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NATURA 2000 AND FORESTS

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Introduction

This section aims to answer a number of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about forests in Natura 2000. The questions have been identified with the help of the ad-hoc Working Group set up by the Commission for the preparation of this document. For those who are not familiar with Natura 2000, it is strongly recommended to read Part I of the document first to have a clear overview of the aims and legal obligations of the Habitats and Birds Directives, and the protection of Natura 2000 sites in particular.

For ease of use, the FAQs are grouped according to the following main headings:

 

At the beginning of each question, it is indicated:

  • whether the question entails a legal obligation (O) in accordance with the Habitats and Birds Directives, a recommendation (R) or just information (I);
  • the main target public addressed (e.g. forest owners, forest managers, authorities, general public - including non-governmental organisations).

Legal obligations (O) refer to specific obligations under the directives. It can be an obligation for the authorities and/or for the forest owner or manager. Member States are required to transpose the provisions of the directives into their own legal system. Some of those transposed provisions have then to be implemented by the concerned players (e.g. forest managers or owners). The text aims to explain the implications of the legal obligations, with references to case-law when available. Recommendations (R) aim to provide possible options to deal with certain aspects of the directives. They are for information purposes only and do not entail any obligation. Text labelled as information (I) is provided for a better understanding of Natura 2000, the Birds and the Habitats Directives. All examples mentioned in the text are subsumed to this category.

Designating sites for Natura 2000

1. Why is almost 50% of the Natura 2000 network composed of forests?

Information
Target: general public, forest managers/owners, authorities

Forests harbour a very significant proportion of Europe’s biodiversity. This includes many rare and threatened species and habitat types listed in the Habitats and Birds Directives. The most suitable areas have been designated as part of Natura 2000 in order to ensure their long-term survival within the EU. As a result, some 375,000 km2 of forests are now included in the Natura 2000 Network which spans 28 countries. The Member State with the largest area of forest included in Natura 2000 is Spain (ca 79,800 km2) followed by Poland (ca 33,500 km2) and France (30,090 km2).

The high proportion of forests in Natura 2000 also reflects the fact that forests cover around 42% of the EU territory and make up a significant part of Europe’s land cover. Also many forests have been managed in a way that has conserved protected habitats and species under the Birds or the Habitats Directive and explains their relatively high biodiversity value compared to other land uses. Besides such managed forests, the Natura 2000 network comprises also significant areas of old-growth forests. The designation of a forest as a Natura 2000 site recognizes the high value of that forest as regards the objectives of the Birds or the Habitats Directive. However, this does not necessarily mean that all habitat types or species for which the area has been designated are already in a good condition in the area. In some cases the contrary may be the case and therefore particular conservation measures may be required to improve the situation. These measures may include strict protection as well as active management like grazing, preserving old trees, removing undesired tree species, etc.

2. Which types of forests are included in Natura 2000?

Information
Target: general public, forest managers/owners, authorities

Forest areas are included in Natura 2000 because they harbour the best sites within the EU for species and forest habitat types protected under the two EU nature Directives. The selection of sites is done on scientific grounds.

In the case of the Habitats Directive the selection process involves several steps starting with the identification of the most suitable sites at national level as described in Annex III of the directive. The national lists are then reviewed by the Commission, in collaboration with Member States and scientific experts, to ensure that - collectively - they provide a sufficient coverage for each habitat type and species across their entire natural range within the EU and form a coherent network. In the case of the Birds Directive, sites are classified by the Member States and included directly in the Natura 2000 Network after scientific evaluation.

When selecting Natura 2000 sites for the 85 forest habitat types1 protected under the Habitats Directive Member States must apply the criteria listed in Annex III of the directive. According to these criteria sites are selected inter alia because the area contains a good example of a given habitat type on the site and it is characterized by a good conservation of the structure and functions of the habitat type concerned or good restoration possibilities. This large number of habitat types illustrates the very diverse nature of forests across the EU.

Forests are also designated as Natura 2000 if they host important breeding, resting or foraging habitats for one or more species of European Importance listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive or Annex I of the Birds Directive or regularly occurring migratory bird species not listed in Annex I. The former covers the following forest related species: 43 plants, 44 invertebrates, 23 mammals and 11 amphibians while the latter covers 63 bird species closely associated with forests. Again, many of these species are of limited distribution because of their highly endangered status or their restricted habitat range.

A particular site can also be selected because of the size and density of populations of species present on the site and the overall value of the site for the conservation of the habitat type or species concerned. Under the Birds Directive, sites are selected because they have been identified as being the most suitable territories in number and size for the conservation of the species listed in annex I of the Directive or for regularly occurring migratory species.

Finally, a forest may be included in Natura 2000, even though it is not a core habitat for an EU protected species or habitat type, because it is nevertheless of vital importance for the overall ecological coherence of a site or the network (e.g. an ecological corridor connecting core habitats for protected species within a site, a buffer zone around a breeding area, etc.).

Not every site harbouring a habitat type or species of EU importance is included in Natura 2000. The aim is to designate only the most suitable and important sites to ensure their conservation. Thus, for some of the more widespread forest habitats protected under the Habitats Directive, such as the western taiga (habitat code 9010) Asperulo Fagetum beech forests (9130), or Quercus ilex & Quercus rotundifolia forests (9340), only part of the total forest habitat is included in Natura 2000. Similar situations apply for a number of forest species, such as the black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) or hazel hen (Bonasia bonasia)2.

Nevertheless, there are occasions where it is necessary to designate all remaining areas for a particular species or habitat type to ensure their survival. This is especially the case for those that are extremely rare, or limited in range, such as the Moesian silver fir forests 91BA (18 sites covering ca. 15,000 km2).

It is important to be aware of the motivation for inclusion of a forest in Natura 2000 as this will have a direct influence on the conservation objectives and type of conservation measures that may be required as well as for the assessment of potential impacts of plans or projects on a site (Article 6 of the Habitats Directive).

1 Including forest habitat types, wooded meadows, grazed forests (dehesas) and wooded dunes. With the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, 9 new forest habitat types were included in Annex I of the Habitats Directive (under category 9 - Forests). With the accession of Croatia, no new forest habitat types were included in the Habitats Directive.

2 Western taiga (9010): 2848 Natura 2000 sites covering almost 2 million ha representing 49% of the total habitat area; Asperulo Fagetum beech forests (9130): 2236 sites covering ca 800,000 ha representing 54%of the total area: Quercus ilex & Quercus rotundifolia forests (9340): 1163 sites covering ca 1 million ha representing 64% of the total habitat area. Figures are from EU 2010 Biodiversity baseline report, EEA 2010. They do not include habitat types subsequently added after accession of Romania, Bulgaria, or Croatia.

3. How can I find out more about sites that have been designated as Natura 2000?

Information
Target: general public, forest managers/owners

Every Natura 2000 site is accompanied by a Standard Data Form (SDF) which records the species and habitat types of EU importance for which it has been designated, as well as their estimated population size and degree of conservation within that site at the time of designation, or at a later stage, when the occurrence of new species or habitat types on the site was observed and when the SDF was updated accordingly. These SDF are publicly available documents. They can be consulted on the Natura 2000 viewer.

The Natura 2000 viewer3 is an on-line GIS mapping system that gives the precise location of each Natura 2000 site in the EU Network. The user can search for, and query, any site anywhere in the EU. Thanks to the large scale of the maps, site boundaries and key landscape features are easily visible.

More detailed information about the site can also be found in the Natura 2000 management plans where they exist or in other relevant documents (i.e. documents on conservation objectives, site designation acts, etc.).

Member States usually provide detailed information about their Natura 2000 sites, including reasons for their designation, conservation objectives, management plans and conservation measures, which are made publically available through web sites and other means (e.g. through local administrations). Some countries also provide specific and detailed information to landowners and key land users in every Natura 2000 sites (e.g. through particular notifications, as in the UK, or through the setting up of local groups or committees where key stakeholders are involved, from the beginning, in the management of the sites, as is the case in France and other EU Member States). Landowners and land users can also address local conservation authorities to know more about specific Natura 2000 sites.

3 SDF’s displayed in the Public Viewer may be incomplete as information on some sensitive species can be omitted. In case a landowner or manager needs to have detailed information the competent nature conservation authority in his region or country should be contacted.

Setting conservation objectives for Natura 2000 sites

4. Why and how are conservation objectives set for Natura 2000 sites?

Information
Target: authorities

According to Article 6.1 conservation measures must be established for the habitat types and species present on a site. It is therefore important to also set clear conservation objectives for each of the relevant habitat types and species present in that site. Conservation objectives are intended to define as precisely as possible the desired state or degree of conservation to be reached in a particular site.

Often they are presented as quantitative targets, e.g., maintaining the population of species x at a given minimum number of individuals or improving the degree of conservation of habitat y from category C to B within 10 years.

Setting clear conservation objectives for Natura 2000 is essential for ensuring that each site in the network contributes as effectively as possible to the overall objective of the two Nature Directives, which is to achieve a favourable conservation status for all the habitat types and species they protect4 across their entire range within the EU.

Conservation objectives are specific to each site and should be based on a sound knowledge of the site and the species/habitats present, their ecological requirements as well as any threats and pressures on their continued presence on the site. This is because every Natura 2000 site presents its own unique set of biotic, abiotic and socio-economic conditions which can vary considerably from one site to another even when they host the same species and habitats.

It is also advisable to set broader conservation objectives for a whole suite of sites, or for certain species or habitats within a particular region or country (national or regional conservation objectives). This will not only help in setting the conservation objectives at individual site level but it will also help identifying strategic conservation priorities within and amongst the different sites. In this way the measures that have the greatest potential to improve or maintain the conservation status of a particular species or habitat within that region or country can be prioritised.

The Commission has published an interpretation note to provide guidance on setting conservation objectives for Natura 2000, which provides further explanations.

See also questions 8 and 9.

4 The objective of the Birds Directive is formulated slightly differently, but the ambition is the same.

5. Who is responsible for setting conservation objectives, are landowners/ managers/ other interest groups consulted?

Information
Target: authorities

Setting conservation objectives is the responsibility of the competent authorities in each Member State. The Nature Directives do not prescribe how this should be done as it is up to each Member State to decide on the form and methods for implementing their provisions. However it is the objective of the Nature Directives to reach Favourable Conservation Status for the species and habitats of Community interest and to use the Natura 2000 network to achieve that goal.

It is advisable that, in addition to ensuring that conservation objectives are based on sound knowledge, all interested parties – be they forest managers or owners or conservation NGOs – are involved in the process of setting conservation objectives. This will help defining realistic and achievable conservation objectives.

Not only do forest owners and forest managers generally have a very good understanding of the forest management that has led to conservation successes or failures in the past but it is also important to enable a broad discussion between the competent authorities and forest owners and managers, about how site-specific conservation objectives and measures can best be defined. Discussing and clearly communicating a particular site´s importance, role and conservation objectives will also help to improve the awareness and engagement of all those involved.

6. Where can I find information on the conservation objectives of a given site?

Information
Target: general public, forest managers/owners

Every country has its own mechanism for publishing the conservation objectives of its sites. They can be specified within the legal site designation decisions or acts or accompanying documents. They can be published on the competent nature authorities' website. They are also usually included, and further elaborated on, in the Natura 2000 site management plans or similar instruments, where such instruments exist. It is advisable that Member States provide easily accessible information on Natura 2000 conservation objectives in a way that is relevant and easily understandable to forest owners and managers.

7. How can I know which activities are or are not, compatible with Natura 2000 if no conservation objectives have been established?

Information
Target: general public, forest managers/owners

Conservation objectives should be established by the competent authorities for all Natura 2000 sites. Nevertheless it can happen that the process has been delayed and that conservation objectives are still missing.

