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EU development funding threatens lynx, bears -WWF

Written by: Staff

GENEVA, March 3 (Reuters) Funding for development projects across the European Union is increasing threats to the survival of endangered animals like the Iberian lynx and the brown bear, the WWF environmental body said today.

In many cases road and rail building, dam construction and irrigation schemes partly or totally financed by the EU's executive Commission contradict conservation programmes promoted by the 25-nation Union itself, a new WWF report asserted.

''Europe has to take responsibility for its own species, but at present the European Union is using its funds both to support biodiversity and undermine it,'' said Stefanie Lang of the WWF European Policy Office in Brussels.

According to the report, entitled ''Conflicting EU Funds'', a new highway from Toledo to Cordoba across central-southern Spain will seriously damage a prime lynx area that is protected under the Union's own Natura 2000 network.

The report said only about 100 of the lynx -- the world's most endangered cat species -- survive, including only 25 breeding females, out of a population that totalled 600 as late as 1995.

Roads, dams, rail lines and other projects are not only destroying the animal's habitat but also creating barriers between different groups and preventing interbreeding, essential for maintaining healthy populations.

A similar picture can be seen in north-eastern Poland, according to the WWF, where a Helsinki-Warsaw road, the Via Baltica, linking Finland to south and western Europe is slicing through migration corridors for lynx and wolves.

In Greece, while the EU's environmental directorate is supporting a project protecting brown bears, its regional development counterpart is funding the Egnatia highway through the Pindos mountains where many bears live, the report said.

It also cited EU funds used in Portugal for agricultural subsidies, which had led to the mismanagement and decline of cork oak forests, and cash from Brussels used to overfish Bluefin Tuna in the Mediterranean.

The WWF, formerly known as the World Wide Fund for Nature but now using only its initials, called on the EU to withdraw funds for member countries' infrastructure projects that conflict with its own nature protection rules.

''If we are to preserve the remaining national heritage of Europe, which is essential for long-term economic prosperity, the EU cannot afford to continue funding the destruction of habitats,'' said Gerald Dick of the WWF Global Species Programme.

Reuters PR GC0851

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