Natura 2000 is the key instrument to protect biodiversity in the European Union. It is an ecological network of protected areas, set up to ensure the survival of Europe's most valuable species and habitats.
Natura 2000 is an ecological network composed of sites designated under the Birds Directive (Special Protection Areas, SPAs) and the Habitats Directive (Sites of Community Importance, SCIs, and Special Areas of Conservation, SACs). For each Natura 2000 site, national authorities have submitted a standard data form (SDF) that contains an extensive description of the site and its ecology. The European Topic Centre for Biological Diversity (ETC/BD), based in Paris, is responsible for validating this data and creating an EU wide descriptive database.
The spatial data (borders of sites) submitted by each Member State is integrated into a spatial database and, after validation with a specifically developed GIS tool, linked to the descriptive data. Any problems identified during this process are brought to the attention of the concerned Member States, with a view to ensure that a high quality, reliable database can be developed.
Natura 2000 therefore plays the key role in protecting the EU’s bio-diversity in line with the decision taken at the meeting of the European Council in Göteburg in June 2001 to halt bio-diversity decline within the Union by 2010.
How does Natura 2000 work?
The Habitats Directive outlines three stages in the establishment of Natura 2000:
Proposals for sites for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network; Selection of a list of sites of Community importance from proposals made by Member States; and, Establishment of management regimes for the sites. Proposing Sites for Natura 2000 - A Member State Responsibility
The responsibility for proposing sites for Natura 2000 lies with the Member States. Although they were required by the directive to make their proposals by 1996, there have been considerable delays. These delays have led the Commission to initiate a number of actions before the Court and also to link approval of certain Structural Fund programmes to the submission of site lists. These actions have resulted in significant progress and for most Member States substantial proposals have now been received. (Commission working document on Natura 2000: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/info/pubs/docs/nat2000/2002_faq_en.pdf)
How can the Commission help Member state better implement Natura 2000?
In order to help overcome these problems of implementation, the Commission is developing guidelines. Guidance has already been published on management and planning issues and working groups with the Member States are developing further topics - conservation objectives, reporting and monitoring and hunting management. Regular contact and dialogue with the Member States is ensured both through the Habitats and Ornis (Birds Directive) Committees and the more recently established biannual meeting with Nature Directors. This provides an invaluable forum for early discussion of emerging issues. In those Member States which have made good progress with designations and which also have more open and participatory planning processes (e.g. Denmark, Netherlands and United Kingdom) the Commission generally receives fewer complaints. Therefore, stronger and more effective mechanisms for handling complaints within Member States could also reduce the volume of cases being handled directly by the European Commission. (Commission working document on Natura 2000: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/info/pubs/docs/nat2000/2002_faq_en.pdf)
On-going Problems- Consultation on Selection of Sites
The directive did not lay down in detail the consultation process to be followed for the selection of sites. As a result, the procedures have varied considerably between Member States in accordance with their administrative systems. In some cases, identification of the sites has been accompanied by detailed discussion with owners and users on management measures but in other cases there has been little or no consultation with stakeholders. This has given rise to considerable controversy in some Member States with a variety of administrative and legal challenges, which have delayed the submission of proposals. The Commission is not involved at this stage and has no powers to intervene in the differing procedures followed in Member States. (Commission working document on Natura 2000: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/info/pubs/docs/nat2000/2002_faq_en.pdf)
Management of Natura 2000 sites
The establishment of the Natura 2000 network is a major achievement. As the designation process nears its conclusion, attention now turns towards the management of the sites. Within six years after their designation as sites of Community importance, Member States will designate these sites as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and adopt conservation measures involving, if need be, appropriate management plans and other measures which correspond to the ecological requirements of the natural habitat types and the species of Community interest. Special Protection Areas designated under the Birds Directive need to be managed in accordance with the ecological needs of habitats of birds. According to the EU nature directives the conservation objectives should be met while taking account of economic, social, cultural, regional and recreational requirements. It is for the Member States to establish the most appropriate methods and instruments for implementing the directives and for achieving the conservation objectives of Natura 2000 sites.
The European Commission, in close cooperation with Member States and stakeholders, has elaborated guidance documents with regard to the management of Natura 2000 sites. A large variety of approaches and a considerable amount of experience and best practice has become and still will become available. This webpage should contribute to enhancing the exchange of information, experience and good practice on Natura 2000 management. (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/management/index_en.htm)
Natura 2000 Barometers
The Natura 2000 Barometer provides an overview on the Natura 2000 network of sites under the Birds and the Habitats Directives, in terms of information on area and site numbers.