In such a case, it is the responsibility of the competent authorities to inform stakeholders on the implications of the designation of an area as a Natura 2000 site. They should in particular communicate whether certain silvicultural measures or other activities should be adapted or possibly excluded in order to avoid the deterioration of the site, or which activities should be promoted in order to improve the site’s conservation conditions. The Standard Data Form (SDF) is a useful source of information to understand the reasons why a particular site has been designated. It should always be consulted when taking management decisions (e.g. when drafting management documents or planning new investments).

The minimum requirement would be for the Member State to take appropriate steps to avoid deterioration of all significantly occurring habitats and species in the site, according to the SDF. When scientific information is missing a precautionary approach should prevail. See also question 3.

Implementing conservation measures for forests in Natura 2000

8. How are conservation measures for a Natura 2000 site identified and established? By when should they be in place?

Legal obligation
Target: authorities

Conservation measures are the practical actions that need to be implemented in order for a site to reach its conservation objectives. They must correspond to the ecological requirements of the habitat types and species present. When establishing conservation measures, the economic, social and cultural contexts must also be taken into account as well as regional and local characteristics. This principle is enshrined in the Habitats Directive (Article 2).

In order to identify the necessary conservation measures, it is vital to have a sound information base of the existing conditions in the site, as well as on the conservation status, threats, pressures and needs of the species and habitat types present and on the overall socio-economic context (existing land uses and ownership, stakeholder interests, on-going economic activities etc.).

Conservation measures, like conservation objectives, are generally specific to each site and must be established on a site-by-site basis. This is because every Natura 2000 site presents its own unique set of biotic, abiotic and socio-economic conditions which can vary considerably from one site to another even when they host the same species and habitats.

Member States have up to 6 years from the time a site has been adopted as a Site of Community Importance (SCI) to establish the necessary conservation measures and designate the site as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). These 6 years should be used not only to gather all the necessary information on the site but also to inform, discuss and negotiate with all interest groups about which measures would be most appropriate to implement in order to achieve the conservation objectives set for the site.

9. What are Natura 2000 management plans and are they obligatory?

Recommendation
Target: authorities

To help ensure that sites are managed in a clear and transparent way, the European Commission strongly encourages Member States to elaborate Natura 2000 management plans, in close cooperation with local stakeholders. The establishment of Natura 2000 management plans is a responsibility of the competent authorities for Natura 2000. A management plan represents a solid and efficient framework for the implementation and the follow-up of conservation measures.

Although not obligatory under the Habitats Directive, Natura 2000 management plans are very useful tools as they:

  • Provide a complete record of the conservation objectives and ecological condition and requirements of the habitats and species present in the site so that it is clear to all what is being conserved and why.
  • Analyze the socio-economic and cultural context of the area and the interactions between different land-uses and the species and habitats present.
  • Provide a framework for an open debate amongst all interest groups and help build a consensus view on the long term management of the site as well as create a sense of shared ownership for the final outcome.
  • Help finding practical management solutions that are sustainable and better integrated into other land-use practices.
  • Provide a means of laying down the respective responsibilities of the different socio-economic stakeholders, authorities and NGOs in implementing the necessary conservation measures identified.

Natura 2000 management plans can be specifically designed for the site or integrated into other development plans, such as forest management plans, provided that the Natura 2000 conservation objectives are clearly included within such plans. In other words, one single document could in principle cover both general forest management provisions for a given area and the Natura 2000 conservation objectives and measures needed for that site. That issue is further developed in question 34.

10. Are there tools available to help prepare Natura 2000 management plans?

Information
Target: authorities

Guidance for the preparation of Natura 2000 management plans, for the formulation of conservation measures as well as for conducting the management planning process in Natura 2000 sites is available on the European Commission's website, as well as in many countries.

Financial support may also be available from the EU Structural Funds (European Regional Development Fund, Cohesion Fund) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural development (EAFRD)), both for the drawing up and for updating of plans for Natura 2000 sites (Article 20 of Regulation EU No1305/2013), depending on the national implementation programs, as well as from the LIFE Programme.

Substantial use of these European funds has been made in the past for the preparation of Natura 2000 management plans, e.g. EAFRD in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, some German Länder; ERDF in Greece, Poland, Hungary, Italy; Cohesion Fund in Lithuania; and LIFE funding in Cyprus, Hungary, Lithuania and many other countries. These funds will probably continue to be used in the future for the revision and updating of management plans (see section 1.2.2 in Part I of the guide for an overview of possible EU funding sources).

11. How are the ecological requirements of habitat types and species identified?

Information
Target: authorities

The ecological requirements of habitat types and species involve all the ecological needs, including both abiotic and biotic factors, which are deemed necessary to ensure the conservation of the habitat types (i.e. the habitat specific structure and functions necessary for its long-term maintenance, its typical species, etc.) and species present on the site, including their relations with the physical environment (air, water, soil, vegetation, etc.).

These requirements rest on scientific knowledge and should be defined on a case-by-case basis, which means that the ecological requirements can vary from one species or habitat type to another within a site but also for the same species or habitat type from one site to another. They are independent of any socio-economic considerations.

Available national and regional sources can be consulted to gather relevant and detailed information about ecological requirements of habitat types and species of EU importance to support their management. The Commission has also published management guidelines for some habitats and species which provide relevant information in this regard (e.g. for 9070 Fennoscandian wooded pastures, 9110 Luzulo-Fagetum beech forests, 9360* Macaronesian laurel forests (Laurus, Ocotea), 9530* (Sub-) Mediterranean pine forests with endemic black pines and for Cerambyx cerdo and Tetrao urogallus.

12. Does the mere presence of a species/habitat type of EU importance imply management changes in a Natura 2000 forest?

Information
Target: competent authorities, forest managers/ owners

Not necessarily, a species or habitat type may be in a good degree of conservation in a particular site precisely because of the way it has been managed up to now and, in such cases, it will be important to ensure that the existing management practices are continued into the future as well.

There will however be situations where a species or habitat type is present but is not in a good degree of conservation on the site. When the conservation objectives for that site aim to improve it, certain management changes will be required. It may be necessary, for instance, to improve the structure and functions of the forest habitat, including the species composition, or to expand the area of the habitat type in unfavourable status, or to improve the habitat for a particular species or increase the area occupied by a species in unfavourable status.

In order to reach these objectives certain measures will be required, such as the maintenance or restoration of some key features of the forest, as species diversity, uneven-aged stands, microhabitats, preservation of a sufficient number of old and decaying trees as well as appropriate quantities of deadwood, additional planting or re-afforestation, the maintenance of open areas for natural regeneration, the removal of non-native tree species, selective thinning, the protection of the mineral soil layer, banning the use of pesticides and biocides, maintenance of old and/or hollow trees, maintenance of root plates and stubs, protection of forest edges, etc. Strict protection may also be needed in some particular cases. Again, the precise nature of the measures needs to be determined on a site-by-site basis so that they correspond to the ecological requirements of the species and habitat types present (see also questions nº 8 and 11)

13. Forests in Natura 2000 sites often include species and habitats not covered by the Birds and Habitats Directives. Should specific conservation measures also be established for such species and habitats?

Information
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Usually no; as regards the compliance with the Birds and Habitats Directives’ provisions, only the species and habitat types protected under these two directives and present on the Natura 2000 site require the establishment of conservation measures. However species which are not protected as such under the Habitats Directive but typical for an Annex I habitat type or necessary for the conservation of a species of Community importance (e.g. protection of anthills for birds) may also require attention. The competent authorities should be in a position to provide relevant information.

Furthermore, forest management can also take into account other species and habitats that are not protected under the EU Nature Directives. Member States and indeed individual forest owners and managers are entirely free to draw up conservation objectives and/or measures also for species and habitats that are not covered by these two directives, e.g. for habitats and species that are protected or threatened at national or regional level.

14. Are all conservation measures in Natura 2000 sites mandatory?

Legal obligation (O)/ Recommendation (R)/ Information (I)
Target: authorities, forest managers/owners

(O) The process of establishing the necessary conservation measures for each Natura 2000 site is not an optional provision; it is obligatory for all Member States. This means that, for each Natura 2000 site, those conservation measures, which are deemed to be necessary, must be established and implemented (ECJ case C-508/04).

(R) It is however useful to distinguish between those measures which are deemed necessary for the conservation and restoration of the species and habitat types present on the site and those which are considered desirable and ‘would be good to implement if there are the means and opportunities for doing so’. The latter can ideally be identified as such in the Natura 2000 management plan while being considered to be best practice measures aimed at improving the overall level of biodiversity in the site while going beyond the obligatory requirements for the site.

(I) Implementing conservation measures does not always imply active management or restoration measures, such as the removal of invasive alien species or the diversification of the age structure of forest stands. It can also include protective measures such as avoiding disturbance of a species during the breeding season.

15. How are conservation measures being formulated?

Recommendation
Target: authorities

It is advisable to describe the conservation measures in sufficient detail to ensure their effective implementation. It is common practice to provide their location and a description of the means and tools required for their implementation, as well as information on the roles and responsibilities of the different players involved. It is advisable to use a clear language when describing the conservation measures in order to make them widely understandable.

It is advisable to review and adapt conservation measures when required, e.g. on the basis of the actual results of the measures already done. It is important also to indicate estimated costs and available funding and to set a timeline to review the conservation measures taken, in terms of their actual implementation and their suitability for achieving the conservation objectives.

16. Who decides what conservation measures are needed? Are stakeholders consulted?

Recommendation
Target: general public, forest managers/owners, authorities

Deciding what conservation measures are needed falls under the responsibility of competent authorities in each country. The nature directives do not prescribe the type of conservation measures that should be implemented, other than to specify that they must correspond to the ecological requirements of the species and habitat types present on a site. It leaves it up to each Member State to design and implement the type of measures that it considers most appropriate and effective for its Natura 2000 sites.

It is advisable that, in addition to ensuring that conservation measures are based on sound knowledge, forest managers or owners as well as relevant other interested parties – be they representatives of local communities or of conservation NGOs – are actively involved in the process of identifying the necessary conservation measures and preparing Natura 2000 management plans.

It is advisable in particular, that forest owners and managers are being involved at an early stage in the development of site-specific conservation measures. Their participation in planning and preparation of conservation measures for a Natura 2000 site makes it possible to benefit from their expert knowledge and provides an excellent opportunity also to actively engage them in the implementation of these conservation measures. Current good practice involves ensuring the active contribution of all relevant stakeholders, e.g. through setting up steering groups or committees.

Good communication from the beginning will also help finding compromises and synergies between what is already done and what can be improved. The result is likely to be a more cost-effective and less time consuming process. It will also greatly increase the likelihood of success as it will encourage and empower the different stakeholders to become more actively engaged in, and committed to, the management of their Natura 2000 site.

Once established, it is advisable that the conservation measures are being communicated to the general public (e.g. on websites, in the local press, in official registers at local authorities).

17. What kind of conservation measures are required for forests in Natura 2000?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

As stated above, the type of conservation measures is very site specific and will depend on the specific circumstances of each site and the ecological requirements of the species and habitat types present.

It is therefore not possible to generalise about the type of measures that may be necessary. They could range from ‘nothing’ – i.e. no additional measures required other than to continue to manage the site in the way it has been managed up to now – to ‘simple’ measures, such as avoiding disturbance around certain trees during the breeding season or creating small openings in the canopy to allow more sunlight through, or increasing the amount of deadwood in the forest – to ‘major’ restoration activities involving the wholesale removal of non-native species or the restructuring of a forested area to diversify the age structure and reconnect fragmented habitats. In some cases, non-intervention and strict protection can also be considered as a conservation measure, especially for old-growth forest with a high degree of naturalness (see also question 21).

The case studies in Part III of this guidance document as well as other existing reviews provide a wealth of examples of different conservation measures that have been implemented under a range of circumstances across the EU.

