Biodiversity: the basis of all life - demands by natur&ëmwelt in the run-up to the Parliament elections

The state of the environment in Luxembourg, and what natur&ëmwelt thinks the political parties should do about it.

A series of demands formulated by natur&ëmwelt in the run-up to the Parliament elections in October 2018.

Press conference, April 20 with chairman Roby Biwer and Laure Cales (natur&ëmwelt)

 

Biodiversity: the basis of all life

Despite all the efforts being made at national and European level, biodiversity loss continues apace. Habitats and key species are in an alarming state; the quality of our air, soil and watercourses is substandard.

As a nature conservation NGO, we are calling on the next government to take this situation seriously and to make biodiversity a consistent and targeted aim in all areas of decision-making. It is only when decision-makers acknowledge and commit to the economic, ecological and cultural importance of our environment that nature and its biodiversity are free to develop fully.

 

Our demands in a nutshell:

 

Unfettered growth at the expense of biodiversity – no way!  We are calling for smart land-use planning based on three centres of population growth

No other country in Europe is so blighted with fragmentation as Luxembourg. The effect on wildlife and their habitats is disastrous. It is high time Luxembourg's scattergun approach to planning came to an end. We advocate replacing it by smart land-use planning centred on three interconnected centres of growth: Luxembourg City, the South (centred on Esch-Belval) and the Nordstad (the Ettelbrück-Diekirch agglomeration). We need joined-up thinking and planning for trade and industry, homes and jobs, with an overarching mobility policy.

 

An agricultural policy which is good for producers, consumers and the environment alike. 20% organic farming by 2025!

We need a change in mentality – at national and at European level. The No 1 priority for Luxembourg's agricultural policy has to be regional, organic production, value added and marketing. What we need in Luxembourg is a form of farming that guarantees farmers a steady level of income and that is good for nature and the climate, having due regard to consumer protection, human health and animal welfare. natur&ëmwelt is therefore calling for the share of organic farming to be boosted from the current miserable 4% to 20% of the agricultural land surface by 2025.

 

No more pesticides! We demand an immediate ban on the most hazardous substances and an end to sales to private households

Pesticides are responsible for the decline in 80% of all endangered bird species, a third of all insects and half of all plant species in the farmed countryside. We therefore see no alternative to the immediate banning in Luxembourg of the most dangerous substances (e.g. Glyphosat, or Round-Up), which are also suspected of being carcinogenic. At the same time, we have to devise a strategy for the early phasing-out of 'plant protection products'. Local authorities have already banned pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, and a similar ban is needed immediately on sales to private households.


High time for the measures provided for in the Water Framework Directive to be put into effect, with a view to achieving a really sustainable improvement in the quality of our watercourses

Our rivers and streams, lakes and ponds are currently in a poor state. They need urgent improvement, having regard to the natural conditions and the specific needs of our fauna and flora. Waste water management is an urgent issue too, especially if Luxembourg's population is to continue rising. The 'partial separation' system of sewerage has to be introduced countrywide; old sewers need upgrading, sewage works extended and brought up to the state of the art.

 

All the Natura 2000 management plans need to be completed and further progress made with their implementation

Over recent years, Luxembourg's network of Natura 2000 protected areas (under the EU Flora-Fauna-Habitats and Birds Directives) has been extended. There are now 48 protected areas under the Habitats Directive and 18 under the Birds Directive. The Observatoire de l'environnement report for 2013-2016 points out, though, that 75% of the 'Annex I' habitats are not in a good state. Within the protected areas, habitats associated with the key species must be improved. Under no circumstances may the key species in the various areas be allowed to decline.

 

Renewable energy? Yes, but not to the detriment of nature!

With climate change happening, and in the light of the Paris Agreement, something clearly needs to be done. But we have to be careful that whatever it is does not run counter to nature conservation efforts, but does have a sustainable effect on biodiversity. Energy-saving measures must be the No 1 priority. They have substantial potential in terms of sustainability and should take pride of place in awareness-raising campaigns.


