shortcomings in transposing the directive into national law. Hungarian legislation does not provide the necessary level of protection to sites required under the Habitats Directive1. Of particular concern is the insufficient legal protection for Natura 2000 woodlands that are not also classified as protected areas under national law. Legislative changes introduced by Hungary in the 2009 Forest Act have not resolved the breaches.

Hungary has two months to respond. The Commission will then decide whether to refer the case to the European Court of Justice.

Last warning for Portugal

The Commission is sending a final warning to Portugal concerning requirements under EU nature protection law.

The case concerns the Montinho da Ribeira resort at Algoceira in the Alentejo region. The resort falls within a site protected by the Habitats Directive and in the vicinity of a Special Area of Conservation for wild birds (Costa Sudoeste sites). The resort includes 322 villas, 40 apartments and a hotel. It also foresees two golf courses, road infrastructure, a water treatment station and a waste water treatment plant. Four other resorts are also planned nearby.

The impact assessment carried out by the Portuguese Authorities was not adequate as it under evaluated impacts on a number of species and habitats, and failed to evaluate the cumulative impacts with other projects foreseen for the sites. It did, however, acknowledge that the project is likely to have significant impacts on a number of protected wild bird species and several protected habitats.

Portugal has two months to respond. The Commission will then decide whether to refer the case to the European Court of Justice.

First warning for Romania

The Commission is sending Romania a first written warning for bad application of EU nature protection legislation in one of Europe's most important wetland areas. The case concerns a project to develop tourism facilities on the Black Sea coast, in Sulina, a city in eastern Romania in the southern part of the Danube Delta. The Sulina beach development project involves recreation areas, a health office and road access works. The area is part of the Natura 2000 network and is protected under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. The Commission has found several deficiencies in the environmental impact study concerning the assessment of potential negative effects on both habitats and bird species. In the Commission's view, the study lacks definitive conclusions capable of removing all reasonable scientific doubt as to the negative impact of the works. It is therefore sending Romania a first written warning.

Special protection areas

Europe's nature is protected by two key pieces of legislation, the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. Under the Birds Directive, Member States are obliged to designate all of the most suitable sites as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to conserve wild bird species. The Habitats Directive requires Member States to designate sites of Community Importance (SCIs) for the conservation of natural habitat types, and to protect various listed species. Together, SPAs and SCIs form the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, which is the EU's most important instrument for conserving natural habitats and the animal and plant species they contain.

More details on nature protection legislation:

For current statistics on infringements in general see:

1 :

Council Directive 92/43 EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna.

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