18. How to decide between conservation measures which are likely to have positive effects on a particular habitat or species while possibly contributing to the deterioration of another habitat type or another species?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

It may happen that a particular conservation measure will benefit one species or habitat whereas it could have some negative effect on other ones. For instance, deciding to set aside a part of a forest could contribute to the expansion of an invasive species, or the regeneration of patches of oak habitats can have a negative effect on the habitat of some birds. Smaller trade-offs are frequent but well-thought conservation objectives will help make the right decision. It is important to refer to them and see where the site-specific priorities for conservation measures are and to assess what will be the likely positive and negative impacts of the envisaged measures on those priorities.

Trade-offs can often be avoided or minimized by a smart timing of measures and by directing them to certain parts of the site or even by compensating an impact on one part of the site by conservation measures for the same habitat or species on another part.

19. Can conservation measures be similar for different Natura 2000 sites?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Conservation measures correspond to the conservation objectives set for each site and are usually site specific. However, similar measures may be needed in different Natura 2000 sites that have similar characteristics and objectives. In such cases, conservation measures can also be applied jointly (e.g. a Natura 2000 management plan can cover several sites that need similar measures).

20. Why are deadwood, old trees, old-growth forests and a diverse structure so important in Natura 2000 forest sites?

Information
Target: general public, forest managers/owners

Deadwood provides suitable habitat for many forest species that are threatened or endangered. Deadwood and decaying trees are particularly important for saproxylic insects (species that feed on wood) and for species that use this resource to build their refuges or nesting holes (i.e. woodpeckers or some small mammals). A high number of saproxylic species and species that depend on deadwood and decaying trees are protected under the Habitats and Birds Directives, such as Cerambyx cerdo, Lucanus Cervus, Osmoderma eremita, Rosalia alpina, Dendrocopos major, etc. Scientific reviews5 are available on this issue. The conservation of deadwood is often very relevant but any decision in that regard also needs to take into consideration fire risks in sensitive areas.

Old trees (also called veteran trees, i.e. trees older than 160-200 years) are often missing in managed forests because the normal forestry rotation is usually shorter than natural trees lifespan and natural forest cycles. They provide crucial microhabitats for some endangered beetles, lichens, fungi, etc. Therefore maintaining the presence of such trees in the forests and creating the possibility to achieving such age at least by single trees or tree groups, can contribute to improving the conservation of the species listed above.

A diverse forest structure with stands of different ages, clearer and darker patches, decaying trees and deadwood, etc. provides different habitats for many species.

Old-growth forest areas generally deserve special attention in Natura 2000. They host many typical forest species with a low ability to migrate or recolonize new forest patches on former agricultural land (e.g. many invertebrate groups, some plants and mosses).

Forests with a high degree of naturalness are still found in some parts of Europe (e.g. the old-growth taïga in Northern Europe). In other parts of the EU, however, such forests are limited to small pockets in managed complexes or to certain areas with specific ecological and social conditions, such as the mountain regions of the Carpathian or the Alps. They are of particular importance for the protection of forest habitat types and species of Community interest. The authorities, forest owners and managers are therefore encouraged to actively seek to protect these areas by focussing on their non-wood benefits and making full use of existing financial incentives for site protection where needed. As for any other management decisions in Natura 2000 forests, management decisions affecting the presence of deadwood, old trees etc. should also be in line with well-defined and site specific conservation objectives in Natura 2000 sites reflecting the ecological requirements of the habitats and species present on the site.

21. Is non-intervention a possible conservation measure for achieving conservation objectives in Natura 2000 sites?

Recommendation
Target: general public, forest managers/owners, authorities

Non-intervention management, as a possible management technique, can be useful under specific circumstances. The setting-aside of core areas exclusively for nature conservation purposes should be considered on a case by case approach, for example where especially rare or valuable habitats and seriously threatened species are present and non-intervention management will help conserve them. Just as any other possible conservation measure in Natura 2000, non-intervention management should be in line with well-defined and site-specific conservation objectives.

Only forest habitats where the actual forest vegetation has a high degree of naturalness and represents an advanced stage in the successional track are in principle suitable for non-intervention management. Forest habitats of Community interest which have been established by historical and current management and which would disappear or change into other forest types under non-intervention management will require the continuation of active management.

When non-intervention is retained as a conservation measure, consequences, including economic ones, need to be well evaluated.

22. How are the necessary conservation measures to be implemented and who is responsible for this?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

It is for the competent authorities to determine how best to implement the necessary conservation measures that have been identified for their Natura 2000 sites. The Directive merely states that these can involve appropriate statutory, administrative or contractual measures. The choice between these measures is left to the Member States, in line with the principle of subsidiarity.

By choosing at least one of these three categories of measures Member States can ensure that they reach the conservation objectives for their Natura 2000 sites:

  • Statutory measures: they usually follow a pattern laid down in procedural law and can set specific requirements in relation to activities than can be allowed, restricted or forbidden in the site.
  • Administrative measures: they can set relevant provisions in relation to the implementation of conservation measures or the authorization of other activities in the site.
  • Contractual measures: they involve establishing contracts or agreements usually among managing authorities and landowners or users in the site.

There is no hierarchy between these three categories. Thus Member States have the choice to use, on a Natura 2000 site, just one category of measures (e.g. only contractual measures) or a combination of measures (e.g. combination of statutory and contractual measures). The only binding conditions are that the measures are appropriate with a view to avoiding any deterioration of the habitats or significant disturbance of the species for which a site has been designated (according to Art.6.2 of the Habitats Directive) and that they correspond to the ecological requirements of the habitats and species present on the site (according to Art. 6.1 of the Habitats Directive). Such ecological requirements may reach from simple protection against deterioration to active restoration of favourable ecosystem structures and functions, depending on the actual conservation degree of the species and habitats involved.

Pro-active conservation or restoration measures can be achieved through contractual agreements with forest owners and managers including agreements on how the costs of measures that go beyond legal obligations should be covered. Additional costs can be supported with adequate funds as far as possible and income foregone caused by imposed restrictions of use be compensated. The degree of compensation will depend on the nature of the imposed restrictions and the actual loss as well as on local circumstances.

Natura 2000 and Forest-environment measures under Rural Development policy serve as a good example of how to establish contracts and agreements with forest owners on the management of the forest to assure the conservation of habitats and species. While Natura 2000 measures can pay for additional costs and income foregone derived from Natura 2000 obligations, forest environment measures can pay for the additional commitments going beyond this baseline.

23. Does the ownership and size of the forest holdings influence its management in a Natura 2000 site?

Obligation (O)/ Recommendation (R)/ Information (I)
Target: forest owners/managers, authorities

(O) The obligations flowing from the directives indirectly apply to all types of forest owners and managers, irrespective of their status and the size of their property in Natura 2000, if not otherwise stated by the national legislation transposing the directives.

(I) The type of conservation measure used may however be adapted to take account of ownership and size. For instance, as long as conservation objectives can be met, Member States may favour the use of contractual agreements in the case of private land owners and administrative or policy related measures in the case of public forests.

(I) The size of the forest areas in Natura 2000 can also sometimes have an influence on the type and level of ambition of the conservation objectives to be pursued. Large forests in state ownership, for instance, are much more likely to have the legal means and methods to adjust their forestry management practices to implement more ambitious conservation measures. As public bodies, their policy remit may attach a higher priority to the multifunctional role of state forests than it may be the case for small forest owners.

(I) Large sites also often allow for more flexibility in the implementation of conservation measures as there is generally more room for manoeuvre when deciding where particular conservation measures need to be implemented and to which degree of intensity.

(R) Working with small private and public (e.g. municipalities) landowners, on the other hand, requires the use of adequate resources to inform, raise awareness and involve them in the implementation of suitable measures and forestry practices. Coordinated action by a group of small properties may offer opportunities for synergies and allow making savings.

24. How can forest landowners/ managers get involved or contribute?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Forest owners and local forest managers have a key role in the implementation of Natura 2000. They know their property and have extensive experience in implementing practical measures on the ground. They are therefore vital partners in the development and successful implementation of Natura 2000.

Natura 2000 recognises that people are an integral part of nature and that partnerships are essential for achieving conservation objectives. Everyone has a role to play in making Natura 2000 a success – be they public authorities, private landowners and users, developers, conservation NGOs, scientific experts, local communities or citizens in general.

Forging partnerships and bringing people together also makes practical sense. Many sites in Natura 2000 have already been under some form of active land use for a long time which constitutes an integral part of the wider countryside. Many areas are valuable for nature precisely because of the way they have been managed up to now and it will be important to ensure that these activities are maintained well into the future.

In this way, the Habitats Directive supports the principle of sustainable development and integrated management. Its aim is not to exclude socio-economic activities from Natura 2000 sites, but rather to ensure that they are undertaken in a way that safeguards and supports the valuable species and habitats present, and maintains the overall health of natural ecosystems.

However, it must also be noted that some forests included in Natura 2000 have been shaped by natural processes, with very little or no human influence, and their managament should aim at conserving their high degree of naturalness.

The Habitats Directive sets the framework for action and lays down the overall objectives to be achieved, but leaves it up to each Member State to decide how best to manage individual Natura 2000 sites in consultation with local stakeholders. The emphasis is very much on finding local solutions to local management issues, while at the same time working towards the shared overall objective of maintaining habitat types and species of Community interest at or restoring them to a favourable conservation status.

25. Are there tools available to support the implementation of conservation measures, raise awareness or build capacity amongst stakeholders?

Recommendation
Target: authorities

Processes for building local capacities for the management of Natura 2000 areas are important for a successful implementation of Natura 2000. The provision of advisory services accessible to all parties involved in the implementation of Natura 2000 management plans or conservation measures by the competent national or regional authorities is recommended. Some Member States already provide such services.

Participatory planning includes providing relevant information to all interested parties and enabling interdisciplinary, technically well-founded actions. Perception is based on the available amount and quality of information. This will include the identification of target groups and ad hoc information planning involving different tools and materials that are adequate to each group. It is important to consider their understanding of and to correct any possible misunderstandings on Natura 2000 and forests.

The Natura 2000 Biogeographical Process 'Working Together in Natura 2000' has been established with the goal to facilitate the exchange of information and best practice on the management of Natura 2000 and to develop cooperation throughout the Member States and regions. Financial resources from EU funds are available to increase capacity for the implementation of suitable conservation measures involving key local stakeholders such as farmers and forest owners, in particular under the EAFRD but also under LIFE and other funding programmes.

Ensuring the non-deterioration of forests in Natura 2000

26. What does it mean in practice that a site should not be allowed to deteriorate?

Legal obligation (O)/ Recommendation (R)/ Information (I)
Target: forest owners/ managers, authorities

(O) The Habitats Directive (article 6.2) obliges Member States to take appropriate steps to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and the significant disturbance of the species for which a site has been designated. The Birds Directive (Art.4.4) asks for a general avoidance of deterioration of bird species’ habitats.

Forest owners and managers will of course have to respect any legally binding provision adopted with this regard at the national, regional or local level (e.g. permit procedures).

  • The 'appropriate steps' to be taken by Member States are not necessarily limited to intentional acts, but they normally also address any event that could occur accidentally (fire, flood, etc.), as long as such event is predictable and precautionary measures can be taken to minimize the risks for the site. Disturbances being part of the natural ecosystem dynamics should not be interpreted as deterioration.
  • The requirement for Member States to take 'appropriate steps' is also not limited to addressing human activities but it also covers certain natural developments that may cause the conservation status of the species and habitats in the site to deteriorate. For instance, in the case of natural succession occurring in semi-natural habitat types, measures would need to be taken to halt this process if it is likely to negatively affect species or habitat types for which the site has been designated (ECJ Ruling C-06/04). The provision does not apply when the process cannot be influenced by active management (e.g. climate change-induced deterioration).
  • The requirement also applies to activities that existed already on the site before it was included in Natura 2000. This means that ongoing activities may need to be banned or modified if they adversely affect the site (ECJ Ruling C-404/09).
  • As appropriate, Member States are expected to make sure that appropriate measures to avoid deterioration are also be implemented outside the sites if there is a risk for an adverse effect on the habitats or species present in the sites.
  • Measures necessary for avoiding the deterioration of a site should be implemented before the appearance of evident deterioration symptoms (ECJ Rulings C-355/90, C-117/00).

