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French constitution to include environment protection

Protecting the environment is set to become part of the constitution after MPs voted in favour of the move.

If the Senate follows with support, the constitution will, alongside principles of the Republic such as égalité and laïcité, include the line that the Republic “acts for the preservation of the environment and biological diversity and against climate change”. 

It comes as Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot, backed by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced 90 measures to improve biodiversity in France.

These included banning the use of plastic drinking straws and plastic sticks for cotton buds as part of an aim to have ‘zero-plastic’ in the sea by 2025.

Another measure called for no increase in the ‘net’ amount of artificial ground such as concrete slabs and asphalted surfaces. It also said any new car parks should have permeable surfaces allowing rain to seep through, thus avoiding floods. 

It is proposed that farmers be paid to protect biodiversity (such as by planting hedges and preserving ponds), with €150m in new money set aside to fund this. New licence fees on some polluting products could be used to boost organic farming.

Other aims include: more bear introductions into the Pyrenees (see below), the creation of an eleventh national park in Champagne-Bour­gogne, more policing of the trade in endangered species, and working with the EU and other international bodies to ensure they also promote biodiversity.

Certain previous pledges were reiterated, including ending use of neonicotinoid pesticides, known to harm bees, and gly­phosate herbicide, linked with cancer in some studies.

Greenpeace France told Connexion it was studying the measures and could not comment before September; meanwhile WWF France directed us to a statement which gave a mixed assessment. It said “a clear will emerges from the measures to mobilise all stakeholders (councils, businesses, education...) to preserve biodiversity in France and internationally” and called the target for zero plastic in the sea ambitious. It also said the pledge on net artificial ground showed a “strong will” though regretted it had no target date. However the charity said the extra €150m mentioned was an advance but insufficient.

It added that money needed allocating as soon as possible, in 2019’s budget, very concrete targets needed to be made and an inter-ministerial committee should be set up to review the plan next year.

A director of the Institute Veblen, which promotes economic change to protect the environment, Aurore Lalucq, welcomed the positive tone and the fact the government seemed committed to making environmental considerations a core part of all its plans. However she noted a lack of financial clarity for the plans, which she estimated would cost €600m.

“Apart from €150m for farmers prepared to take care of their hedges, there is no new money, no massive reorganisation of existing structures in charge of biodiversity.”

She said there was also no clarification of a role for Missions régionales d’autorité environnementale (regional agencies formed in 2016 to oversee respect for environmental protection in new developments).


... but 370,000 larks can still be trapped this year

Wildlife charities have criticised plans by the government to allow 370,000 larks to be hunted after announcing wishes to protect biodiversity.

This comes also shortly after scientists said around a third of France’s countryside birds had vanished over the last 15 years in what they called “close to an ecological catastrophe” (see April’s edition, page 3).

Larks are traditionally caught in the south-west in the autumn, using nets or cage traps (some other kinds of wild bird are allowed to be trapped with nooses or glue). They are salted and fried to be served as amuses bouches or in soups and stews.

In hard times in the 19th century they could be the only meat people would see. How­ever Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux development director Emilie Gobert said: “It is completely unacceptable that in 2018, the government continues to allow people to hunt birds like the lark. On one hand they say they are trying to protect biodiversity then on the other they say 370,000 larks can be trapped using cruel methods.”

Wild animal charity Aspas called ways used to trap larks and other songbirds “barbarous and unselective” and said they are meant to be banned in the EU but France allows them in some areas because of ‘tradition’.

The LPO, along with other bird protection groups in Europe has also sounded the alarm at a fall in lark numbers. Known for their habit of hovering high over their nests in fields in the spring while singing, the number has fallen significantly in the last 30 years.

Fields being cut more often has been partly blamed. It no longer allows larks the four weeks needed to raise their young. Pesticide use, reducing the number of insects they can eat, has also played an important part, as has hunting, experts say.

France has set a trapping quota for many years and in July the Office National de la Chasse said the figure for 2018–2019 would be 370,000, the same as last year.

The Ecology Ministry did not respond to an interview request but issued a statement following the criticism.

It said 106,000 larks were trapped last year in the four departments where hunting is authorised – fewer than the authorised quota – and the number trapped has fallen by two-thirds over the last five years. It said that the quotas are determined by EU experts’ guidelines which say they should represent no more than 1% of the bird’s population.

On going to press a public consultation was under way online before the quota was set to be officialised.

The government also says it will appoint a panel of scientific advisors to propose measures to manage species.

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