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Portugal must comply with Natura 2000 rules, warns EC

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The European Commission is requesting Portugal to ensure that coastal developments in sensitive natural areas are fully compliant with EU environmental protection law.

The Commission is concerned that planning permission has been granted for two substantial developments in protected natural areas in the Alcácer/Grândola districts in the north of Alentejo, inside an area known as Comporta-Galé, part of Europe’s Natura 2000 network, despite projected negative effects. If the planned developments go ahead unchanged, sensitive protected areas could be lost forever. The case has important implications, as further more similar developments in the region are also under consideration. Portugal has two months to comply with the request, which takes the form of a reasoned opinion under EU infringement procedures, failing which the Commission may refer Portugal to the EU's Court of Justice.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Sustainable development means learning to live with what we have, and not squandering natural resources for short-term gain. I urge Portugal to look at the long-term picture for this area, and to act swiftly to ensure its adequate protection."

Coastal concerns

Planning permission has been granted for two large resort areas, the Costa Terra resort and the Pinheirinho, both of which cover 200 ha and 2 km of coastline, despite the severity of their projected impact on protected habitats and species. Portugal’s environmental impact assessment noted that local habitats such as wooded dunes and juniper thickets, and 10 amphibian species, 15 reptile species, 130 bird species and 21 mammal species, would all suffer negative impacts. There are concerns too with the impact assessment itself, which fails to address cumulative impacts and the impact of fragmentation.

Portugal has argued that any negative effects would be offset by a new management plan for the area, which would include a private conservation zone. But no measures have been implemented to date.

Related problems in southern Portugal

The Commission has noted that five further construction areas are foreseen for the same protected area, involving a total amount of 50,000 beds, and that together with the Costa Terra and Pinheirinho developments three other resorts have already been authorised: Herdade da Comporta/Carvalhal (347 ha for 4,973 beds), Herdade da Comporta/Comporta (377 ha for 5,974 beds) and Costa de Santo André (4 hotels and a tourist village for 1,200 beds). The cumulative impact of the different resorts has not been assessed.

A number of similar cases are already under way. Three other reasoned opinions have been sent regarding tourist resorts located inside the Natura 2000 network in the South of Portugal, two in the Algarve region and one in the South of Alentejo. The Commission is worried that the Natura 2000 network on the coastline between Lisbon and the Algarve region is under serious threat.

Dunes and wetlands under threat

Despite strict protection under the habitats directive, dune habitats are under severe pressure throughout the EU, and were identified last year as the protected habitat with the worst conservation status in the EU. Member States identify coastal and tourism development as the main threat. Europe has lost 40% of these habitats since 1900, a third of them since 1977.

Current statistics on infringements in general

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