In practice, this means that in Natura 2000 forests any actions that will have a negative impact on the ecological structure and functions of protected habitats or on the suitability of habitats for protected species (e.g. as feeding, resting or breeding places), as well as any actions that may cause a significant disturbance of protected species, especially during their breeding, resting or feeding periods must be avoided.

(I)/(R) Whether a particular activity will actually lead to the deterioration of a site or not will also depend on the overall ecological conditions of the site and the conservation degree of the species and habitat types present there. If these are likely to be negatively affected then preventive measures must be taken. In case of doubt on the effects of a particular measure, a precautionary approach should be applied.

(R) A case by case analysis is therefore always recommended.

For instance, clear felling in a small Natura 2000 site designated for its oak forest would most probably be considered as deterioration whereas the same action in a large Natura 2000 site, mainly composed of large oak stands, would possibly cause no significant harm or even be favourable for some species for which the site has been designated.

One has also to consider the possible indirect effects of forestry measures. Logging can have positive effects in one place, for example by allowing more light to reach the soil or by removing unwanted species, but represent a problem in another place where it could lead to the degradation of the structure and functions of a protected habitat type (as it can cause soil compaction, affect hydrological conditions, influence natural regeneration or decay processes, etc.).

(I) Cutting a tree hosting a nest of black stork, draining a bog woodland, logging in the close vicinity of an eagle nest in spring are examples of actions that must be avoided.

(R) Appropriate measures, restrictions or limitations can be included for instance in the elaboration of forest management plans, so as to ensure that forestry activities are carried out in a way that prevents any disturbance to species or the deterioration of the habitats of EU importance.

(I) Moreover, some preventive measures may be needed to avoid deterioration caused by external factors or risks, such as forest fires or diseases. In some Boreal forests where fires play a specific role in maintaining biodiversity they should not be considered as deterioration.

(I) Guidance on how to avoid possible negative impacts of forestry measures on habitats and species of EU importance are available in some countries and regions in the EU. Such guidance is useful for the management of forests both in and outside Natura 2000 sites (e.g. see some of the above-mentioned case studies).

(R) The competent local; regional and national authorities should make sure that forest owners and managers are well informed about the measures that have been planned or put into place on a given site. Forest owners and managers in Natura 2000 forests should be aware that some activities may be regulated. They should inform themselves on existing measures. In case of doubt they should contact the competent authorities.

27. Does the existing forest management need to be in line with the conservation objectives of the Natura 2000 site?

Legal obligation (O)/ Recommendation (R)
Target: forest owners/managers, authorities

(O) Yes. According to Article 6.2 of the Habitats Directive, any deterioration of habitats and significant disturbance of species for which a site has been designated must be avoided. This also applies to activities that have already been existing when a site was included in Natura 2000. If such an existing activity in a Natura 2000 site causes deterioration of natural habitats or disturbance of species for which the site has been designated, it must either be addressed by appropriate measures to halt the deterioration according to Article 6.2 or by pro-active conservation measures established according to article 6.1 of the Habitats Directive. This may require, as appropriate, bringing the negative impact to an end either by stopping the activity or by taking mitigating measures. Some economic incentives or compensation can be foreseen where the efforts imposed on forest owners go beyond normal sustainable forest management practice.

For instance, it may be the case that some bird species nesting in the area require an adaptation to the timing of forestry operations to avoid disturbance to the species during sensitive periods or a restriction in certain forestry activities in particularly sensitive areas to avoid deterioration of specific habitats or natural features present on the site.

(R) On the other hand, where there is a positive contribution of the existing forest management, this should be enhanced or optimised so as to maximise the potential contribution of forest management to achieving the conservation objectives.

28. Who is responsible for implementing and verifying the obligation of avoiding deterioration?

Legal obligation
Target: authorities

The Member States are responsible for taking appropriate measures to avoid the deterioration of habitat types and the significant disturbance of species in Natura 2000 sites in accordance with Article 6.2 of the Habitats Directive. They are expected to establish a specific, coherent and complete legal regime, capable of ensuring the effective protection of the sites concerned. Purely administrative measures or voluntary measures may therefore not be sufficient for this purpose.

It is also the responsibility of national or regional competent authorities to verify that the measures to avoid deterioration and significant disturbance are adequately enforced. The baseline for assessing a deterioration or disturbance is the degree of conservation of the habitats and species at the time when a site is proposed as a Site of Community Importance. It has to be evaluated against those initial conditions that are described in the Natura 2000 Standard Data Form. When needed, Member States can inform the European Commission of a need to update the Standard Data Form of a site further to some reasons (e.g. better scientific knowledge or natural developments). If accepted by the Commission, the situation as reflected in the updated Standard Data Form becomes the new baseline for assessing any possible deterioration or disturbance. In the case of deterioration, restoration will be required.

Forest management practices and Natura 2000 requirements

29. Are forests in Natura 2000 to be managed only for nature conservation purposes?

Information
Target: general public, forest managers/owners, authorities

No, forests in Natura 2000 can indeed be managed with a view to achieving multiple functions, e.g. timber production, hunting, recreation etc. in addition to nature protection.. However, forest management in Natura 2000 sites must always respect the site-specific conservation objectives and actively contribute to achieving them. Where a Natura 2000 site overlaps with a national nature reserve or a national park, forests are generally managed mainly for conservation purposes according to the relevant national legislation.

Effective management of Natura 2000 sites implies close cooperation between competent nature conservation and forest authorities, public and private forest owners and other interest groups and NGOs. Reaching appropriate agreements, whilst respecting the legitimate interests of stakeholders and rewarding any voluntary contribution made to achieving conservation objectives, are all of vital importance to the successful management of forests in Natura 2000.

30. When forest management is done in accordance with Sustainable Forest Management criteria, is this enough to comply with the Natura 2000 requirements?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Not necessarily. Even if the Forest Europe criteria for reporting on Sustainable Forest Management include the maintenance, conservation and appropriate enhancement of biological diversity in forest ecosystems, these may not be sufficiently detailed to cover the specific conservation objectives for individual Natura 2000 sites. In such cases the specific requirements of Natura 2000 may need to supplement the general principles and criteria of Sustainable Forest Management and be formulated in greater detail.

31. Does Natura 2000 designation imply modifications to existing forest management practices?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Not necessarily, the designation of a site under Natura 2000 does not systematically require modifications of existing forestry activities. It depends very much on the site.

For a number of sites, it may be that existing forestry management practices are precisely the reason why a particular habitat or species is in a good degree of conservation in the first place. In such cases it will be important to ensure that these practices are continued also into the future, and possibly even extended to other areas. For many semi-natural forest habitats like the dehesas or the Scandinavian wooded pastures, the traditional management practices have shaped these habitats and should therefore be maintained.

In other cases, however, certain adaptations or restrictions on existing activities may be required to meet the site-specific conservation objectives. Changes may be needed in forest management for example to improve the ecological quality of habitats (amount of deadwood, number of old trees, etc.) or the increasing of the area covered by a given habitat type through restoration. (See also questions n° 12 and 27))

The current conservation status is poor for many forest habitat types, and thus changes in forest management practices may be necessary to improve their status. Natura 2000 sites are core areas for achieving a favourable conservation status of habitat types and species in the EU, and it is very important that they are managed in a way that allows achieving this goal. For this purpose, the site-specific conservation objectives and measures are necessary in order to make sure that each particular site contributes in the best possible way to achieving this goal.

32. If a forest is certified, is it enough to comply with the Natura 2000 requirements?

Information
Target: forest managers / owners, authorities

Forest certification criteria (FSC, PEFC), as a voluntary market-based tool, require maintaining and/or enhancing biodiversity and high conservation values in forests, considering the presence of protected species and implementing appropriate measures (e.g. leaving deadwood and old trees in the forest). By requesting compliance with other land-use plans and conservation tools and legislation, they can also contribute to promoting the conservation objectives of a Natura 2000 site. However, such criteria are usually formulated in a very general way (not site-specific). They do not therefore systematically ensure compliance with the site-specific conservation objectives of Natura 2000 sites.

33. Can a Natura 2000 management plan also cover silvicultural measures?

Recommendation
Target: forest owners/managers, authorities

Yes, where no forest management plan exists, for example in forest areas divided into multiple properties, a Natura 2000 management plan can cover some silvicultural measures, as well as other functions and services within the area, such as recreation, water protection, landscape aspects, etc. In this case any measures that are not strictly necessary for the conservation management of the site but included in the management plan should be designed in a way that they are not likely to have any significant negative effect on the site. Ideally they should be thoroughly screened with this regard and the result of the screening be documented in the management plan.

Conversely a forest management plan can also serve as Natura 2000 management plan if Natura 2000 objectives are integrated (see Question 34). Also in this case, the forestry measures not necessary for the conservation management of the site should be screened with a view to excluding the likeliness of negative effects on the site and the results of this screening should be documented in the management plan. Both in the case of Natura 2000 management plans that integrate 'normal' forest management measures, as in the case of forest management plans that integrate Natura 2000 conservation measures, a close cooperation between the competent nature and forest authorities and the interested forest owners and managers is necessary.

34. Can Natura 2000 conservation objectives and measures be integrated into existing forest management plans?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Forest management plans and Natura 2000 management plans do not always have the same purposes and goals, and usually they also differ in their legal basis. The responsibility of drafting Natura 2000 management plans falls on the competent nature conservation authorities whereas the responsibility of drafting forest management plan falls on the forest owner or manager. Depending on relevant national legislation, a formal approval of forest management plans by the competent authorities may be required. Where a forest management plan already exists or is required for a forest partially or totally designated as a Natura 2000 site, and where it is legally and practically possible, it may be very useful and effective to integrate the relevant Natura 2000 conservation objectives and measures into this plan.

A forest management plan generally includes strategic and operational sections and may cover many aspects, ranging from economic aspects, such as timber and other goods production, to recreation and nature conservation. This wide and flexible spectrum of objectives and activities generally holds sufficient room to incorporate the Natura 2000 objectives and measures, especially when dealing with large state forests or estates owned by one entity.

Forest management plans can also serve as business plan for forest holdings and might contain private information not to be disclosed. In such a case, relevant information regarding Natura 2000 might be developed in a separate annex of the forest management plan.

The integration becomes more challenging when dealing with a large number of (small) forest properties with different kinds of ownership (many of which may not require a forest management plan) or when the Natura 2000 boundaries and property boundaries do not match. In any case, and in order to avoid the deterioration of the site, it is required to manage the forest in a way that is compatible with the conservation objectives and measures that have been established for the site and which are developed in the Natura 2000 management plan if such a plan exists.

A number of Member States have formulated guidelines, rules or other guidance tools to facilitate the integration of Natura 2000 needs into forest management planning (see also question n° 33).

35. What are the benefits of integrating N2000 management plans and forest management plans?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Integrating Natura 2000 conservation objectives and measures into a forest management plan can provide multiple advantages for those involved, although this may initially require some additional investigations and consultations. Most importantly, such integration will allow forest owners and managers to refer to only one document in the daily management of their forest rather than having to consult both the Natura 2000 management plan and the forest management plan. At the same time it will help ensuring better coherence between different policy objectives, avoiding potential conflicts in the implementation stage as well as unnecessary costs. The question of possibly having one plan integrating all aspects or rather two is further discussed below.

