Environmentalists fail to prevent development of protected German wetland

A coalition of environmental groups has failed to persuade Germany’s highest court to grant an injunction to stop the filling of Europe’s largest freshwater tidal mudflat, protected under the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.

Two German environmental groups and an international conservation organisation have decried the announcement by the German Federal Constitutional Court, or Bundesverfassungsgericht, that it would not grant an injunction to stop the filling of at least 20% of Mühlenberger Loch, near Hamburg, for the construction of an Airbus Industrie A380 production factory, which the groups argue contravenes the European Union’s Wild Birds Directive and Habitats Directive. The loch is also supposedly protected under the 1971 international Ramsar Convention on wetlands.

The two local groups, the Association for the Protection of Hamburg’s Elbe Region and the Association for the Protection of Mühlenberger Loch had partnered with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)’s AirbusThinkTwice campaign, and filed the injunction application on the grounds of Airbus Industrie’s plans damaging the loch, which provides a critical habitat for 70 species of migratory birds (see related story). Prior to this, Delmar Blasco, Secretary-General of the Ramsar Convention, had also hit out at the plan to eliminate 20% of the loch (see related story).

The German Federal Constitutional Court said in its opinion that the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs had not been infringed upon by the action to fill Mühlenberger Loch, shocking legal experts and Airbus opponents who firmly assumed that the injunction would be granted. “Essentially, the German Federal Constitutional Court has decided not to interfere on the grounds of standing,” said Scott Crosby, IFAW European Union Consulting Lawyer. “Instead, they have taken a formalistic, and what some would call ‘out-dated’ approach to the issue. By doing so, they have left environmental groups with no legal standing in this case.”

“What seemed unthinkable now appears inevitable,” said IFAW President, Fred O’Regan following the court’s decision. “The unique eco-gem of Mühlenberger Loch, home to thousands of wetland birds, will continue to be filled. A rare and globally important habitat will be sacrificed for short-term profit. We are disappointed by this court decision. IFAW will continue its efforts to protect animals and vital habitat in Germany and around the world by ensuring that legally protected areas are not destroyed for corporate profit.”

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