“NGOs should try to influence EU funds such as the IPA. Every year priorities are discussed at a national level and, as NGOs, we need to ensure that the necessary measures to initiate the designation of the Natura 2000 sites are included as priorities, and that the available money is not used against nature.”
Alberto Arroyo Schnell worked for a regional government in Spain during the implementation of Natura 2000. Five years ago he joined WWF. He is the WWF Natura 2000 coordinator and is considered a Natura 2000 expert.
What is your main advice for the countries that are not on the accession list yet, regarding preparing themselves for Natura 2000?
- If they are not yet on the accession list, it is a bit challenging to suggest something in relation with EU accession. For potential candidates like Serbia or Montenegro, I can give one piece of advice – the better you prepare yourselves before the date of accession, the bigger the influence on creating the network you'll have, and the best Natura 2000 network you will finally have. It is important to start much in advance, to understand the process and to use the capacity of NGOs. Of course, such countries also need to start working on very first steps, which is in principle the collection of scientific data for the identification of sites. Financing, is also something that needs to be dealt with when the accession date is close. For now, what can be done is trying to influence European Union funds like IPA and apply for them. Every year priorities are discussed at a national level and, as NGOs, we can work to ensure that the necessary measures to initiate the designation of the Natura 2000 sites are included in the list of priorities and that the available money is not used against nature.
Being an expert working in the whole Europe, what can you say about the general public – are they aware of Natura 2000? Is it even important for the network?
- That’s a very good point… There is a survey from the European Environmental Agency about the knowledge on biodiversity among EU citizens. Among the questions there is a question: “Have you heard about Natura 2000?” The average in EU is less than 20%. The best country is Bulgaria with 80%, but that’s not the good news. Bulgaria has really an issue, they have a negative story of misunderstanding of Natura 2000. Slovenia is also very highly placed with 46%. So, the knowledge of Natura 2000 is very low! In any case, surely Natura 2000 is a very technical issue and we don’t really expect people to know about it. I would say it is much more important to raise awareness about the need to conserve biodiversity. Natura 2000 is for sure something very important, but it sounds very difficult to speak about it. Of course, as WWF Natura 2000 coordinator, I think it would be very good to have as many projects, instruments, campaigns to try to make the best and the biggest network of protected areas in Europe more well known. It would be useful for our work, but the first step needs to be raising awareness regarding biodiversity.
Is there any country that has carried out the process of implementation of Natura 2000 absolutely fabulously so it could be like an example for the others?
- I am sorry to say that there is no perfect country. But we can highlight some countries. In this sense Slovenia is a good example. They have like 36% of designated area, they made the selection of sites more or less adequately, the discussion was good, the process was positive… They could serve as a role model for the countries in the Western Balkans.
Slovenia has designated 32% of pSCI which is still insufficient, and Denmark closed the designation process with only 7%. Where is that line when a country can say “We are done”?
- The line is set during the biogeographic seminars. There is a scientific discussion and an agreement as to whether the list of sites is sufficient or not for habitats and species. The discussion takes place between MS, Commission and NGOs. Denmark has 7%, so it tells us the country doesn’t have much nature value, while Slovenia has 32%. It is still insufficient, but they have done much more advanced work from the start than was expected. Romania was not good at the accession date, they didn’t even have their list in time. Bulgaria had a list, but very insufficient percentage.
Have you ever been involved in any shadow-listing process?
- Yes… I followed the preparations of shadow-lists for Poland and for Lithuania. There were also attempts to prepare shadow-lists for Slovenia and Hungary. The Polish one was the most successful. There was a big engagement of scientists and NGOs, a very big voluntary work. A lot of people put their heart into doing it, which was quite unbelievable. Thanks to that the whole situation in Poland –which was not easy– was improved. I wish the Polish model would be like a role model for other countries and their scientists to come together and do something big.
Petra Boic Petrac, WWF Mediterranean Programme