Forest management plans integrating Natura 2000 objectives are also a very useful tool for attracting much needed financial resources for their implementation since they are able to meet several policy objectives just with one plan. This can be especially the case when making use of the available EU funding opportunities under the Structural Funds, Rural Development Funds or LIFE. See also section 1.2.2 in Part I of the guide for an overview of possible EU funding sources.

Another major advantage of an integrated management plan is that it will help avoiding any likely significant negative effects on the respective Natura 2000 site. If this can effectively be achieved, demonstrated and documented through an objective screening of the measures included in the plan, an important benefit will be that neither the plan nor any individual management measure covered by the plan will have to be subject to a full appropriate assessment of its effects according to article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive.

For instance, if a timber harvesting project is not strictly necessary to the site's conservation management, it might be likely to have a significant negative effect on the site individually or in combination with other plans or projects, and, if the likelihood of such effects cannot be excluded, it must be subject to an appropriate assessment according to Article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive. Integrated forest management plans normally include timber harvesting operations that may not be necessary for achieving the site's conservation objectives but needed for achieving other objectives (e.g. timber production, hunting management, recreation, fire prevention, soil protection). It is expected that such measures that are included in an integrated forest management plan are designed in a way that any possible negative effects on the site are avoided or reduced to an insignificant level. With these precautions there will normally be very little chance that possible negative effects also in combination with other plans or projects cannot be screened out and that a full appropriate assessment in the sense of Art. 6(3) will still be required. In some cases, timber harvesting may even positively contribute to achieving the site's conservation objectives (e.g. to facilitate natural regeneration of a habitat type of Community interest, to remove non desired tree species, etc.).

It is important to underline that any measures that are not strictly necessary for the conservation management of a site but included in an integrated management plan should be designed in a way that they are not likely to have any significant negative effect on the site, alone or in combination with other plans or projects and that they should be thoroughly screened with this regard and the result of the screening be documented in the management plan (see questions 33 and 34)

Having only one single integrated plan covering both Natura 2000 and forest management would be the ideal situation. In exceptional cases (e.g. one single forest holding corresponding to one Natura 2000 site), the Natura 2000 management plan and the forest management plan can easily be combined into one single document. Such a document then takes the function of a Natura 2000 management plan if it is approved by the competent nature conservation authority. In most other cases, however, there will be two separate documents: On the one hand, a Natura 2000 management plan (covering a whole Natura 2000 site) that generally covers several forest holdings and on the other hand, several forest management plans for several holdings. In all cases, those forest management plans must respect the non-deterioration requirements under Art. 6(2) of the Habitats Directive. They should ideally also integrate the more pro-active conservation objectives of the Natura 2000 site (integrated forest management plans). Individual timber harvesting projects in Natura 2000 sites should always be designed in a way that any possible negative effects on the site are avoided or reduced to insignificant levels. If significant negative effects on a site cannot be screened out an appropriate assessment is always required.

36. Should existing forest management plans be adapted in order to take into account existing Natura 2000 management plans?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

There is in principle no obligation to adapt existing forest management plans as long as the measures covered by the plan do not cause any deterioration of the habitats or habitats of species for which a Natura 2000 site has been designated or any significant disturbance of such species.

Existing plans may however also need to be adapted where they include silvicultural or other measures that are not compatible with the site-specific conservation objectives. If an existing forest management plan does not take into account the conservation objectives and measures that have been adopted in the context of a Natura 2000 management plan covering the same forest, then it should best be revised. Where possible, synergies should be exploited so that silvicultural measures can contribute to achieving Natura 2000 conservation objectives. Nevertheless the integration of Natura 2000 objectives and measures into the existing forest management plans can wait for the next planned update of these plans provided that the activities under the existing plan do not cause any deterioration of protected habitats or disturbance of protected species in the Natura 2000 site.

Where a forest management plan fully integrates the relevant conservation requirements in line with the site's conservation objectives in a way that any possible negative impacts on protected species and habitats are avoided and where, if possible, the forestry measures covered by the plan even pro-actively contribute to achieving the site's conservation objectives, it should normally be possible to conclude that the plan is not likely to have a significant negative effect on the site. Such a conclusion can only be taken on the basis of objective arguments and as a result of a screening of all possible effects of the plan on the Natura 2000 site. It is recommended to document the screening results as an annex to the management plan. In such circumstances, an appropriate assessment of the plan will not be necessary. See also Question 57 to know more about the need or not to submit a forest management plan to an Article 6.3 procedure.

37. Not all forests have a forest management plan or an equivalent instrument. Is it compulsory to have a forest management plan approved by the authority in a Natura 2000 site?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Under the EU Directives it is not an obligation to establish a Forest Management Plan for forests in Natura 2000. The obligation to produce a FMP depends very much on national rules in application in each Member State. In several Member States they are required for forests above a certain size or for some types of forests.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy does nevertheless strongly encourage Member States to ensure that “by 2020, Forest Management Plans or equivalent instruments, in line with Sustainable Forest Management (SFM), are in place for all forests that are publicly owned and for forest holdings above a certain size (to be defined by the Member States or regions and communicated in their Rural Development Programmes) and that receive funding under the EU Rural Development Policy so as to bring about a measurable improvement in the conservation status of species and habitats that depend on or are affected by forestry and in the provision of related ecosystem services as compared to the EU 2010 Baseline6.

Furthermore, support for some of the forestry measures under the EAFRD regulation for 2014-2020 (Regulation 1305/2013) is conditional upon the presentation of the relevant information from a forest management plan or equivalent instrument in line with sustainable forest management above a certain size (as it is mentioned above).

6 As defined in SEC(2006) 748.

38. Forests are dynamic ecosystems which are managed over the long term. How this specific aspect can be made compatible with Natura 2000 conservation objectives?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners

Generally, Natura 2000 conservation objectives are established in a way that take due account of the dynamic character of forest ecosystems. Indeed, it is often this dynamic characteristic that helps to ensure the continued survival of a wide range of different forest related species, especially in large areas of continuous forests.

Natura 2000 designation does not therefore attempt to systematically preserve an existing situation in a given forest and at a given date, although some semi-natural forests depend on active management to prevent a natural succession. Conservation objectives do not aim at preserving a given situation at any costs, irrespective of its natural development. Such natural development must be an integral part of the ecological factors on which conservation objectives and measures are established. The "silvicultural cycle" (regeneration, thinning and harvesting of mature trees or stands) can be compatible with such a dynamic approach. Though some adaptations to current practices are often desirable (e.g. keeping old trees or stands).

Nevertheless "freezing" a situation may sometimes be necessary in order to keep over the long-term a semi-natural habitat depending from specific management measures.

Regular monitoring and evaluation of these ecological factors, as well as of the conservation degree of the target species and habitats will allow for a possible adaptation of the site's conservation objectives and measures if necessary.

A dynamic approach to the management can however be applied more easily in large Natura 2000 sites than in small sites, often delimitated around the actual area of protected habitat types. It is also important to have a monitoring scheme at landscape level that may detect problematic tendencies in these natural processes on all concerned Natura 2000 sites in a given region at the same time.

39. Forest management sometimes relies also on non-native species. Is this compatible with the requirements of Natura 2000?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

The choice of tree species in a Natura 2000 site and the degree to which the presence of some species may be favoured or disfavoured will depend on the ecological requirements of the species and habitat types for which the site has been designated and on the site's conservation objectives. In sites where the conservation objective is to improve the degree of conservation of a particular habitat type or species, a possible conservation measure may consist in reducing the area occupied by non-native species for example in order to restore the continuity of a natural habitat or its structure.

On the other hand, in sites where the objective is to maintain the forests in their current condition and distribution, it may be possible to retain existing non-native species as long as this does not impede to reach the site’s conservation objectives. This may for instance be the case in large Natura 2000 sites that have continuous tracts of native forest cover of a sufficiently dynamic nature and structural complexity to maintain the species and habitat types of Community interest in a good condition.

In general, however, the introduction of non-native tree species within Natura 2000 sites should be handled with care and their possible effects should be evaluated. The replacement of a forest habitat of good quality by a plantation of non-native trees is not likely to be in line with site's conservation objectives.

40. Climate change will most probably have an important impact on forests. Can forest management measures be taken to adapt the forest to the impact of climate change when a Natura 2000 habitat is concerned?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Improving the conservation degree or status of forest habitats through appropriate forest management will have a direct positive effect also on the resilience of forest ecosystems, thus on their capacity to cope with the effects of climate change (adaptation). For this purpose adaptive management strategies aim to enhance forests’ resilience to future changes, for example by improving the forest structure, removing fragmentation and sometimes favouring tree species that are best suited to predicted conditions. Forests can contribute to climate change mitigation by storing Carbon. This can be achieved through increased stand volumes, presence of deadwood and soil carbon quantity, Protecting or if necessary restoring water conditions in bog forests will help preventing peat deterioration and CO2 emissions from peat soils under forests. However these management strategies should always be applied with care, in order to not modify the natural characteristics and composition of the forest habitats that need to be preserved.

A new emphasis on climate change mitigation and adaptation is made under the EU funds, such as the EAFRD and the new LIFE programme for environment and climate, which promote measures on forests in this regard. Under EAFRD, Member States should spend a minimum of 30% of the total contribution from the fund to each rural development programme on climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as on environmental issues. Such spending should be made through agri-environment-climate and organic farming payments and payments to areas facing natural or other specific constraints, through payments for forestry, payments for Natura 2000 areas and climate and environment-related investment support.

41. How should the presence of "other wooded lands" (scrubs, rocky areas, etc.) or non-forest habitats be taken into consideration?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities.

Forests in Natura 2000 often also include "other wooded land" (wooded pastures, scrubs, heaths, etc.), some of which are also Annex I habitat types that require the designation of Natura 2000 areas. If the site has been designated for such a habitat type or it is a habitat of importance for other non-forest related species of EU importance, then it will be necessary to set specific conservation objectives and measures for these as well. If this is not the case, then these habitats can be managed without necessarily seeking to maintain or improve their degree of conservation within the site as long as the management does not interfere with the conservation objectives of the site or any protection regime at the national, regional or local level.

42. What happens when there are conflicting conservation objectives between different habitat types or species of EU importance in the same site?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

There may be situations where the conservation objectives of one habitat type or species conflicts with that of another habitat or species of EU importance present on the site. For instance, it might be desirable to expand the range of a forest habitat type but this might, in turn lead to a loss of designated heathland.

Such potential conflicts will need to be addressed and resolved when setting the conservation objectives for the site, taking into account the relative importance of each habitat type or species in the site for achieving the overall objective of reaching a favourable conservation status within the EU and within the biogeographical regions of the Member States. Any opportunities for identifying suitable compromises that benefit both should be considered. (See also question 18).

43. How to deal with outbreaks of diseases in Natura 2000 sites which can have a significant economic impact (e.g. bark beetle, pine wood nematode)?

Legal obligation (O)/ Recommendation (R)/ Information (I)
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

(R) When planning phytosanitary measures in Natura 2000 sites, the site's conservation objectives should be taken into account and the measures should be designed in a way that negative effects on the protected species and habitats are avoided or reduced to an insignificant level.

(O) An Appropriate Assessment under Article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive will be required for any phytosanitary measure that is not necessary for the conservation management of the site but likely to have a significant impact on the site. In case of a negative assessment, the measure can only be authorised according to the provisions of Article 6.4 of the Habitats Directive (no alternative solution, imperative reasons of overriding public interest, compensatory measures, information of the European Commission, Commission opinion if priority species or habitat types are present).

