A claim that to many may sound absurd and disturbing spread across the Dutch media-landscape in November 2019. According to EU environmental laws domestic cats should be banned from roaming outside since they are a danger to wildlife. This was originally claimed by two law-researchers of the university of Tilburg in an article in the Journal of Environmental Law (Oxford Academic).
By looking at EU environmental laws and siding this with data about the effect of domestic cats on wildlife researchers Arie Trouwborst and Han Somsen came to the conclusion that member states are obligated to ban cat-owners from letting their cats roam outside. In the article’s conclusion the authors write:
“It is well recognised that biodiversity loss is one of the most urgent contemporary crises, in Europe as much as globally. It is also well established that free-ranging domestic cats pose a significant threat to European biodiversity. Stray and feral cats are to be removed or controlled when they pose a threat to protected species and/or sites. Regarding pet and farm cats, the Nature Directives require EU Member States to ensure that letting them roam free is forbidden and effectively prevented.” >> Arie Trouwborst, Han Somsen, Domestic Cats (Felis catus) and European Nature Conservation Law—Applying the EU Birds and Habitats Directives to a Significant but Neglected Threat to Wildlife, Journal of Environmental Law, , eqz035, https://doi.org/10.1093/jel/eqz035
It sounds plausible but is it true? According to the Dutch bureau of the European Commission it is not. The bureau posted the following statement on Twitter: “We are not going to ask cat-owners to keep their cats on a leash. According to our information cats are not the biggest threat to #biodiversity.”
In combination with data on the, according to them, catastrophic effect that pet cats have on wildlife Trouwborst and Somsen mainly based their conclusion on two articles of law. The first is the 2009 Birds Directive and the second is the 1997 Habitat Directive.
The Birds Directive states: “Member States shall take the requisite measures to maintain the population of the species referred to in Article 1 at a level which corresponds in particular to ecological, scientific and cultural requirements, while taking account of economic and recreational requirements, or to adapt the population of these species to that level.”
The Habitat Directive states: “Ensure that the deliberate introduction into the wild of any species which is not native to their territory is regulated so as not to prejudice natural habitats within their natural range or the wild native fauna and flora and, if they consider it necessary, prohibit such introduction. The results of the assessment undertaken shall be forwarded to the committee for information.”
According to the researchers’ interpretation of the Directives mentioned above, because cats are not native to Europe and they cause a lot of harm to environment they should either be removed or controlled when roaming outside. However, the articles taken from the Habitat and Bird directive can be interpreted in several ways. The European Commission does not agree with the conclusion made by the two law researchers. The way to interpret these articles is up for debate which makes the claim uncheckable.
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RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Olivier van Doorn, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, NL