“There is never enough time! Natura is an extremely complex thing… It is not a question of democracy. It is a professional approach in which nobody is asked whether he or she wants it or not. That's why communications is essential.”
Peter Skoberne is the Natura 2000 expert in the Slovenian Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning. He participated in the preparation of the network ahead of Slovenia's accession, and still works on the complement of the first proposal that will soon be delivered to the Slovenian government and the European Commission.
Some experts highlight Slovenia as a good example for candidate countries that are preparing for the implementation of Natura 2000. Could you describe how the preparations ran in Slovenia?
- One part of the work needs to be done before the accession, but the real work is yet to come when the country becomes a Member State. In some ways it seems that the implementation of Natura 2000 never ends. Therefore, Natura is established by joining the EU, and the implementation itself is made after that. Regarding the establishment of a network, we had a very fierce discussion in 2004 and some areas that were present in the professional draft, fell out. It was because the then Minister led logical policies whose goal was simple - to adopt the proposal for Natura 2000. So everything that was problematic, we just threw out from the proposal. Thus, the government adopted the proposal as a whole.
Did you have enough time for all preparations?
- There is never enough time! Natura is extremely complex thing… Our project had two branches - the professional part of the project and communications. With communications we could not have begun without having the content provided by the professional part of the project. So we didn’t have enough time to communicate everything and in the end it turned out that we had biggest problems in those areas where we had lack of communications. Natura 2000 is not a question of democracy. It is a professional approach in which nobody is asked whether he or she wants it or not. That's why communications is essential.
What was the situation after 2004, when you became a Member State?
- The political support for Natura fell a lot because it was so tied to the accession. Natura was "part of the package". There were, of course, some positive things, but a lot of problems emerged mostly related to the conflicts that we then had to deal with during two biogeographical seminars. We had some technical errors - for example moss fell out of the data even though we had them in the sites... Now, seven years after accession, we still haven’t changed Natura, although we have a lot of new data.
Don’t you have to change the proposal within six years by law?
- After six years we had a debate with the Commission. A professional proposal for change was prepared. However we decided to wait for the end of the year in order to avoid local elections and the possible politicization of the whole story. That would again be very bad for Natura 2000. Of course, we do not expect that we will end the process of implementation. 100% seems unrealistic, but we expect a high percentage.
What was the role of NGOs in the whole process?
- When we started seriously working on Natura, we included all potential stakeholders: professionals, experts and NGOs. When SEEweb was searching for the organization that should have represented NGOs on the biogeographical seminars, I was asked to recommend somebody. It was a problem for me because I couldn’t point out an organization that hasn’t collaborated with us in preparations. So I gave them a list of NGOs to search for somebody. At the end they found an expert who was not directly involved in the proposal and they were very well organized.
What happened with those problematic sites you had to remove from the first proposal of Natura 2000?
- We included them in the new proposal. And of course, some are still very controversial, like the Sava Lower Basin. There are energy experts from major projects and these topics are still very sensitive.
What is your advice for countries that are just now getting familiar with the Natura 2000?
- Natura 2000 has quite a different philosophy than the nature protection we have traditionally worked on. Therefore it must be very well understood and communicated. We love our little gardens, but these gardens should all be connected now. This way Natura 2000 wouldn’t only be a network of sites, but also a network of people. Therefore, NGOs should also understand what this is about, and influence the institutions to be sufficiently aware of the seriousness and their staff to be trained for Natura. Non-governmental organizations are always ready for biogeographical seminars. I can’t say the same for government organizations.
You are highlighting communications all the time. Have you developed the key to the best communications for Natura 2000?
- We had a very efficient project for the preparation of Natura 2000. It was developed with the help of IUCN. It included many NGOs, experts and scientists from forestry, agriculture, nature protection and regional institutes. We had seminars on how to communicate, while the local representatives were trained for their sites. Communications during the project was very good, but unfortunately it did not continue after the project. As for the key – the most important thing is that you build a good knowlage of Natura 2000 issues to be able to communicate well on it, otherwise your effort is useless.
Petra Boic Petrac,
WWF Mediterranean Programme