(I) In natural forests some diseases or insect outbreaks may be part of important ecological processes in the forest and provide structures and functions that are essential for its species. Such factors should not systematically always be prevented, especially in large Natura 2000 sites, unless their negative ecological or socio-economic effects clearly override the potential positive ecological effects. It should also be noted that natural disturbances generally work on a large scale and can be negative locally, even if they are desirable on a landscape level.

(O) Where emergency measures to prevent the spread within the Union of organisms harmful to plants or plant products must be taken in a Natura 2000 forest according to Council Directive 2000/29/EC of 8 May 2000, and in particular Article 16(3) fourth sentence thereof, appropriate risk management options must be applied that may involve a reduced amount of felling of susceptible plants. In that case, safeguards must always be provided to ensure an equivalent level of mitigation of the risk of spread of the respective harmful organism(s) as compared to the level foreseen by the corresponding implementation measure7.

(R) The design of phytosanitary measures and possible compensatory measures should be discussed in advance with the national competent authorities. In exceptional cases, when phytosanitary measures must be excluded because of Natura 2000 conservation objectives, with the result of significant economic losses for the forest owner, appropriate financial compensation should be considered by the Member State, through the available relevant EU or national funds (see also question 57)

7 See for example the Commission implementation Decision of 26 September 2012 on emergency measures to prevent the spread within the Union of Bursaphelenchus xylophilus (Steiner et Buhrer) Nickle et al. (the pine wood nematode) – OJ L266, 02.10.2012, p.42

44. Is the construction of forestry roads in a Natura 2000 site possible?

Information (I)/ Legal obligation (O)
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

(I) Forest roads are often a crucial element to allow an economically viable forest management. In some cases they can even contribute to the conservation of the site (access for implementing conservation measures, protection against fires, etc.). Though, sometimes they can have significant direct or indirect impacts on the species and/or habitats for which the site has been designated.

(O) As for other similar projects, the reference needs to be the site's conservation objectives. The road construction needs to be designed from the beginning so as to avoid or mitigate any possible negative impact on the habitats and species for which the site has been designated. If further to those precautions it can be reasonably assumed that the road construction will not significantly impact the integrity of the site, in the light of the site's conservation objectives or that it will even positively contribute to achieving these objectives, then it may be constructed without a full appropriate assessment. Such a conclusion can only be taken on the basis of objective arguments and as a result of a screening of all possible effects of the project on the Natura 2000 site.

(R) It is recommended to document the screening results so that they can always be referred to in case of need. The same precaution also applies to any forest road project that is part of a FMP (integrated or not) which has not, as a whole, already been subject to a screening or appropriate assessment of its effects on a Natura 2000 site.

(O) An Appropriate Assessment under Article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive will always be required if any likely significant impact of the road on the site cannot be excluded (see also question 57).

45. Are clear fellings allowed in Natura 2000 sites?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Here too the reference needs to be the site's conservation objectives. Clear fellings can have a detrimental effect on certain specific habitats or forest species, especially those depending on a permanent cover, but may also allow other species or habitats protected under the Birds or Habitats Directive to thrive. A case by case analysis is needed. It should take into account the site-specific conservation objectives, the habitats and species affected by the planned clear-felling, the new habitat type(s) that will replace those that will be removed, (including any different development phase or structure of the existing habitat(s), the relative importance of the felling area, etc. For habitats of Community interest where the current area according to the article 17 reporting, is already below the reference values for favourable conservation status at the national or biogeographical level, clear-fellings are likely to be in conflict with the site-specific conservation objectives which in such a situation should normally reflect the overarching objective of achieving favourable conservation status at a broader level.

On a procedural point of view, an article 6.3 appropriate assessment will be required as for other plans or projects if the likelihood of significant effects on a Natura 2000 site cannot be ruled out (see questions 44 and 57).

46. How to deal with the appearance of new Annex I habitats on a Natura 2000 site?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Not always. It depends very much on the type of measure and the particular area where they are implemented. There are certain conservation measures that do not entail any cost or reduced income, or can be readily absorbed without extra costs or loss of income into day-today management activities (e.g. changing the species composition of forests stands where such composition is economically and ecologically unsustainable by introducing productive tree species that correspond to the natural vegetation or simply ensuring that the existing forest management practices are being continued where they have shown to be beneficial to the establishment or maintenance of a good conservation degree of species and habitat types present on a site).

Some conservation measures may even lead to certain economic benefits in the short or longer term (e.g. creation of better hunting conditions for game species, reduced game damage, better angling possibilities as a result of a more river-friendly silviculture, higher touristic interest, more nature-friendly and less expensive silvicultural methods, improved soil conditions, etc.).

However, there will inevitably be a number of conservation measures that do entail costs because they require extra man power to be implemented, require new investments into new infrastructure or equipment, or because they reduce the commercial opportunities available to the owner. These need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

It is strongly advisable that the Natura 2000 management plans provide an estimate of the costs of implementing each of the conservation measures that have been identified for the site in question and also examine all possible sources of funding at local, national and EU level and from both public and private sources. It is also advisable to investigate the possibility of using innovative self-financing schemes (e.g. through the sale of Natura 2000 products, eco-tourism, payments for preserving water quality, etc. – see examples in Question nº 49).

47. How to deal with secondary Annex I habitats that are naturally replaced by another forest habitat?

Recommendation
Target: forest owners / managers, authorities

Many Natura 2000 habitats depend on human interventions. In the absence of human interventions such secondary habitats spontaneously evolve to another habitat type (of Community interest or not) that might be closer to the potential natural vegetation but does not correspond to the habitat existing when the site was designated. For instance, some Annex I habitats (e.g. some oak forest – Annex I habitats 9160, 9170, 9190) have developed further to a certain silvicultural treatment (e.g. coppicing). Due to changes in management practices (e.g. abandonment of coppicing) it may happen that a new habitat (e.g. a beech forest) will progressively replace the original one. Likewise, some wooded pastures could evolve to forest when grazing is discontinued.

The decision regarding the treatment of such habitats needs to be taken in the light of the conservation objectives that have been set for the respective site. These objectives should ideally have been established further to an analysis of the relative importance and potential of that site for the conservation of the habitat types that are actually present on the site, taking into account their conservation status at the regional, national or biogeographical level.

If it has been established that a particular habitat type needs to be preserved or even restored on the site, then the competent authority shall ensure that the necessary conservation measures are taken in order to prevent the development of another habitat type.

If the conservation objectives include the evolution towards another habitat type, for example because the latter corresponds to the natural vegetation on the site, then no intervention is required to stop the development of that habitat type, which, by the way, may sometimes even be an Annex I habitat. In other words, as long as the development of a new habitat type is in line with the site-specific conservation objectives it should not be considered as representing a deterioration in the sense of Article 6.2 of the Habitats Directive (see also questions 18, 26, 42 and 46).

Financing opportunities for supporting forest activities in Natura 2000

NB: Please also consult section 1.2.2 of Part I of the guidance document for a full overview of possible EU funding opportunities for Natura 2000 sites.

48. Do Natura 2000 conservation measures always entail costs?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Not always. It depends very much on the type of measure and the particular area where they are implemented. There are certain conservation measures that do not entail any cost or reduced income, or can be readily absorbed without extra costs or loss of income into day-to-day management activities (e.g. changing the species composition of forests stands where such composition is economically and ecologically unsustainable by introducing productive tree species that correspond to the natural vegetation or simply ensuring that the existing forest management practices are being continued where they have shown to be beneficial to the establishment or maintenance of a good conservation degree of species and habitat types present on a site).

Some conservation measures may even lead to certain economic benefits in the short or longer term (e.g. creation of better hunting conditions for game species, reduced game damage, better angling possibilities as a result of a more river-friendly silviculture, higher touristic interest, more nature-friendly and less expensive silvicultural methods, improved soil conditions, etc.).

However, there will inevitably be a number of conservation measures that do entail costs because they require extra man power to be implemented, require new investments into new infrastructure or equipment, or because they reduce the commercial opportunities available to the owner. These need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

The Commission strongly recommends that the Natura 2000 management plans also provide an estimate of the costs of implementing each of the conservation measures that have been identified for the site in question and also examine all possible sources of funding at local, national and EU level and from both public and private sources. This should also investigate the possibility of using innovative self-financing schemes (e.g. through the sale of Natura 2000 products, eco-tourism, payments for preserving water quality, etc. -see examples in Question 49).

49. How much is the management of the Natura 2000 network costing in total?

Information
Target: general public, forest managers/owners, authorities

The effective management and restoration of sites in the Natura 2000 network across the entire EU-28 requires significant financial investments. In 2007 the Commission estimated that ca €5.8 billion per year will be needed for EU-27 to manage and restore the sites in the network. However, the use of different EU instruments so far has been very significantly below the financial needs of Natura 2000 as defined by the Member States, covering only 20% of those needs8.

However, these costs are greatly outweighed by the multiple socio-economic benefits provided by the areas included in the network. In addition to playing a crucial role in protecting Europe’s biodiversity, Natura 2000 sites provide a wide range of other ecosystem benefits and services to society. According to recent Commission studies, the benefits that flow from areas designated as Natura 2000 sites are estimated to be in the order of €200 to 300 billion/year.

Although these figures provide only a first estimate, the preliminary results already show that the economic benefits for society derived from the Natura 2000 Network compare very favourably to the costs associated with managing and protecting this important resource – which represent only a fraction of its potential benefits.

The precise cost-benefit ratio will of course depend on a range of factors, including the location of the sites and their land use, but, all evidence to date points to the fact that a well-managed Natura 2000 Network will more than repay the costs related to its maintenance.

Examples of the economic benefits of Natura 2000:
TOURISM:

Natura 2000 is already proving to be an important motor of many local economies by attracting tourists, whose spending supports local economies. It is estimated that the expenditure supported by visitors to Natura 2000 sites is around €50–85 billion/year (in 2006). If only the expenditure of those visitors who have affinity for Natura 2000 designation (as opposed to natural areas in general) is considered, the range becomes €9–20 billion/year in 2006, generated by around 350 million visitor days.

The total expenditure provided by tourism and recreation supports between 4.5 and 8 million Full Time Employment (FTE) jobs. The benefits generated by the visitors with affinity to Natura 2000 would support from 800,000 to 2 million FTE jobs. This compares to a total of about 13 million FTE jobs in the tourism sector within the EU27 (in 2008). Furthermore, protected areas can provide additional benefits to the local and regional economy, by attracting inward investment and enhancing local image and quality of life.

WATER:

Money can be saved through working with natural capital, saving water purification and provisioning costs. Water purification and provision are important ecosystem services that are provided by natural ecosystems, including protected areas such as Natura 2000. A number of major European cities, including Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Oslo, Madrid, Sofia, Rome, and Barcelona all benefit from natural filtration in different ways. These municipalities save money on water treatment due to natural treatment from the ecosystems. The savings can be passed on to consumers, resulting in lower utility costs for EU residents.

Information from the four European cities of Berlin, Vienna, Oslo and Munich allows an illustration of the benefits of protected areas for water purification and provision. Using benefit transfer, it can be estimated that the annual economic benefits of water purification are between €7 and €16 million and of water provision between €12 and €91 million per city. The average per capita benefits are between €15 and €45 per year for both water purification and provision combined in the four European cities analysed. This compares to average household water bills of €200 per year in the case of Germany.

50. Who is responsible for ensuring the financing of the Network? Are there any EU funds available to support the conservation management of Natura 2000 sites?

Information (I), Recommendation (R)
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

(I) As an EU-wide network, Natura 2000 is based on the principle of solidarity between Member States. It represents an important shared resource capable of providing multiple benefits to society and to Europe’s economy. But it is also a shared responsibility which requires sufficient financial investments to become fully operational.

While the main responsibility for financing Natura 2000 lies with Member States, Article 8 of the Habitats Directive recognises the need for EU-level support for the management of Natura 2000 and explicitly links the delivery of the necessary conservation measures to the provision of EU co-financing.