1 Land-use planning

 

Quality-led growth

How much growth do we want, and how much can Luxembourg cope with? For sure – more growth means more jobs; but as the number of residents grows (by some 20 000 a year), so too does the need for homes, schools, sewage treatment plants and roads. All this creates enormous pressure on our environment, especially in terms of land use. Luxembourg is a small country, and its limited surface area has to be used intelligently – and not at the cost of its fauna and flora.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • It is essential that the new 'sectoral plans' (four of them, covering Housing; Countryside; Transport; and Economic activites) be properly implemented, in close conjunction with the Master Plan for Land-use Planning.
  • Scenario 3 'Organised and harmonious development of the national territory' identifies the three proposed population growth centres: Luxembourg City, the South (centred on Esch-Belval), and the Nordstad (Ettelbrück and Diekirch). This is a desirable and necessary move in terms of smart land-use planning. The idea is that the three centres, all with good rail connections, should grow and be networked, accommodating industry and craft trades, housing and workplaces, and based on a well thought-through mobility concept. The aim has to be to put an end to the current haphazard and piecemeal development which is cutting up the country into ever smaller bits.
  • Effective land-use planning is rendered difficult by the current number of 102 local authorities (76 of them rural districts). Mergers make a great deal of sense, particularly among the smaller rural units. Generally speaking, what Luxembourg needs is more regional planning, to avoid the fragmentation effect and make green belts really effective.
  • Post-industrialbrownfield sites can often be converted to residential building, thus obviating the need for more and more greenfield housing development. We need to prioritise brownfield site remediation.
  • Luxembourg has a major problem in dealing with inert waste from site excavation work and building demolition. Instead of simply tearing down and replacing existing buildings, we need to focus more on leaving buildings in place, and converting/extending them. And we should stop digging so deep.
  • Urban planning needs to take account of the essential green infrastructure, by which we mean a strategic network of natural and semi-natural elements. Green areas within the urban environment are important wildlife habitats and have a positive effect on biodiversity and the quality of life.
  • Gross domestic product is not synonymous with sustainable development and human happiness, and growth is not another word for quality of life. Luxembourg's own 'Well-being Index' might a much better means of measuring how people feel about their life and their environment.

Mobility

Mobility is a central element in land-use planning, as was recognised in the course of the last legislative period. The substantial progress in the provision of public transport needs to be built on, especially with regard to the three planned centres of population growth.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • We need to forge ahead with the sustainable mobility concept which is gradually becoming a reality.
  • The specific needs of urban and rural communities in terms of rail, tram and bus travel need to be identified and acted upon.
  • Luxembourg's transport system is characterised by the big rise in the resident population, but even more so by the high and growing number of cross-border commuters from the three neighbouring countries. This problem can only be addressed through a holistically conceived mobility concept taking all these elements into account.
  • There must be a halt to the construction of urban bypasses through the adjacent countryside, especially when the land-take involves protected areas.

 

2 Farming

 

Organic farming

A number of practices common to 'conventional' farming have extremely negative consequences for the quality of our water, our air and our soil. Veterinary antibiotics and hormones and huge quantities of liquid manure seep into the groundwater. In addition, structural changes to farming methods, along with general intensification, have led to an alarming reduction in insect biomass, and hence dwindling food resources for birds and other wildlife. The result is devastating declines in the numbers of farmland birds and bats. We need to halt this process by speeding up the conversion to organic farming and by making 'conventional' farming more environment- and nature-friendly.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • Organic farming merits our support, not just for ecological reasons, but with a view to its economic viability. We should aim to boost the share of organic farming in Luxembourg to at least 20% by 2025.
  • We need a political paradigm shift, with national farming policy giving pride of place to organic farming.
  • The 'organic farming' action plan needs to be adapted and extended. There have to be active support measures and special payments, allied to less red tape, if we are to make it more attractive for farmers to go organic.
  • Regional organic food production, value added and marketing must be a priority concern for Luxembourg's agricultural policy. Farming has to be treated holistically, embracing such elements as site selection, careful and caring use of natural resources, humane treatment of animals, and consideration of the human (social) element.
  • Support should also be extended to alternative initiatives which are good for the environment while stopping short of organic production proper.

