More than half of the sites that constitute the Natura 2000 network are forest areas. The process of establishing the Natura 2000 network is the most ambitious in European history, so it cannot be completed without understanding, cooperation and contribution of the forestry sector in each country. Therefore the participation of all stakeholders (forest owners, rural communities, concessionaires, the environmental NGOs) in the management of Natura 2000 areas is especially important.
A total of 59 species of forest habitats that are rare or endangered, are listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive and can be classified into six categories: Forests of Boreal Europe, Forests of Temperate Europe, Mediterranean deciduous forests, Mediterranean sclerophyllous forests, Temperate mountainous coniferous forests, Mediterranean and Macaronesian mountainous coniferous forests. Next to forest habitats, the Habitats Directive also identifies some 200 animal and over 500 plant species as being of Community interest. This implies that several types of measures have to be taken to ensure their conservation status, such as designation of sites, general protection measures and regulation of use. The birds directive lists in its Annex I over 180 bird species for which special protection areas (SPAs) have to be designated by a procedure of direct notification from Member States to the Commission. Many of these species are associated with forest habitats.
The EU “Forestry Strategy” from 1998, in its section on ‘Conservation of forest biodiversity’, calls on forest managers to take into account the following measures for the conservation of biodiversity: to adopt mechanisms for preserving the health and vitality of forest habitats, and to carry out reforestation in a way that will not adversely affect the species and habitats (e.g., planting local species): Due to the disappearance of these activities, loss of biodiversity might happen.
The basic requirement for good function of forests, which belong to the Natura 2000 network is the involvement of forest owners and professionals. While there is no intention to block all economic activities on Natura 2000 sites, the economic function of forests, usually the highest priority in forest management, will have to be taken into account at most Natura 2000 forest sites. This may call for changes in current forest management practices, either by finding new and additional sources of income to continue a traditional form of management, whose profitability is in decline, or by increasing incentives to use forest products obtained by conservation-based management.
Natura 2000 sites offer the advantage of high ecological and cultural quality of goods and services. A special approach to managing forests is needed, to combine economic, environmental and social benefits. It also means better communication with the public and continued working with foresters and forest owners' associations. This will fulfill the obligations regarding the conservation of biological diversity. Also, it will prove that producing quality-driven merchandise and services based on sustainable methods is possible.
Awareness raising needed
The Habitats Directive provides clear criteria for the component of forest biodiversity conservation and the requirements that must be taken into account in forest management planning. Strict procedures are provided for monitoring and reporting on the state of conservation of forests, where NGOs play a special role. Its implementation improves the knowledge of all participants on forest resources, forest biodiversity and their conservation. It also improves communication between the institutions for nature protection, the forest sector, forest owners, the scientific community, NGOs and other stakeholders.
On the other hand, the implementation of two directives depends on reliable data on the distribution of species and habitats from the Annexes of directives, which are missing in many countries. There is also a lack of knowledge of stakeholders, especially among foresters. They don’t know enough about the species and their ecological requirements, nor about real threats to these species and habitats. It is often difficult to arrange standards for monitoring the conservation status of species.
Given that the determination of Natura 2000 sites, according to the Habitats Directive, is a purely scientific process, owners and forest users are often subsequently informed that their forests belong to the Natura 2000 network, and that they would have to obey further management plans. This results in requests for compensatory measures (if there is any compensatory system in the country) that are often difficult to define or calculate. Therefore, timely and excellent cooperation between all stakeholders must be provided. Good practice examples from the region and EU countries on the establishment and management of forest Natura 2000 sites can certainly benefit all parties.