Management requirements of Natura 2000 have been integrated into different EU funding streams, as the Structural Funds (ERDF), Rural Development Fund (EAFRD), European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF), LIFE, etc.

This integration approach was chosen for several reasons:

  • It ensures that the management of Natura 2000 sites is part of the wider land management policies of the EU;
  • It allows Member States to set priorities and to develop policies and measures which reflect their national and regional specificities;
  • It avoids duplication and overlap of different EU funding instruments and the administrative complications associated with such duplication.

In the case of forests in Natura 2000 there are several funding opportunities available under the new EU Funds for the period 2014-2020 (see section 1.2.2 in Part I of the guide9) . In most cases it depends on Member State authorities, whether and how these opportunities are made available in the specific country/region.

(R) In order to make best use of the EU funds available the Commission has encouraged Member States to adopt a more strategic multi-annual planning approach to Natura 2000 financing. This takes the form of Prioritised Action Frameworks (PAFs), which define the funding needs and strategic priorities for Natura 2000 at a national or regional level for the period 2014-2020. These PAFs are specifically designed to facilitate the integration of suitable conservation measures, including those for forests, into the new operational for the different EU funding instruments10.

9 These funds are also further described in a new Guidance Handbook on financing Natura 2000 (/environment/nature/natura2000/financing/) aimed at assisting authorities, managers and owners to take advantage of the multiple opportunities available under the current financing period (2014-2020) for management measures within Natura 2000 sites, including measures for forests in Natura 2000.

10 SEC(2011) 1573 final

51. Are there specific measures under EU Rural Development Regulation to support Natura 2000?

Information
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Yes, there is a specific measure referring to Natura 2000 and the Water Framework Directive payments. According to the new EAFRD Regulation (1305/2013), Natura 2000 payments shall be granted annually per hectare of forest in order to compensate beneficiaries for additional costs and income foregone resulting from disadvantages in the areas concerned, related to the implementation of the Habitats and Birds Directives. Support shall be granted to farmers and to private forest holders and associations of private forest holders. In duly justified cases it may also be granted to other land managers (Article 30).

Natura 2000 payments are available for operations related to disadvantages and restrictions imposed in the designated Natura 2000 areas and defined in management plans or other equivalent instruments. Such restrictions must have a mandatory character i.e. must be fulfilled by all land managers in the areas concerned and are linked to the provisions on maintenance or restoration of the habitats and species and on avoiding their deterioration and disturbance.

This measure would be available for forest owners as long as it will be included by Member States in their Rural Development Programmes.

52. Are there other measures under EU rural development that could also contribute to the funding of Natura 2000? Who can benefit from this funding?

Information
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Yes, there are other measures under the new EAFRD Regulation that could also contribute to the funding of Natura 2000. The most relevant ones are the following:

Article 21: Investments in forest area development and improvement of the viability of forests, including:

  • afforestation and creation of woodland (art. 22)
  • establishment of agroforestry systems (art. 23)
  • prevention and restoration of damage to forests from forest fires and natural disasters, including pest and disease outbreaks, catastrophic events and climate related threats (art. 24)
  • investments improving the resilience and environmental value as well as the mitigation potential of forest ecosystems (art. 25)
  • investments in forestry technologies and in processing, mobilizing and marketing of forest products (art. 26)

Article 34: Forest environmental and climate services and forest conservation.

Article 35: Cooperation.

There is now also a general requirement that support for holdings above a certain size (to be determined by the Member States in their Rural Development Programmes) is conditional upon the forest being managed in line with SFM principles (as evidenced by presentation of the relevant information from a forest management plan or equivalent instrument).

The new regulation requests that at least 30 % of the total EAFRD contribution to the rural development programme shall be reserved for environmental issues and climate change mitigation and adaptation through support for environment and climate related investments, investments in forests (articles 21 and 34), agri-environment and climate measures, organic farming, areas facing natural or other constraints and payments in Natura 2000.

The majority of the forest measures in the Rural Development Regulation are aimed at private forest-holders and their associations. They are available for forest owners as long as these measures are included by Member States in their Rural Development Programmes. Some other beneficiaries, depending on the specific measure, are also public forest-holders, municipalities, other private law and public bodies and their associations, natural persons and other land management bodies under well specified and justified cases. For example, in case of state-owned land, support for afforestation and creation of woodland (article 22) and for forest-environmental and climate services and forest conservation (article 34) can only be granted if the body managing such land is a private body or a municipality.

Under Forest-environmental and climate services and forest conservation (article 34 of EAFRD Regulation), support shall be granted to public and private forest-holders and other private law and public bodies and their associations who undertake, on a voluntary basis, to carry out operations consisting of one or more forest-environment and climate commitments. In the case of state owned forests, support may only be granted if the body managing such a forest is a private body or a municipality. Payments shall compensate beneficiaries for all or part of the additional costs and income foregone resulting from the commitments made. Where it is necessary they may also cover transaction costs to a value of up to 20 % of the premium paid for the forest-environment commitments. "Transaction cost" means an additional cost linked to fulfilling a commitment, but not directly attributable to its implementation or not included in the costs or income foregone that is compensated directly; and which can be calculated on a standard cost basis. However, in order to have this possibility, Member States should include in their rural development programmes the relevant measures.

53. Should additional cost incurred or incomes foregone be supported by forest owners/managers only?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Whereas the benefits of implementing particular conservation measures accrue to society as a whole it would be unjust if the costs of implementing such measures, either the direct costs or the legitimate income forgone were borne by the forest owners/managers.

Member States can have their own rules to handle this issue and in many cases they support forest owners and managers where they want to promote some kind of management that means additional costs or loss of income. There are financial resources available to cover such costs, e.g. from EU funds, in particular the EAFRD.

54. Should the cost of Natura 2000 management measures always be financially compensated?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

There is a need to examine whether some conservation measures can be financially compensated, in particular measures depriving the owner of revenue that would have been expected in the context of a sustainable forest management or requiring additional investments without productive return. Grants, contractual agreements, tax breaks, technical assistance, etc. are possible options to compensate owners for income foregone, services rendered to society as a whole and, if applicable, capital depreciation.

Avoiding deterioration is a legal obligation derived from the Habitat Directive that does in principle not require compensation. However, decisions on the provision of economic incentives or compensatory payments are to be taken at the Member State level, depending on the national context. For example, where restrictions or obligations are imposed to forest management that has been traditional in an area, causing a loss of income or additional costs, appropriate compensation to forest owners concerned may be advisable. It can also be the case when the non-deterioration obligation goes beyond the daily vigilance to avoid deterioration and requires important pro-active management measures (e.g. removing an invasive species (e.g. Prunus serotina) that has spread overall, or avoiding the natural conversion of an oak stand into a beech stand).

55. What measures are available under the EU LIFE instrument to support the funding of conservation measures for forests in Natura 2000 sites?

Information
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

LIFE has in the past funded a large number of forest related projects. The new LIFE Regulation (2014-2020) will continue to fund forest-related nature conservation projects, essentially through LIFE Nature & Biodiversity projects.

There is a call for proposals every year. In the 2014 call, almost 100 M€ was available for projects supporting the conservation of nature and biodiversity in general, and this amount should increase for future calls. LIFE co-finances up to 60% of the costs of selected LIFE Nature & Biodiversity projects.

It is also possible, although less frequent, to target forest nature conservation via projects that involve essentially communication, in which case applicants should look at the application package for LIFE Environmental Governance and Information.

Finally, the conservation of forest Natura 2000 sites may also be targeted as part of a much larger project targeting the Natura 2000 network as a whole at regional or national level. For more details, applicants (generally national/regional administrations) should refer to the application package for LIFE Integrated projects.

56. Are there other financing opportunities and incentives for Natura 2000 at national or regional level?

Information
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Yes, there is also a high potential for contributing to forest management and conservation through national and regional programmes, since the main responsibility for financing Natura 2000 sites lies with the individual Member States. In some Member States there are voluntary agreements to manage forests in a way that is favourable to the conservation of the site and/or forestry contracts for the preservation of species and habitats that are financed through national funds.

In some countries, landowners can also benefit from incentives such as property tax exemptions and other tax benefits (e.g. in, Belgium).

In addition, in some Member States the general rule is that landowners are always entitled to full compensation for additional costs and for income foregone in Natura 2000 areas where the designation of forest habitats means certain restrictions on timber production (e.g. in Sweden).

New activities in Natura 2000 sites

57. What sort of forest activities require an Article 6.3 procedure under Natura 2000?11 What is considered a plan or project in the context of the Habitats and Birds Directives?

Legal obligation (O)/ Recommendation (R)
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

(O) The Habitats Directive does not define "plan" or "project", but jurisprudence has demonstrated that these terms require a broad interpretation since the only triggering factor for applying Article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive is whether or not they are likely to have a significant effect on a site. In the case of a project the definition used in the Environmental Impact Assessment directive is now applied also to the Habitat Directive whereby a project means the execution of construction works or of other installations or schemes, and any other interventions in the natural surroundings and landscape.

For forestry projects this may include activities such as the construction of a new forest road, a wood storage facility or a saw mill, drainage of the land, as well as afforestation or deforestation, significant clear fellings, important modifications of the silvicultural regime, or significant land use changes.

The Waddensea case (C-127/02) further clarified that activities which have been carried out periodically for several years on the site but for which a license is granted annually for a limited period, with each license entailing a new assessment both of the possibility of carrying on that activity and of the site where it may be carried on, should be considered, at the time of each application, as a distinct plan or project within the meaning of the Habitats Directive.

The European Court of Justice has also ruled that projects include:

  • recurring and small scale activities (C 127/02), C-226/08)
  • the intensification of an activity (C-127/02)
  • modifications to activities (C-72/95)
  • activities outside the site but likely to have a significant effect on it (C-98/03, C-418/04)

And that:

  • The option of exempting generally certain activities does not comply with the provisions of Article 6(3) (C-256/98, C-6/04, C-241/08, C-418/04, C-538/09)
  • The size of the project is not relevant as it does not in itself preclude the possibility that it is likely to have a significant effect on a protected site (C-98/03, C-418/04).

The word “plan” has also, for the purpose of Article 6(3), a potentially very broad meaning. Referring by analogy to the SEA Directive 2001/42/EC, Article 2(a) of that Directive defines plans and programmes as:

‘Plans and programmes, including those co-financed by the European Community, as well as any modifications to them:

  • which are subject to preparation and/or adoption by an authority at national, regional or local level or which are prepared by an authority for adoption, through a legislative procedure by Parliament or Government, and
  • which are required by legislative, regulatory or administrative provisions.

The need of appropriate assessment of a plan should therefore be considered in function of the nature, purpose and content of the plan, and not simply on whether it is called ‘a plan’. Examples of plans likely to have a significant impact on a site are: new forest management plans for Natura 2000 forests with significant transformations of forest stands with regard to species composition or rotation periods or other significant changes in forestry regime, significant changes to hunting plans for large game, etc.

A Forest Management Plan that fully integrates Natura 2000 conservation objectives and measures (integrated Forest Management Plan) on a certain site is normally not likely to have a significant impact on the site. The unlikeliness of any significant negative effect must be verified on the basis of objective arguments (screening of the plan) and duly documented. The plan must not be subject to a full appropriate assessment in the sense of Article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive if this condition is fulfilled (see also Question 35).

It is useful to recall that plans or projects that are directly connected with or necessary to the conservation management of a Natura site (i.e. Natura 2000 management plan) do not need to go through the Habitats Directive permit process. It generally assumes the effects of such measures for Natura 2000 site are fully considered in the Natura 2000 management planning process and that this assessment does therefore not need be repeated. Nevertheless if such a plan or project also contains a non-conservation component it may still require an appropriate assessment if likely significant effects on the site cannot be excluded.