 

Nature conservation in the farmed countryside

Traditional farming methods have given rise to habitats on which a wide range of endangered animal and plant species now depend. These too have to be afforded long-term protection. High-output and nature-friendly farming practices are not necessarily contradictions in terms. Integrating conservation thinking into everyday farming practice is a very worthwhile approach to which the government needs to give much more support, so that it becomes an attractive proposition for the farmers too.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • Farmers should not be allowed to plough up grassland, which is a vital resource for many rare species. On the contrary, there should be incentives for farmers to restore low-yield crop fields to low-input, species-rich grassland.
  • On good crop fields, all kinds of building activity (including residential, industrial, commercial and roads) should be banned, apart from buildings directly related to farming.
  • There has to be an immediate ban on the use in farming of the most dangerous substances which are suspected of being carcinogens. There should also be a strategy for phasing out insecticides and pesticides as quickly as possible.
  • Inprotected areas, in particular, the use of insecticides and pesticides should be halted, the use of fertilizers minimised, and the consumption of mineral resources reduced. Protected areas and their adjacent buffer zones should also be the subject of field-margin programmes to protect nearby rivers and ponds.
  • Support measure are needed for the planting of leguminosae, and for the provision of special machines that reduce the input of nutrients, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, with a view to protecting soil and water quality.
  • Farmers must be able to count on a better system for the provision of practical advice, and must be involved in working out a programme of measures and subsidies for alternative farming practices.
  • Now that a whole range of nature conservation departments have been successfully brought together under the Environment Ministry, attention should turn to closer networking between the Environment and Agriculture Ministries.

 

3 Nature and countryside conservation

 

Compensatory measures

Welcome though the concept of compensatory measures may be, there have been recurrent problems with the practical implementation. All too often, the compensatory measures leave a lot to be desired, and the lost habitat is not replaced by something functionally similar. So the net result is that the original habitat is lost.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • The basic idea is that when a habitat is destroyed, a similar one has to be created at a suitable site. In many cases, the new habitat may even be an improvement on the lost one. The 'eco-points' system, now enshrined in the new Nature Conservation Act, must come into play here.
  • A more stringent analysis is needed of the habitat that is likely to be lost, to ensure that such valuable habitats as dry grassland, wet meadows and grazed orchards are not lost forever.

 

The open countryside

The current state of biodiversity is extremely worrying, with massive species declines right across the board. The reasons for this alarming state of affairs include landscape fragmentation, the steady and continuing loss of grazed orchards, dry grassland and wet meadows, and the intensification of agriculture.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • We need to aspire to a well structured mosaic of landscape elements, backed by a range of measures for the farmed countryside (e.g. the creation of small patches of woodland and of field and stream margins). Important small-scale habitats need effective protection if we are serious about maintaining and restoring biodiversity in the agricultural landscape.
  • Far too many hedges along field tracks and field margins are being unnecessarily 'trimmed to death'. What is needed is an intelligent and thoughtful approach to hedge maintenance, using the right machinery and done at the right time. Hedge maintenance work by local authorities and by railway and highways workers too needs to be properly regulated, and the workers given appropriate training. It is all about boosting insect biomass by generating more flowers and fruit in the countryside.
  • Grazed orchards, one of Luxembourg's classic countryside features, need special help. We propose getting all parties together in a concentrated effort to save and develop this at-risk habitat type. Incentives are needed to get orchard owners to maintain this important resource and to find takers for the fruit.

 

Woodland and forestry

Much of Luxembourg's woodland is characterised by a high proportion of old stands and low-intensity logging. For nature, this is a good thing, as this is precisely the kind of woodland that has the highest biodiversity and that attracts disturbance-sensitive species like Black Stork, Goshawk, Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Black Woodpecker. Allowing these woods to be given over to high-intensity logging would have disastrous consequences.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • The new Forest Code, currently in draft, needs to be hurried along and passed into law right at the start of the new legislative period.
  • Important areas of woodland need to be mapped regularly and taken into account in the management plans, with a view to more effective species protection.
  • Additional patches (> 50 ha) of natural woodland should be classified as quickly as possible.
  • Owners of private woodland should be offered incentives to implement pro-biodiversity measures.

