Wilderness Policy

Natura 2000 fitness check raises concerns

Europe’s largest environmental conference, the EU Green Week, was organised in Brussels on the first week of June. The potential reform of the two European nature directives (Birds and Habitats directives) were heavily debated at the conference.

There were at least 3 opinions during the conference about the ongoing fitness check (also known as Refit) of the Natura 2000 network:

  • while highlighting biodiversity protection achievements, businesses such as farmers’ organisations were debating for easing the current legislation
  • the representatives of the European Commission argued that the two directives need to be modernised and maybe even merged into one legal instrument (however the meaning of modernisation was not defined)
  • the conservation organisations, NGOs and GOs, argued that the Habitats and Birds directives are examplary laws globally and they must not be reformed at this stage, but better implemented.

Pavel Poc MEP had a very straightforward opinion: “the firness check is a waste of time and resources and the European Commission should concentrate on the implementation of the current directives”.

In the recently issued “State of Nature in the EU” report, 77 percent of habitats and 60 percent of species were assessed as being in an “unfavorable” situation. According to the report, this is due in part to changes in food production over past decades. The intensification of agriculture, which involves mechanized tilling of large swathes with a single crop, destroys habitat that many species rely on. Increased use of pesticides has also affected species.


So what is going wrong? Conservationists point out that the habitats and birds directives are not being enforced. “Where the directives have been properly implemented, nature is thriving, development is thriving, people are happier and we are maintaining a sustainable future,” Patricia Zurita, the CEO of BirdLife International said in an article to Deutsche Welle in an article last week.

“We believe that Wilderness protection can be accommodated within the current directive. Instead of talking about the modernisation of the current legislation, the European Commission should actively promote the existing guidance documents, such as the Wilderness Guidance for Natura 2000, and the European Wilderness Register. Such a proactive promotion would help to increase the coverage of Wilderness areas within the Natura 2000 network through effective management.” adds Zoltan Kun, the Chairman of the European Wilderness Society.

Interestingly not only the civil society organisations are sounding the alarm in relation to the fitness check. Elsa Nickel, director general of the German Environment Ministry, was quoted by DW: “The EU legislation is very helpful – it is the backbone for everything we want to reach, the objectives of the EU biodiversity strategy 2020. We don’t see any reason why we should change it – we should implement better,”


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