“The management of Natura 2000 sites is essential for their conservation. But to be successful it requires, in the first instance, the active involvement of the people who live in and depend upon these areas. The measures for managing Natura 2000 sites are given in Article 6 of the Habitats Directive. However, as this is a concise legal text, many of the key concepts are not easy to understand. I consider it important that we have a clear and accessible understanding of these key provisions of the directive as this will provide the basis for it to be applied throughout the Community on an equal footing.“ Margot Wallström, Member of the European Commission for the Environment 1999-2004.
Habitats Directive Article 6 is very complex and important. In the following text we therefore present its role in a wider framework, leaving detailed analysis and practice examples for next issues of the newsletter “Natura 2000 in the western Balkans”.
A key role in Natura 2000 sites management
Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) Article 6 is important for the implementation of the integration principle because of encouraging Member States to manage Natura 2000 sites in a sustainable way. Article 6 designates activities that can affect Natura 2000 sites negatively, providing opportunities for certain exceptions in specific circumstances.
A key part of the Habitats Directive
Article 6 applies to habitats and species protection. It defines the frame for conservation and protection of Natura 2000 sites; includes proactive, preventive and procedural demands. That refers to Special Protected Areas (SPAs) defined by Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) and to Sites of Community Importance based on the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC).
Makes provision for the establishment of necessary conservation measures
Article 6 is focused on positive and proactive interventions. In Article 6 special accent is on prevention: “Member States shall take appropriate steps to avoid, in the special areas of conservation, the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated“. It sets out a series of procedural and substantive safeguards governing plans and projects likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site.
Confers favorable conservation status
Article 6 is directed towards biodiversity conservation and improvement by regeneration or sustaining certain habitats and species in “favorable conservation status” within Natura 2000 sites. At the same time, it takes care of economic, social, cultural and regional demands as a way to achieve sustainable development.
Many questions about the importance of this Article have been raised by EU Member States. At first sight it seems general and not well defined, but analysis in conjunction with other Articles of the Habitats Directive make it understandable and ready for implementation. The European Commission has produced many guidelines with methodology for regulation of Article 6. These help to understand the Article and to use it properly. For instance:
Managing Natura 2000 sites: The provisions of Article 6 of the 'Habitats' Directive 92/43/EEC;
Assessment of plans and projects significantly affecting Natura 2000 sites;
Guidance document on Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC.
The Commission is preparing a guidebook for certain sectors for usage of Article 6. One of them - Non-energy mineral extraction and Natura 2000 - is available on the EC website.