 

Natura 2000

Over recent years, Luxembourg's network of Natura 2000 protected areas (under the EU Flora-Fauna-Habitats and Birds Directives) has been extended. There are now 48 protected areas under the Habitats Directive and 18 under the Birds Directive. The Observatoire de l'environnement report for 2013-2016 points out, though, that 75% of the 'Annex I' habitats are not in a good state. Although progress is being made in devising and implementing the management plans for individual Natura 2000 areas, there has as yet been no identifiable increase in biodiversity.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • All the Natura 2000 management plans must be completed quickly, so as to give the various areas effective protection. Within the protected areas, habitats associated with the key species must be improved.
  • Under no circumstances may the key species in the various areas be allowed to decline. Implementation of the measures laid down in the management plans must move forward.
  • We need more comprehensive monitoring programmes to ensure that the requisite data are always up to date.

 

Legal basis

Nature needs more comprehensive and effective protection in law, with a range of binding legal instruments. The new Nature Protection Act should offer the possibility of making good some of the sins of the past. Should it not be voted into law in this legislative period, it should certainly be a top priority in the new one.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • Public authorities and administrations must make more stringent checks, and must have access to the appropriate resources to deal with illegal activities affecting nature and the environment.
  • The public prosecutor's office must be informed of offences in the area of nature conservation and the environment, and there must be more vigorous enforcement.
  • To ensure that the prescribed measures for a protected area are applied (protection, maintenance and compensatory measures), a thorough examination is essential. This should involve increasing the staff resources and bringing in external experts.
  • Any failure to apply the requisite protection, maintenance and compensatory measures should have legal consequences.

 

4 Natural resources

 

Water

Water is a vital resource for animals (including humans) and plants alike. Its protection is therefore of pre-eminent importance. An important step in this direction was the enactment and implementation of the EU's 2000 Water Framework Directive. Together with the EU Food Risk Management Directive, this forms the legal basis for a sustainable, future-oriented approach to surface water management.

 

1. Quality and structure of watercourses

It is high time that the measures provided for in the Water Framework Directive be implemented if the quality of our rivers and streams is to be improved and become sustainable. Natural solutions are the way forward.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • Theprogrammes of measures set out in the Framework Directive, and the attendant management plans, need to be implemented quickly, bearing in mind the zero-deterioration requirement.
  • Many rivers and streams are currently in poor condition. They urgently need improving, both structurally and ecologically, taking account of natural circumstances and the needs of the local fauna and flora.
  • The incoming government needs to address the question of a new Fisheries Law, having due regard to nature conservation, animal welfare and water quality.
  • Greater weight should be given to participatory projects and initiatives, to support official bodies in their complex and varied tasks. Another useful approach would be to get local initiatives more closely involved – both in getting the message across and in the planning and implementation of remedial measures.

 

2. Groundwater and drinking water

2/3 of Luxembourg's drinking water comes from groundwater, but the availability of clean water on tap should not be taken for granted. It will be up to the new government to ensure that groundwater and drinking water resources are properly protected.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • A raft of measures are in place to provide for drinking water protection zones; these have to fully implemented.
  • River and stream embankment strips need to be made compulsory – for one thing, to prevent cattle from eroding the embankments; for another, to prevent fertilizer and pesticide pollution of the watercourses.
  • Industrial development must not be allowed to take place at the cost of drinking water and groundwater resources.

 

3. Waste water management

There has been an improvement in recent years in the way sewage treatment plants deal with nitrate and phosphate loading and with the problem of oils from private households. In general, though, our waste water management arrangements need to be brought up to date to cope with the growing residential population and industrial pollution. We should work towards the generalised introduction of the 'partial separation' system, the remediation of old sewers, and the extension and updating of sewage treatment plants.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • There is a pressing need to upgrade and modernise all the antiquated sewage works and sewers. The new sewage works should ideally be large-scale and high-capacity, and should include a 4th stage to eliminate most of the microparticle pollution.
  • No new housing or industrial/commercial estates should be authorised unless the local sewage treatment plant is up to the job. In other words: first the sewage works, then the sewage.
  • One of the main problems with private households is that the sewage system is misused as a rubbish dump. It is essential that the government run campaigns to make households (and farms) aware of this state of affairs.
  • The partial separation of waste water management should be given clear priority. What this means is that surface rainwater is channelled into the nearest watercourse, while only waste water goes to the sewage plant.
  • Alternatives have to be found for the glycol run-off from de-icing operations at Findel, for firefighting foam, and for chemicals used to treat wooden railway sleepers.

