16. 07. 2010.
NATURA 2000 – Protection of European Biodiversity
Nature does not recognize borders. The migratory routes of birds, for instance, often go through several countries. Of the many countries they fly through, if only one tried to protect the breeding grounds of particular species, while the others did not, those birds might not survive in the long term. Many countries have their own protected areas or even ecological networks and special regulations with which they protect single species and their habitats. Even that is not enough for the survival of some species or habitats. It is essential to preserve functional ecosystems.
The European Union has recognised the necessity of protecting biodiversity. Twenty seven EU Member States work together on the same goal – to conserve habitats and species across the whole EU. In 1979 the Birds Directive (Council Directive 79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979 on the conservation of wild birds) was adopted. It protects all wild birds and their habitats of EU interest. There are more than 190 threatened species on the list of protected birds, as well as migratory birds and their natural habitats. Over the years, as new Member States joined the EU, updated information regarding the vulnerability of species has become available, so the list has changed accordingly. The new, unified version of the Birds Directive, entered into force on November 30, 2009. The Directive controls certain practices, such as the keeping or trade of wild birds, and introduces a legal mechanism for regulating other activities, such as hunting, to ensure that they are sustainable.
EU Member States adopted the Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora) in 1992. It is a modern regulation that considers the dynamics of species, habitats and natural processes, and provides financial mechanisms that should help secure their top favourable conservation status (FCS). The Habitats Directive focuses on rare, threatened or endemic plants and animals, over 1,000 species and about 230 habitat types in total. For the first time, certain types of natural and semi-natural habitats are protected in their own right. These are threatened habitats that are characteristic or unique to Europe, such as virgin beech forest, flower-rich mountain hay meadows or underwater reefs. Together, the two Directives represent the most ambitious initiative ever undertaken to conserve European biodiversity.
Thanks to these two Directives, countries are able to plan and coordinate their conservation activities, irrespective of political or administrative borders. By the end of 2007, when two new Member States submitted their proposal for Natura 2000 sites, around 25,000 sites had been included in the network. It keeps on growing and today it has around 30,000 sites. This is why Natura 2000 is the biggest ecological network in the world. Today it covers almost a fifth of European territory – an area bigger than France!
Designation of sites
The individual Natura 2000 sites range in size from less than 1ha to over 5,000km2. The selection of sites is based exclusively on scientific criteria, such as the size and density of populations of target species and the ecological quality and area of target habitat types present in the site. To select and designate Natura 2000 sites countries have to prepare a list of proposed Sites of Community Importance (pSCIs). After a consultation process with the European Commission (EC) and other stakeholders, Special Areas of Conservation - SACs are identified. Once the designation has taken place, the Member State assumes full responsibility for active compliance with the obligation to maintain a favourable conservation status for the species and habitats for which the sites have been designated.
The designation of Special Protected Areas (SPAs) is obligatory under the Birds Directive. SPAs are nominated mainly for the protection of the most rare and endangered bird species at the European level, including migratory bird species. SPAs are directly included in the Natura 2000 network.
Member States are allowed a maximum of six years for the establishment and adjustment of measures and administrative procedures necessary for the protection, monitoring and management of Natura 2000 sites. Candidate Countries, or those who want to become EU candidates like Serbia or Montenegro, have much more time for designation.
Natura 2000 is an obligation of all Member States. Candidate Countries, therefore, need to have their Natura 2000 proposal completed when they join the EU. Before sending it to the EC, the proposal needs to be approved by the country’s own Government.
Nature conservation is often connected with strict nature reserves where human activities are excluded. Natura 2000 adopts a different approach – nature and people work best in partnership with one another. In other words, people should adjust to the principles of Natura 2000. Sometimes it is enough to postpone mowing meadows for two weeks, for example, and the birds whose eggs are in the meadow will have time enough to hatch.
To achieve such agreements that would make these things possible, communication is needed, as well as management plans that would simplify communication. At every Natura 2000 site management must be carried out in a way that ensures the continued long-term survival of the
species and habitat types for which they are designated.
Since Natura 2000 supports the coexistence of people and nature, many human activities are allowed. The deliberate capture or killing of species, or destruction of habitats is strictly prohibited, of course, but some activities, such as regulated hunting, fishing, forestry or recreation ensure that the area remains sustainable.
Activities such as the construction of new roads are allowed. It is necessary though to make a screening process in order to determine whether the project is likely to have a significant effect on the species and/or habitats of Special Areas of Conservation. This is why Nature Impact Assessments (appropriate assessment under the Habitat Directive) are made. If the agreement cannot be achieved, the decision is made by the EC, or the European Court of Justice. Natura 2000 doesn’t stop economic activities but makes and enforces rules so that rare species and habitats can survive.
Biodiversity has changed more dramatically and rapidly in the last 50 years than in the whole history of the world. Extinction of species is 1000 times faster than it would be under natural circumstances. Fishery endangers some fish species like tuna; 10-30% of mammals, birds and amphibians are globally endangered due to human activities; the number of wetland butterflies has declined by 90% and grassland butterflies by 30%...
Natura 2000 is not limited only to nature protection. It is based on much wider principle of conservation and sustainable use that allows people to live in harmony with nature. As Serbia and Montenegro, along with all Dinaric Arc countries, are extremely rich in biodiversity, the region will contribute significantly to the biggest ecological network in the world.
Petra Boic Petrac