The European Commission is dragging the United Kingdom to the Court of Justice of the EU for failing to propose sites for the protection of the harbour porpoise, a marine mammal regularly found in UK waters.
According to EU legislation on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora, member states must propose a list of sites for certain designated species and their habitats in order to ensure that they are protected from threats; they must also take measures to ensure their conservation.
Harbour porpoises enjoy a rather unfavourable status in the EU, which is why 13 EU member states have designated around 200 sites for its protection. The UK, however, has proposed only one site in Scotland (the Inner Hebrides and Minches Special Area of Conservation), and another small one in Northern Ireland (the Skerries and Causeway Special Area of Conservation).
According to the Commission, the UK has an extensive marine area, therefore has a particular responsibility for the protection of this species. The British authorities have been repeatedly urged to fulfil their obligations for the conservation of the species, but haven not done so to date, hence the court-case.
A letter of formal notice was sent to the UK government in June 2013 and another in October 2014, and since nothing has changed, the Commission decided to go forward with the legal action.
The United Kingdom did conduct public consultation on various potential sites in both English and Welsh waters and did formally propose one site in Scottish waters in September. The Commission, however, says that there are still many other areas where there are far more dense communities of the species, and these are lacking in protection potentially damaging activities such as oil and gas exploration, offshore wind farm construction, and fishing.