 

4. Flood protection

With the growing competition for land-take, watercourses are increasingly being forced into narrow channels, with less and less room for natural hydromorphological processes. Something needs to be done about this – by enabling watercourses to develop their own structures, and by re-establishing more natural forms of water flow. Watercourses that regulate themselves also clean themselves – naturally.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • The Flood Risk Management Directive calls for management plans, and these now need to be fully and correctly implemented.
  • Areas that have no flood protection suffer pollution by materials that can seep through and pollute the groundwater. Hazardous materials have to be kept out of flood-risk zones or need to be properly secured (e.g. oil tanks).
  • A lot more needs to be done to re-naturalise our watercourses and restore them to the channels that nature intended. Flood protection measures should incorporate such re-naturalisation as part of the overall package, making it both sustainable and cost-effective.

 

Soil

Our soils are a natural resource which is subject to heavy human impact – be it agriculture, industry or urban development. Pesticides and insecticides input also has a huge effect on soil quality and hence on biodiversity.

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • Private use of insecticides and pesticides must come to an end. Local authorities have accepted this; now the rest of the private sector has to follow suit. To show consumers that there are alternatives, the ban should be accompanied by an information campaign and a range of practical examples.
  • The new Soil Protection Act needs to be passed into law without delay, bringing with it more transparency and improved management of 'legacy waste'.
  • The essential principle of 'polluter pays' is enshrined in the new law and needs to be properly implemented and enforced.

 

5 Renewable energy and climate change

 

With climate change happening, and in the light of the? Paris Agreement, something clearly needs to be done. But we have to be careful that whatever it is does not run counter to nature conservation efforts, but does have a sustainable effect on biodiversity.

 

natur&ëmwelt's demands:

  • Energy-saving measures must be the No 1 priority. They have substantial potential in terms of sustainability and should take pride of place in awareness-raising campaigns.
  • There have already been a number of commendable initiatives on the photovoltaic front, and there are good sites throughout Luxembourg. Solar panels belong in places that can be put to little other use, such as urban roofs and decommissioned rubbish tips.
  • Wind energy is a trickier issue. Important areas for birds should not suffer; it would make little sense to sacrifice avian diversity in a headlong drive to tackle climate change. Clusters of wind turbines in a forest massif are definitely to be avoided.
  • Biogas plants initially seemed to be a good thing, but seem to have lost their way. Insufficient account is taken of energy consumption. And too much valuable arable land is being used for monocultures (mainly maize) to be fed into the gas plants instead of growing food crops. Biogas plants should be run on residual waste. The cultivation of energy crops is not the way forward.
  • While wood pellets as a source of energy can undoubtedly play a part in reducing levels of CO2, we have to realise that our forests and woodland cannot produceanything like enough pellets to replace the oil we consume. Wood-burning power plants should be developed to take the kind of hedgerow and forest-edge cuttings which are no longer allowed to be burned in the fields.

 

This is an English translation of the original German text.


Download: Forderungskatalog inklusive unserer 6 Kernforderungen (de, fr)

 

Press conference, April 20 with chairman Roby Biwer and Laure Cales (natur&ëmwelt)

 


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Agenda

14.08 - 15.08 

Assomption

18.08 

Visite guidée Schlammwiss by night

26.08 

Porte ouverte ŕ la Schlammwiss

26.08 

En route avec le berger

15.09 - 27.10 

Permanences mycologiques: les samedis de 18h ŕ 19h30

21.09 - 23.09 

Chantier nature intercommunautaire

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