Letting the domestic cat roam freely breaks European Union law. Discuss.

The EU Birds and Habitats Directives places an obligation upon an EU member states to protect wildlife. It requires member states to implement two main sets of provisions, the first of which is to take steps to establish a strict protection regime for all wild European bird species and other endangered species as per an annex of the directive. Member states are also required to designate core sites for the protection of species and habitat types as listed in the annex. In other words member states have to do certain things to make sure that they protect wildlife.

Outside cat stalking prey
Outside cat stalking prey. Image in public domain.

The directive seems to come into conflict with the natural order of things which is to let domestic cats go outside freely, unsupervised. This is the default position for domestic cats in Europe as far as I am aware. It certainly applies to the UK. Although of course the UK is no longer a EU member state.

Campaigners in the Netherlands under the banner Huiskat Thuiskat which means 'domestic cat' in Dutch are bringing a test case to the Dutch courts. The argument is that the Dutch government is not doing enough to meet their obligations under the EU directives referred to. One thing they could be doing is to make it obligatory to keep domestic cats indoors or allow them outside only when supervised. The Dutch government should issue national legislation which meets the requirements under the EU directives.

The campaigners want the court to rule on this, to force the Dutch government to do something about the predation of domestic cats on wildlife. There are, apparently, between two and 3 million domestic cats and about 10,000 feral cats and strays in the country. They say that the caretaker agriculture Minister has a legal obligation to act if damage is done to protected species by predation of free-roaming cats.

The Dutch have become cruel to cats

The argument is that they pose a serious threat to some 370 species in the Netherlands. It is a well rehearsed argument in many other countries including perhaps most importantly America. It is certainly an argument which constantly challenges the politicians of Australia who have tried all manner of means to limit predation of native species by both domestic and feral cats.

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In the Netherlands, the campaigners say that the rules are in place i.e. the EU directives place an obligation upon EU member states to do something about conservation, but the rules are not being applied. The reason given is that it is a hot potato as there are 3 million domestic cat owners in the Netherlands. I guess there might be a loss of votes in favour of the ruling party. The politicians do not want to antagonise their voters.

The question is whether the judge will rule in favour of birds or cats? My personal opinion is that the legal action won't work perhaps because the EU directives are worded too generally. They are not specific enough. A member state can do lots to protect wildlife and thereby comply with the directive without confining domestic cats to their homes.


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