Curlew Numenius arquata, Geltsdale RSPB reserve, Cumbria, England

Where the Directive failed to stop damaging development

Here you'll find the projects where the directive failed to stop developments which will have a negative effect on wildlife.

Cardiff Bay, Cardiff

Cardiff Bay was an area of intertidal mudflats and channels designated as an SSSI for its nationally important numbers (more than 8,000 birds) of wintering waders and wildfowl, including dunlin, redshank and curlew.

The Bay supported the highest density of birds in the Severn Estuary, and was considered by the RSPB as an integral part of the Severn Estuary, which was proposed as an SPA for its internationally important wintering wader populations.

The proposed development

In 1989, the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, a body set up and supported by the Welsh Office, proposed a scheme to barrage the bay to create a lagoon, whilst redeveloping the docklands. This was promoted as a parliamentary bill.

The objection

The RSPB objected to this proposal because its development would destroy the Taff/Ely Estuary SSSI and adversely affect the Severn Estuary pSPA (proposed SPA) by permanently submerging the intertidal mudflats on which its wintering and passage bird populations relied. The arguments around the parliamentary bill centred on whether the project had no alternatives and whether it could be justified on economic grounds.

The outcome

In 1993, the Cardiff Bay Barrage Act was passed by Parliament allowing the development to proceed, citing overriding economic need, despite an independent economic report questioning the economic veracity of the project. The Government funded a 4 square kilometres wetland creation project on the nearby Gwent Levels in an attempt to compensate for the loss of the Bay.

Lappel Bank, Medway

Lappel Bank was an area of mudflat on the Medway Estuary, an internationally important site which supports an average of 53,900 wintering waders and wildfowl.

The Bank itself supported average peak numbers of 1,700 birds including significant numbers of shelducks, ringed plovers, grey plovers, dunlins and redshanks.

The proposed development

In 1989 Medway Ports Authority sought and received planning permission for the reclamation of Lappel Bank for a car and cargo park. The permission was not immediately implemented. 

In 1993, the Secretary of State (SoS) for the Environment designated the Medway Estuary and Marshes as a SPA, but decided to exclude Lappel Bank on the grounds that the economic need not to impair the future expansion of the port outweighed the site’s nature conservation value.

The objection

The RSPB challenged this decision on the grounds that the Birds Directive did not allow economic considerations to be taken into account in the designation of an SPA. The RSPB brought a judicial review against the SoS, which was eventually referred by the House of Lords to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). 

The decision

The ECJ ruled that the UK government had acted illegally to withhold Lappel Bank from the SPA designation for economic reasons. This decision underlined that economic considerations cannot be used to exclude areas of habitat from designation as SPA. 

Unfortunately, the planning permission had been implemented and the site destroyed before the ECJ had issued its ruling. The ruling left the UK government with an obligation to compensate for the habitat loss in order to maintain the coherence of the Natura 2000 network. The government has now announced a site which could be used for this compensation.