WWF asks EU protection for key habitats in the North Sea
24 March 2009

Galway, Ireland – 
WWF calls on European countries to speed up the process for protecting the North Sea marine environment and designate habitats to be included in the Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

In a new report* presented today, WWF denounces destructive impact of fishing practices, extractive industries and intensive transports in the area and proposes a comprehensive list of sensitive areas that should be subject to protection by 2010.

The list includes the Dogger Bank (shared by Germany, The Netherlands, UK and Denmark), reefs east of England, around the Shetlands and west of Denmark and Sweden, in order to protect the wealth of wildlife at the seafloor and corals. Included in the list are also areas east of Scotland and in UK, Dutch and Danish waters known to be important feeding and reproduction grounds for the harbour porpoise. All these areas are still put under extreme pressure by fisheries, aggregate extraction, oil and gas exploration and maritime transport.

“In spite of their obligation to decide on the list of the Natura 2000 marine protected areas by the end of 2008, EU countries have so far proposed only about 300 sites for the Atlantic and the North Sea most of which are within territorial or coastal waters. It is unfortunate that large areas with key habitats, such as sandbanks and reefs, and species, such as the harbour porpoise, are not covered by most Member States’ site nominations,” says Stephan Lutter, expert on International Marine Policy and Marine Protected Areas at WWF Germany.

“We fear that once again, priority is given to fishing and offshore industry uses at the expense of valuable marine resources which are beneficial to all citizens.”

At present, the only country to put forward a solid list of areas is Germany, with a proposal to protect 30% of the North Sea and Baltic waters. Most of the other countries in the Atlantic and North Sea, but also in the Baltic and Mediterranean, are lagging behind.

“On land, approximately 20 per cent of the European territory is included in the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, one the largest systems of protected areas in the world. Unfortunately at sea, the coverage so far is less than 1 per cent,” added Lutter.

Based on proposals from national governments, the European Commission should formally designate the marine protected areas already nominated as soon as possible and consider infringement procedures for countries whose contribution is deemed insufficient.

For further information contact:
Stephan Lutter, International Marine Policy Officer, WWF Germany
Tel +49 40 530200-122, Mob: +49 162 2914425
Stefania Campogianni, Press Officer, WWF European Policy Office
Tel: +32 2 743 88 15, Mob: +32 499 539 736

* The report "Towards Good Environmental Status - A Network of Marine Protected Areas for the North Sea" is available as PDF (8 MB). Hardcopies may be requested from Stephan Lutter.