Natura 2000 lacks effective management

Last week, we had a close look at the latest State of Nature Report of the European Environment Agency. It concluded that more targeted actions are needed to halt continent-wide biodiversity decline. One major criticism was the absence of effective management strategies and monitoring of Natura 2000 sites. The potential of the Natura 2000 network to protect biodiversity is great, but the lack of management hinders its effective contribution. The EU Biodiversity Strategy’s commitment to effectively manage all protected areas by 2030 offers momentum to rise to this challenge. But what do protected site managers actually have to do to comply with this commitment?

Shortcomings of Natura 2000 management

Natura 2000 is the largest network of protected areas in the world. It is composed of more than 26,000 sites covering about 17.5% of the EU land territory. In theory, it should be able to counteract the observed biodiversity decline in Europe. However, the management of Natura 2000 network has been completely devolved to single countries. No general, EU‐wide, spatially explicit conservation planning strategy exists. Effective management of sites and transnational collaboration could increase the networks potential. Thus, the EU and its Member States committed to assess the management of 60% of its protected areas by 2015. However, a recent study showed that they only reported on the management effectiveness of less than 8% of Natura 2000 sites.

The barrier for effective management already starts with the national differences in the evaluation of the management of protected sites. For example, in Finland, a national agency conducts a standardized assessment only every 6 to 12 years for each site. France uses site steering committees and Ireland and Slovakia do not even have national assessment approaches.

How can Natura 2000 management improve?

Making progress on the EU’s 2030 commitments will need substantial monitoring and reporting efforts. This is achievable either through an EU-coordinated process or a compilation of national reporting. Additionally, there is an urgent need for specific and measurable conservation objectives and indicators on the management and evaluation process of Natura 2000 sites. Only with a standardized set of conservation measurements, EU-wide collaboration will be possible. Other shortcomings are:

  • Gaps in conservation data on the habitats and species the site is designated to protect
  • Poor financial planning
  • A lack of public participation

The European Environment Agency states that better and more complete implementation and enforcement of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives would most likely substantially improve the management effectiveness of EU protected areas. Also, other clear ways to improve the situation include more targeted capacity building, enhanced guidance, and increasing the use of available EU funding.

The contribution of the European Wilderness Society

The Centralparks project, funded by the EU Interreg program, is an example on how EU funding can be used to address these shortcomings. It aims to improve integrated environmental management capacities of protected areas in the Carpathian region by linking conservation efforts to sustainable local socio-economic development and sustainable use of natural resources.

The European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System is an excellent practical tool, which is designed to help Natura 2000 managers to implement the Bird and Habitats Directives. After the audition of a site, we produce, among others, an extensive report that includes site-specific recommendations for needed actions. Also, we develop a monitoring and evaluation plan that includes a free monitoring audit after 5 years of certification. Like this, we ensure that the protected Wilderness has all tools needed for its long-term protection. Further guidelines on how to apply the Wilderness approach to Natura 2000 can be found here.

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