The barometer is updated once per year, based on the most recent information officially transmitted by Member States. It is also regularly published in the Natura 2000 Newsletter.
The barometer statistics have been produced by the European Environmental Agency in Copenhagen.
The current Natura 2000 barometer is based on the national data that have been officially transmitted by Member States until December 2013. They can be downloaded here (MS Excel file with two worksheets): Natura 2000 barometer. (excel sheet at: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/barometer/index_en.htm)
How to read the Natura 2000 Barometer
Many sites have been designated according to both Nature Directives, either in their entirety or partially. The pooled area figures for the Natura 2000 network of sites (SPA s + SCIs) have been obtained by GIS analysis, using the spatial boundaries provided by Member States for each of their sites. The calculation used for Natura 2000 eliminates possible overlaps between Birds Directive sites and Habitats Directive sites. The percentage of surface area data only relate to the terrestrial area that has been designated as a Natura 2000 site (or SPA or SCI), and does not include the marine area. Some Member States have designated substantial portions of their marine waters. Sites having a terrestrial component covering more than 5% of their total area are counted as terrestrial sites whilst sites having a marine component covering more than 5% of their total area are counted as marine sites. Coastal sites with a marine area covering more than 5% but less than 95% of the total site are counted as both terrestrial and marine sites. Note that several Member States have proposed large sites including ‘buffer zones’ as Natura 2000 sites, while others have proposed only the core areas. In both cases, Article 6 of the Habitats Directive applies to new activities, even if foreseen outside a Natura 2000 site, where these activities are likely to affect the sites’ integrity.
Natura 2000 in Hungary
Hungary hosts 46 habitat types of Annex I (out of which 13 are forest habitats) and 142 species of Annex II (47 of them depend on forests) under the Habitats Directive.
Hungary has 18 priority habitat types (6 of them are forests) and 16 priority species (7 living in forests). Hungary hosts regular populations of 74 bird species (33 depend on forests) listed on Annex I of the Birds Directive, while 48 migratory species (46 occur in forests) are also qualifying features of Special Protection Areas. 833 000 ha of forests (41% of all forested areas) can be found on Natura 2000 sites. This includes 412 000 ha forests under national protection as well.
Most of the forests with significant conservation value are involved in the Natura 2000 network. Most of them are state owned (647 000 ha), but share of private owners and managers is also about 25% (186 000 ha). Most of the state owned forests are managed by State Forest Companies, only a minor part is in the trusteeship of National Park Directorates. Because of the unique biogeographical features of Hungary – sharing the majority of Pannonian ecoregion – there are several forest types which are considered as unique value for the EU. Largest extent of Pannonic (91G0, 91H0, 91M0, 91N0) forest types of the EU can be found in Hungary, so their conditions are important not only for the national conservation strategies, but also from European point of view.
As the selection of sites for the Natura 2000 Network nears completion, attention is increasingly focused on the issue of management in accordance with the provisions of Article 6 of the Habitats Directive. With over 20,000 sites in the Natura 2000 Network, covering almost a fifth of the EU territory, the prospect may seem rather daunting at first.
Considering that the majority of Natura 2000 sites are likely to be in private ownership and used for purposes other than nature conservation, it is also essential that the stakeholder groups concerned are actively involved in finding practical solutions for the long term management of their sites.
The aim is not to stop economic activities altogether, but rather to set the parameters by which these can take place whilst maintaining (or restoring) the rare species and habitats present at a favourable conservation status. Indeed, many sites in Natura 2000 are valuable precisely because of the way they have been managed up to now and it will be important to ensure that these sorts of activities (eg extensive farming) can continue into the future.
Thus, defining the ecological requirements of a species or habitat is only part of the equation - equally important is the process of working with stakeholders to find ways of implementing these provisions in order to achieve sustainable long term results.
FORESTRY - Good management practices for Natura 2000
The range of actions undertaken for forests is almost as diverse as the habitat types themselves. Many involve initial one-off restoration actions in order to bring the forest back up to its original high conservation state. Most also develop management plans in close collaboration with local stakeholders and forest authorities. Some go on to try out innovative ways of bringing together conservation with economic activities. Yet others focus instead on wildlife management issues, for instance, creating suitable habitats and corridors for woodland species such as bears and grouse.
Natura 2000 is a European network of important ecological sites underpinned by the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC) and the Habitats Directive (EEC/92/43). In compliance with Art.4 of the Birds Directive, EU Member States are required to designate Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to protect bird species listed in Annex I of the Directive as well as migratory species.
