Portugal puts motorway through bird sanctuary - ECJ unhappy

Portugal has been ordered to carry out a full conservation programme after building a motorway through a protected area, threatening the future of 17 species of wild birds.

Commission v Portugal (Case C-239/04)

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) gave judgement in the case of Commission v Portugal (Case C-239/04) on 27 April 2006. The case concerned the application of the Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43/EC), following the Commission having requested the Court to declare that by implementing a project for a motorway, whose route crosses the special protection area (SPA) of Castro Verde, Portugal had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive.

The Portuguese authorities had implemented a project for a motorway the route for which crossed the Castro Verde SPA even though the environmental impact assessment clearly showed that the route concerned did in fact have a very significant negative impact on 17 species of wild birds referred to in Annex I of the Wild Birds Directive (Directive 79/409/EEC).

Further, it was found that there were in fact alternative routes for that stretch of motorway, which were situated both outside the Castro Verde SPA and outside the residential areas in the places mentioned by the Portuguese authorities.

These alternative routes were located in flat country with a very low population density, which would therefore have enable the Portuguese authorities to have selected one of those alternatives without there being either significant technical difficulties or unreasonable additional costs.

However, this was not done. Portugal was therefore found to be in breach of Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive, which requires Member States to "take all compensatory measures necessary to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected" where a plan or project is to be carried out despite a negative environmental assessment have been reached.

The full text of the judgement is available in a number of European languages here.

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