DG Environment review of a bird reservoir for the Curlew in Wels (Upper Austria) Answer(s)

7 November 2012


Paul Rübig (PPE) , Karin Kadenbach (S&D) , Franz Obermayr (NI)


DG Environment is currently reviewing the need to set aside an area of the city of Wels as a reservoir for the Curlew. Its findings will serve as an important basis for a subsequent final decision by the regional nature conservation authorities in Upper Austria. Most of the area concerned is currently being used as an airfield for amateur pilots, which is surrounded by a motorway, a military training zone and an industrial park. The local business situation is healthy; companies in the area are looking to expand their activities, and will therefore require additional business premises. This would also mean the creation of several hundred new jobs in Wels. However, without a decision facilitating such expansion, a significant number of redundancies may result. Unfortunately, the only reasonable option would be to use part of the airfield. In the case of a major transport and construction company, the building of a transhipment terminal would even shift a significant amount of heavy haulage from road to rail. This would bring substantial relief to the sorely affected local population in terms of fewer exhaust fumes and less noise. In this context, we would like to stress that Wels is, of course, also very concerned about the fate of the Curlew.

Therefore, municipal officials have agreed to a compromise solution, with only 24.9 of the airfield’s 106 hectares being used for business purposes. In addition, the equally suitable military training zone in the north of the airfield (not included in the 106 hectares) may be included in a future Curlew reservoir. These 26.5 hectares would more than compensate for the abovementioned business areas. Irrespective of the details of any definitive solution, everything possible should be done to facilitate business activities along the two marginal strips (24.9 hectares).

In return, the Wels authorities, in consultation with ornithologists, would be more than willing to adapt areas in the immediate surroundings of the zone concerned to the specific needs of the Curlew. Wels’ commitment to bird protection in general is also demonstrated by the fact that 2 300 hectares, including 93 hectares in the city itself, have been dedicated to this purpose. Within a few years it would be feasible to develop spacious open meadows in this area, which could possibly encourage the migration and breeding of the Curlew along the Traun river.

1. What action does the Commission plan to take in this specific case?

2. Is the Commission willing to support the compromise solution outlined above? If so, when will the decision be published? And if not, what other specific solution does the Commission envisage?


Answer given by Mr Potočnik on behalf of the Commission

4 January 2013

On 21 November 2012, the Commission opened an infringement procedure against Austria by sending a letter of formal notice for not having designated the airport of Wels and an adjacent military training area as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for the Curlew, according to the Birds Directive(1).

The Commission is taking note of the proposal by the Honourable Members, which suggests a scenario to compensate for a possible adverse effect to the integrity of the SPA to be designated, by dedicating additional areas along the river Traun to the Curlew. In line with the provisions of Article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive(2), any compensatory measures for a plan or project negatively affecting a Natura 2000 site shall only be adopted if an appropriate assessment of this plan or project were to conclude on the absence of alternative solutions, and if there were imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature, for implementing the plan or project. Furthermore, according to Article 6.4 of the Habitats Directive, it is for the Member State to determine whether the proposed compensation measures will ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 remains protected.

(1) Council Directive 2009/147/EC of the Parliament and of the Council on the conservation of wild birds, codifying Directive 79/409/EEC, OJ L 20, 26.1.2010.
(2) Council Directive 92/43/EC of 21 May 1992, on the protection of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora, OJ L 206, 22.7.1992.