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EC Investigates Germany’s 1st Offshore Windfarm

EC Investigates Germany’s First Offshore Wind Farm Over Environmental Concerns

The European Commission has begun to investigate Germany’s possible infringement of European environmental laws by building its first offshore wind farm, following a formal complaint by environmental NGO NABU, BirdLife International’s German Partner. (1)

NABU complained to the EC over Germany’s planned Butendiek wind farm, consisting of 80 turbines spread over 35 square kilometres of the central area of the Important Bird Area (IBA) the Eastern German Bight, which is important for many seabirds such as Red-throated and black-throated divers, terns and ducks. The area is also a potential site for EU protection under the Habitats Directive due to its importance for mother and calf groups of the endangered common porpoise, the grey and common seal and several fish species.

The IBA is situated in Germany’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) (3), areas in which all EU states have to designate protected‚´Natura 2000´ sites, under the Birds and Habitats Directives. Although the German Federal Ministry for Nature Conservation (BMU) has not yet designated any possible sites for protection, including the Eastern German Bight, it has agreed that the site fulfils all scientific criteria for a designation under both directives.(4) In addition, in November 2002, NABU, following its list of IBAs and sites under the Habitats Directive on land, presented a shadow list for Natura 2000-sites in the German EEZ. The organisation requested the BMU to designate these areas, covering about 15% of the German EEZ, as areas protected from any economic use.

However, after the government and its responsible authority have approved the plans, the Butendiek company plans to begin construction of the windfarm early next year. There are also further plans for 22 additional windfarms in the German part of the EEZ in the North Sea and for six in the Baltic Sea, some of them with more than 120 turbines spread over up to 100 square kilometres. At least three of those planned would also be situated in the Eastern German Bight IBA. In addition to this, another major threat to wildlife, the extraction of sand and gravel, is planned on hundreds of square kilometres, including on more than 120 square kilometres in the IBA and close to it.

“NABU and the BirdLife International partnership support environmentally-friendly energies in general, therefore it is a pity that the first offshore wind farm in Germany is planned in an area which is, due to its ecological values, absolutely unacceptable,” says NABU-director Gerd Billen. “Investors who stick to such a plan without taking into consideration any aspects of saving biological diversity not only do harm to nature but also jeopardise the acceptance of wind energy.”


(1) BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation organisations working in more than 100 countries who, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting bird life.

(2) The Important Bird Area (IBA) programme is co-ordinated by BirdLife International, and aims to identify and protect a network of critical sites for the world’s birds using standardised, internationally agreed criteria. The IBA programme has proved to be a very cost-effective and flexible way of identifying and promoting coherent and organised action for priority sites for birds and biodiversity at the regional, national and local levels.

(3) EEZs are all waters outside the 12 seamiles-zone but still belonging to the national territory. In the North and Baltic Sea the EEZs of the member states border each other.

(4) The responsible German authority, the “Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt and Hydrographie” (BSH), has allowed the wind park under the ruling of the national law (which still has not fully transposed the Habitats Directive; a 2, for which an infringement procedure is going on and, partly, following art. 6, 3 and 6, 4 of the Habitats Directive. But as the site is not yet designated, only art. 6, 2 HD and especially art. 4 of the Birds Directive (see eg. Santona, 02.08.1993, C-355/90) and Basses Corbieres, 07.12.2000, C-374/98) were, from NABU’s point of view, an adequate formal basis. And therefore, following the Leybucht-judgement (28.02.1991, C-57/89), in such an area, commercial use is generally forbidden.

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