ETC/BD support to the European Commission in the implementation of the Natura 2000 network mainly focuses on the Habitats Directive component of the network. The ETC/BD assists the European Commission in analysing SCIs proposals by Member State and building the Union List of SCIs. The Member States send their proposals to DG Environment (the Nature and Biodiversity section) via their permanent representatives using an agreed format-the Standard Data Form.
The database is then forwarded to the European Environment Agency (EEA) to check the quality and completeness of the data. A report listing any technical problems (e.g. empty fields) is sent to the relevant Member State and they are asked to correct the information by updating and/or completing the database.
Using the Natura 2000 database the ETC/BD prepares "Union lists of pSCI” for each biogeographical region following the process described in Annex III Stage 2 of the Habitats Directive. The evaluation process is described in more detail in the following document published by DG Environment (Hab. 97/2 rev. 4 18/11/97). The list of selected sites, priority characteristics, Community Importance, areas and co-ordinates of each site, is validated by each Member State within the relevant biogeographical region and published as a Commission decision in the Official Journal.
The contribution of the proposed sites to the conservation status of each habitat type and species is then evaluated at the biogeographical level. The ETC/BD prepares a set of draft conclusions regarding the sufficiency of the contribution of the proposed sites to the conservation status which are then discussed in a Biogeographical seminar between the Commission, Member States and other interested parties including Non Governmental Organisations (NGO).
The document published by DG Environment (Hab. 97/2 rev. 4 18/11/97) provides instructions to focus the discussions during the biogeographical seminars. Seminars are held for each biogeographical region. DG Environment chairs the discussions during the seminar while the ETC/BD provides a scientific evaluation of the sufficiency of the proposed sites. In practice the discussions are framed by two working documents
the draft Reference List (presence of Annex I habitat types and Annex II species by biogeographical region and by Member states)
the draft conclusions regarding the sufficiency of the proposed sites, giving details of which habitat types and species require additional proposals or corrections to existing proposals.
1. Biogeographical regions (Related to Habitats Directive)
The European Union has nine terrestrial biogeographical regions, each with its own characteristic blend of vegetation, climate and geology. Working at the biogeographical level makes it easier to conserve species and habitat types under similar natural conditions across a suite of countries, irrespective of political and administrative boundaries.
2. Reference Lists (Related to Habitats Directive)
Habitats and species which are subject for designation of Natura 2000 sites are listed in Annexes I and II respectively of the Habitats Directive (EEC/92/43). However, not all habitats and species occur in all Member States. Therefore ‘Reference Lists’ per country were introduced for each biogeographical region. Reference Lists indicate those habitat types and species for which each particular Member State has an obligation to designate pSCIs.
Importantly, Reference Lists are not species check-lists in the sense of listing all possible existing species of Community Interest in each Member State. Reference Lists do not include those irregular or vagrant species for which the designation of protected areas is not an adequate conservation method in a particular Member State. Reference Lists are regularly updated given the latest scientific information and changes in species distribution.
The Reference Portal for NATURA 2000 is part of the Standard Data Form (SDF). The portal provides those elements of the SDF which are subject to change over time and subject to changes due to technical developments. These elements are reference documents (e.g. the coding of species), technical support material (e.g. data-model, applications) as well as guidelines to ensure a consistent use of the SDF by all Member States and to outline the technical and administrative procedures on how to submit data to the Commission. Continue reading: http://bd.eionet.europa.eu/activities/Natura_2000/reference_portal
4. Meetings/Biogeographical Seminars
National lists of pSCIs at the biogeographical level are assessed by applying the agreed upon criteria. This work is carried out by the European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity. As it is not possible to establish one single quantitative criterion which is equally valid for all habitat types and species in all situations, the assessment is done on case by case basis, i.e. species by species and habitat type by habitat type per Member State and biogeographical region. During this process all available scientific information is taken into account. Read more: http://bd.eionet.europa.eu/activities/Natura_2000/chapter4
5. Current state of the network
The designation of protected areas is a cornerstone for the conservation of biodiversity worldwide, from genes to species, habitats and ecosystems. Within the legal framework of the European Union, site designation is a crucial mechanism for the protection of biodiversity. Progress in this area is regularly communicated to the public via several indicators and statistics. More information at: http://bd.eionet.europa.eu/activities/Natura_2000/chapter5
6. Manuals and guidelines
There are currently 233 habitat types listed on Annex I of the Habitats Directive and described in the EU Interpretation Manual.
However many countries, and some regions, have published their own guides to the habitats of Annex I. These vary from translations of the EU guidance, although often with photos, to detailed descriptions of the habitats as they occur in a given country or region. In some countries guidance takes the form of a table of correspondence with a national classification of habitats, as in Romania and the United Kingdom.