19. 07. 2010.

Coordinating cross-border ecological networks

Establishing ecological networks across national boundaries is recognised as essential to supporting biodiversity. New research in Germany has indicated that these networks could be improved through greater exchange of knowledge and better links with land planning.
An ecological network is a set of ecosystems that are linked into large enough areas to host high levels of wildlife. These networks rarely respect national and political boundaries so co-ordination across these boundaries is important. A number of EU policies aim to establish ecological networks, such as the European Habitats Directive1 and the European Birds Directive2.
Germany is neighboured by a total of nine countries and previous research has identified 94 sites where ecological networks cross its borders. This study analysed the level of transboundary co-operation in 34 ecological networks in Germany, established between 2003-2007. The research used information from previous research, an internet survey and a series of interviews with experts.
There was much variation amongst the projects. More projects were likely to focus on 'structural connectivity', which considers the spatial arrangement of different types of habitat, than they were on 'functional connectivity', which focuses on the behavioural response of individuals and species. Most projects are relatively small in geographical scope, probably because they have been launched in a bottom-up fashion from a grass-roots level. There were 21 projects on Germany's western border, with countries including France and the Netherlands. However, there were only eight projects on the eastern border, with countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic. Interviews indicated that this could be due to a lack of powerful non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in this eastern region. NGOs, such as BUND (the German branch of Friends of the Earth), appear to be driving forces behind many of the more successful ecological network projects. Although environmental NGOs are present on the eastern border, very few local residents are registered as members.
The level and form of organisation also varies with some projects having little central organisation, whilst others meet regularly and have a clear line of responsibility. The analysis suggests international institutions, such as the Alpine Convention3, can have clear benefits for transboundary networks: they reduce costs by providing platforms where partners can meet and build project aims and they are more likely to receive funding.
Although larger projects seem more valuable from a pan-European perspective, they must also be precise enough to inform and guide concrete implementation measures on the ground. The study had two main recommendations to ensure this. Firstly, there should be a greater flow of knowledge and information between practitioners in the field, including details on how to set up institutions to manage projects. Secondly, the planning of ecological networks should be combined with statutory spatial planning that can designate stretches of land as ecologically valuable and protect them legally or guide agri-environment schemes. This is particularly relevant in Germany where spatial planning is a formalised system with great potential for supporting biodiversity through ecological networks.

Source: Leibenath, M., Blum, A. & Stutzriemer, S. (2010). Transboundary cooperation in establishing ecological networks: The case of Germany's external borders. Landscape and Urban Planning. 94:84-93.

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