|Via Baltica, Poland
As part of an expressway between Helsinki and Warsaw, identified as a priority project under the EU’s “TEN-T” priority transport network, the Polish authorities identified a route cutting through several important Natura 2000 sites including the Rospuda Valley site. This would have resulted in the destruction of the Augustow primeval forest and unique mire habitats. Following inadequate assessments of the project’s implications on protected species and habitats, a European Commission infringement action was opened against the Polish Government, which lead to a European Court of Justice order and ultimately to the stop of the road project. Subsequently, the Polish authorities changed the route of the expressway to avoid the Natura 2000 areas, producing an effective win-win – however with huge costs and time-delays that could have been avoided through proper planning from the beginning. This is an example of how development should not be brought forward in regards to the Natura 2000 network, but also a case where EU enforcement actions successfully stopped significant destruction of a site. It was an important precedent showing that it is possible to reconcile transport development with Natura 2000.
Windfarms in Dobrudzha, Bulgaria
Since 2005, wind energy development without strategic planning control has been allowed in the Dobrudzha Black Sea region of Bulgaria. These developments have destroyed Natura 2000 priority steppe habitats, threaten thousands of migratory soaring birds on the Via Pontica migration route and erode the wintering feeding grounds of the globally threatened red-breasted goose. Despite an infringement action being opened by the Commission against the Bulgarian Government in 2007, little progress has been made in either getting compensation or removal of the existing damaging wind developments, or in controlling the continual attrition of goose feeding grounds to new developments. This can be attributed to a lack of good will and continuing obfuscation from the Bulgarian government, lack of resources in the European Commission to pursue the case and a lack of powers to investigate the case properly on the ground.
Valloni e Steppe Pedegarganiche, Italy
A large number of industrial settlements, covering some 300 ha, were given permission inside the Natura 2000 site “Valloni e Steppe Pedegarganiche” designated under the EU Birds Directive in Southern Italy. Despite the site holding very important steppe grassland habitats, the development projects were permitted without adequate environmental impact assessments. In addition 1,000-1,300 ha of steppe grasslands were irreversibly converted into cereal and prickly-pear fields, in all leading to destruction and deterioration of over 90% of the steppe grasslands within the site.
After the European Commission has started infringement proceedings (art. 226 TEC) regarding the industrial settlements and the Italian government condemned by the European Court of Justice, a compensation scheme was proposed to try to provide replacement habitats for those lost. However, due to the scale of the damage and doubts as to how well the compensation will replicate those features lost, a European Commission infringement action was opened. The Italian Republic has provided a series of updates on the measures undertaken to comply with the judgment and the procedure was closed, but there is still strong uncertainty about efficacy of these measures.
OTOP Polish Society for the Protection of Birds (BirdLife partner in Poland)
Malgorzata Gorska, Malgorzata.Gorska(at)otop.org.pl
BSPB Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BirdLife partner in Bulgaria)
Irina Kostadinova, irina.kostadinova(at)bspb.org
LIPU (BirdLife partner in Italy)
Giorgia Gaibani, giorgia.gaibani(at)lipu.it