19. 04. 2011.

Andreas Beckman: Natura 2000 created a common language of nature conservation that all could speak

The big problem that we, nature conservationists have, is that we tender see everything through our own eyes and expect everybody to see things as we do. We need to avoid this. We could learn something from advertisers that are extremely good in putting themselves into the minds of the target audience and they are shaping their message according to that.

As the former coordinator for WWF’s EU Accession Initiative, Andreas Beckman was closely involved in preparations for the EU’s Natura 2000 network in the EU’s new member states of Central and Eastern Europe. Now, as director of the WWF Danube-Carpathian programme, Andreas is no longer so closely involved with the EU’s nature conservation policy – but that doesn’t keep him from having some strong opinions on Natura 2000 and the role of NGOs in securing its implementation.

What is the main role of NGOs in Natura 2000, apart of preparing the shadow list?

NGOs have a big role to play in Natura 2000. They have a role in preparing the scientific basis for the conservation network, e.g. by providing and collecting scientific data. In a number of countries, in fact, state authorities have relied on NGOs for data and scientific expertise, as they have not had enough themselves. Another big role for NGOs is in communications and awareness raising. NGOs are quite good in communicating within certain groups and communities and they can certainly help in supporting EU awareness, especially among hunters, farmers, foresters and other key stakeholder groups that are most concerned by Natura 2000.

How can NGOs approach government or institutions that are preparing Natura 2000 list letting them know they have data that might be interesting for them?

It depends on who you’re talking to! It makes a lot of sense from a government perspective, there are certain things they need to do and there are some examples where governments have done a relatively poor job of preparing the scientific basis for the network. One example is Romania, where the site designation in many cases was based on outdated and inaccurate data. Some sites were designated for species that don’t live there anymore… In those cases, in fact, designation is not actually needed – it is a waste of resources and protecting nothing. On the other hand, in cases where areas that have important species of European interest have not been designated, protection is missing, and there is an opening for NGOs or other stakeholders to submit complaints regarding this to the European Commission, which costs time and resources that can be better used.

So it is in the interest not only of NGOs but also and especially of governments to avoid these problems by ensuring that the scientific basis for Natura 2000 is as accurate as possible. You need to have a certain kind of long-term view to be able to see that. In the short-term, it may be easier to cut corners, but over the long-term, you certainly are better off by ensuring a sound basis for Natura 2000 in your country. By doing it properly, you avoid the problems in the future and it’s the whole point of Natura 2000 in a first place.

As director of the WWF Danube-Carpathian programme, do you still have time to deal with Natura 2000 as an expert?

I unfortunately only have little time to be involved with Natura 2000 directly. But indirectly, you could say that much of what I do is somehow connected to implementation of Europe’s safety net for nature.

Natura 2000 has created great opportunities for nature conservation across Europe. It has created a common language and framework for nature conservation shared by all Europeans. It has also created a scientific basis for nature conservation which we didn’t have before.

There is of course still very much to be done, with plenty of persisting problems and insufficiencies. Indeed, almost 20 years since the Habitats Directive was adopted, we are still beginning now to actually implement the network, and still have a long way to go in securing the resources needed for this as well as ensuring that other interests, like agriculture, transportation or other infrastructure development, fully respect the EU’s conservation objectives.

But this does not remove some remarkable achievements connected to Natura 2000. The glass is not only half empty but also half full. We have achieved a lot!

Was there any country in Europe with no problems in implementation of Natura 2000?

No, I don’t think so. Introducing Natura 2000 has been challenging for everyone, from western to eastern Europe, old to new EU member states. There have been many lessons learnt, and the newer EU member states have been able to benefit from previous experience and in many cases have done a better job in preparing for the network than their richer and more developed Western European neighbours. Croatia is a very good example of a country that isn’t a member state yet, but has already made remarkable strides in preparing itself for Natura 2000. Credit for this goes I think to the relevant Croatian authorities, which have been relatively farsighted and well-organised, and have done a good job in using opportunities, including EU-funded projects as well as NGO support.

In terms of communications, have you discovered some perfect formula how to talk to the stakeholders?

No, of course not… But I think the key thing is to speak their language. The big problem that we nature conservationists often have is that we tender see everything through our own eyes and expect everybody to see things as we do. We need to avoid this. We could learn something from commercial advertising companies that are extremely good in putting themselves into the minds of the target audience: understanding who they are, what motivates them, what they like or don’t like, what motivates them, and then shaping their message and delivery of that message accordingly, to have maximum effect. Not just in terms of the content but also the way they phrase it and the way they transport it. Nature conservationists aren’t very good at this. If you talk like a farmer, in the language that a farmer can understand, and meet his needs, then communication can be effective. Otherwise, it may actually be counter-productive.

And the final question – what did you do before you became WWF-DCP director?

I was a fly in my previous life, which perhaps explains my interest in nature conservation… With reincarnation I became what I am today! (laughing) I came to WWF in 2001 as the EU accession coordinator. My focus was on Natura 2000 and EU agricultural and structural funds, where I was involved in building up capacity and expertise among WWF and partner organisations especially in countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In 2005 I moved to work for the WWF Danube-Carpathian programme as deputy director, and since last year I have been working as director.

Petra Boic Petrac, WWF

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