(R) Some recurrent forest management measures (e.g. to control outbreaks of Bark Beetle) can have an impact on Natura 2000 sites. Considering the likeliness of such events, they should ideally be planned in the context of a Forest Management Plan that fully integrates Natura 2000 conservation objectives, subject or not to an appropriate assessment as explained above. Management measures decided to face an unforeseen situation and likely to have a significant impact on a site must be submitted to an appropriate assessment (e.g. large-scale felling to prevent the extension of Bark Beetle further to a windfall, areal application of insecticides). Competent authorities should be encouraged to develop specific procedures that take into consideration the conservation objectives of Natura 2000 sites in order to cope with situations of urgency.

11 See Guidance on Natura 2000 and forests, Part I, § 2.4.4 for a general presentation of Article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive.

58. In the case of a plan or project that is likely to have a significant impact on a Natura 2000 site, is it automatically refused? If not, what are the procedures to follow?

Legal obligation
Target: forest managers/ owners, authorities

Plans or projects that are likely to have a significant impact on a Natura 2000 site are not automatically refused. They must, however, undergo a step by step assessment of their implications for the site in view of the site's conservation objectives.

The steps are as follows:

  • Step one: screening – this initial step is to determine whether a plan or project has to undergo an appropriate assessment (AA) or not. If it is likely to have a significant negative effect on a Natura 2000 site, or the likelihood of significant impacts cannot be excluded then an appropriate assessment is required. It is advisable to put the main elements of the screening stage on paper in case it could be asked later.
  • Step two: appropriate assessment – once it has been decided that an AA is required, a detailed analysis must be undertaken of the potential impacts of the plan or project, alone or in combination with other plans or projects, on the integrity of Natura 2000 site(s) in view of its conservation objectives.
  • Step three: decision making - If the appropriate assessment concludes that there is an adverse effect on integrity of the site, it will be necessary to examine whether preventive or mitigation measures can be introduced to remove these effects.

    These mitigation measures must be directly linked to the likely impacts that have been identified in the Appropriate Assessment (AA) and can only be defined once these impacts have been fully assessed and described in the AA. The identification of mitigation measures, like the impact assessment itself, must be based on a sound understanding of the species and habitats concerned.

    In the case of forestry projects the mitigation measures may, for instance, involve a change or restriction on the dates and timetable for implementation (for example, avoiding harvesting trees or building a forest road during the breeding season of a particular species). If these mitigation measures can successfully remove or pre-empt the adverse effects identified then the project can be approved. If not, it can only be authorised according to the derogation procedure under Article 6.4 (step 4) or be refused.

  • Step 4: derogations - Article 6.4 provides for certain derogations to this general rule. Thus, if it is concluded that the plan or project will have an adverse significant effect on a Natura 2000 site, it can still be approved under exceptional circumstances if there are no alternatives, if the plan or project is considered necessary for imperative reasons of overriding public interest (IROPI) and if the necessary compensatory measures are being taken to protect the coherence of the Natura 2000 network. In such cases also the European Commission has to be informed and, if priority species or habitat types are present on the site, a Commission opinion is required.

See flow chart on Article 6.3 procedure

59. What is the relationship between the obligation to avoid deterioration under Article 6.2 and the Article 6.3 procedure?

Legal obligation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

These two provisions are in fact, ‘opposite sides of the same coin’. Article 6(2) and 6(3) are both intended to prevent any significant negative effects on Natura 2000 sites. In the case of Article 6(2) the obligation is to take appropriate measures to avoid ‘deterioration …or significant disturbance’. Article 6(3) more particularly targets new plans or projects that could ‘adversely affect the integrity of a site’. Contrary to Article 6.2 where no exception is possible, Article 6.4 provides for a derogation regime that makes plans and projects with negative effects possible under strictly limited conditions (no alternative solution available, imperative reasons of overriding public interest, compensatory measures, etc.). The objectives of Art. 6.2 and 6.3 are therefore broadly similar.

Thus, where a plan or project has been authorised without complying with Article 6(3), a breach of Article 6(2) may also be found. This is the case when deterioration of a habitat or disturbance of a species for which the area in question was designated has been established (Case C-304/05, C-388/05, C-404/09). Any plans and projects authorised according to Article 6(3) and 6(4) will also be in conformity with Article 6(2).

60. Do I need to apply an Article 6.3 procedure every time I want to harvest trees/timber in my Natura 2000 forest?

Legal obligation (O) / Recommendation (R)
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

(O) The Article 6.3 procedure applies only if a plan or a project is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site. It applies to all such plans or projects, whether they are situated in- or outside a Natura 2000 site.

(O) The first step will be for the forest owner or manager to check whether there is indeed a likelihood of a significant effect either individually or in combination with other plans or projects – this is known as the screening stage. If it can be demonstrated that this will not be the case then a full impact assessment will not be necessary and the project can go ahead as planned without the need for a permit. In case of doubt it is strongly advisable to contact the competent authority before proceeding with the harvesting operation.

(R) Practically, there are different ways to carry out the screening stage. It is advisable for the competent authorities to inform the forest owners and managers on forest activities that are a priori compatible with the conservation objectives and on those that are not.

(R) The production of guidelines adapted to individual sites would be very relevant in that regard. In the absence of such information, a forest manager who is planning a forest activity on a Natura 2000 site not submitted to any type of authorization (e.g. a clear felling followed by a plantation in a forest not covered by an officially approved FMP) should make sure that the activity will not deteriorate the site. A contact with the competent authority prior to the undertaking of the activity is recommended to lift doubts about the need or not to apply an Article 6.3 procedure.

If the felling is planned in a Forest Management Plan that fully integrates Natura 2000 conservation objectives and measures (integrated Forest Management Plan), the felling would in principle not be considered as being likely to have a significant impact on the site. If this condition is actually fulfilled (to be checked in the screening phase on the basis of objective criteria) neither an Appropriate Assessment nor a permit is required by the Habitats Directive.

It may also be useful to consider a phased commercial harvesting programme for a forest area as one single project so that only one permit is required. In that case the entire programme needs to be screened with regard to the likeliness of any negative effects on a site and if necessary subject to an appropriate assessment.

Many small forest holdings are not covered by an approved forest management plan. If the envisaged felling is not contradictory to the conservation objectives set for that site, no Appropriate Assessment or permit is necessary unless required by a regional/national procedure. On the opposite, if the felling is likely to have a significant impact on the site, an appropriate assessment and a permit are required.

For many traditional or recurrent forest activities (e.g. thinning, planting native tree species, maintaining plantations, etc.) it can often be concluded on the basis of an objective screening that these are not likely to have any significant negative effect on a Natura 2000 site. If this is actually the case no appropriate assessment is required. (See also Question 35).

See flow chart on Article 6.3 procedure.

61. Do plans or projects outside Natura 2000 sites also require an Article 6.3 procedure?

Legal obligation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site's conservation objectives.

The Article 6.3 procedure applies to all plans or projects, irrespective of whether they are located inside or outside a Natura 2000 site (e.g. drainage upstream).

Monitoring and evaluation

62. How does one know whether the conservation status of the forest habitat or species has improved across its entire natural range within the EU?

Legal obligation
Target: authorities

According to Article 11 of the Habitats Directive, Member States shall undertake surveillance of the conservation status of the natural habitats and species of Community interest. The conservation status of all species and habitats of EU importance is regularly being assessed in the frame of the 6-yearly progress reports submitted by the Member States to the Commission in accordance with Article17 of the Habitats Directive and Article 12 of the Birds Directives. The aim is to determine the status of each species or habitat type across its entire natural range within the EU. Four classes of conservation status have been adopted: Favourable (FV), Unfavourable-Inadequate (U1) and Unfavourable-Bad (U2), Unknown (XX).

The ultimate objective, of course, is that they all reach a favourable conservation status, as defined in the Habitats Directive. But this will take time to achieve. The habitat types and species were selected because they were threatened or rare which means they were, for the most part, already in a bad conservation status to start with. There will therefore be a certain time lag before the conservation measures that have been implemented ‘bear their fruit’ in terms of improving the overall conservation status of the species or habitat across the EU.

In a number of Member States (e.g. Austria, Germany, France United Kingdom) a systematic monitoring programme has been developed to monitor the conservation status in different sites. Data from existing forest inventories, particularly in large forest areas, can be useful in that regard. For instance, in the German National Forest Inventory (Bundeswaldinventur, BWI-2012), the forest habitat types as well as factors leading to their disturbance have been addressed during the regular inventory field work.

Every effort is underway to meet this target and the most recent conservation status assessments have been published in 2015.

63. What are the monitoring obligations on individual Natura 2000 sites? Who is responsible for this? How does one find out the latest conservation status of a particular species or habitat type in my area?

Legal obligation (O)/ Information (I)
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

(O) It is up to each Member State to decide how best to monitor the conservation status of the habitat types and species of EU importance at the level of each Natura 2000 site within their country. This responsibility falls on the competent authorities in each country. The latest monitoring results should be made available to the public, for instance on the authorities’ website.

(I) There is however no obligation for private forest owners or managers to monitor the conservation status of the species and habitat types present in their forest. Of course they are most welcome to do so as this is always very valuable information, for example as a means to deliver warning signals when the deterioration may occur.

The conservation degree of a particular species or habitat type in a Natura 2000 site is recorded and kept up-to-date in the Standard Data Form which is publically available for each Natura 2000 site. Competent authorities and site managers can also be able to provide detailed information in this regard.

64. What are the obligations as regards the monitoring of conservation measures in Natura 2000 sites?

Legal obligation (O)/ Recommendation (R)
Target: Competent authorities, forest managers/owners

(O) Article 11 of the Habitats Directive obliges Member States to undertake surveillance of the conservation status of the natural habitats and species of Community interest. Article 17.1 requires Member States to provide information concerning the conservation measures taken in Natura 2000 sites as well as an evaluation of the impact of those measures.

The new reporting format under article 17 (adopted for reporting on the period 2007-2012) requests information that should make it possible to evaluate the contribution of the Natura 2000 network to the conservation status of habitats and species and the overall effectiveness of the network.

This new reporting format includes the requirement to report on the implementation of management plans or other instruments used by the Member States to manage their network, the sites affected by projects/plans for which compensation measures were necessary and the main measures taken to ensure the coherence of the Natura 2000 network according to Article 10.

(R) Considering the obligation for Member States to report on the implementation of conservation measures and on the impact of the measures on the conservation status, a monitoring mechanism at site level for conservation measures is recommended. Such a mechanism should include measurable and clearly verifiable criteria and indicators to facilitate the follow-up and evaluation of results.

Monitoring in Natura 2000 is usually under the responsibility of competent authorities. As regards forest habitats and species and the measures carried out in forests, close co-operation between forest and nature conservation authorities and forest owners and managers is advisable.

Monitoring and evaluation of results are essential with regard to being able to adapt conservation objectives and measures to any significant natural or other developments that may affect the conservation of habitats and species of Community interest present on the site.

Communication, co-operation, active involvement of stakeholders

65. What can be the role of forest owners and managers in the implementation of Natura 2000?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Implementing Natura 2000 is a responsibility of Member States but has very important implications for land owners and managers. Proper participation of forest owners and forest managers is of key importance. There is a real need and value in involving forest owners and managers from an early stage. Forest owners know their property, have their own management objectives and have a key role to play in the establishment and implementation of the management measures in their forests. Hence they are key partners in the development and successful implementation of Natura 2000.

The preparation and development of management plans that address the site-specific conservation objectives and include conservation measures in Natura 2000 sites should be prepared with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders in order to explore as far as possible the options which meet different expectations, to address and avoid possible conflicts and find solutions to compensate for economic loss (additional costs and income foregone) that could be caused by particular conservation measures which go beyond normal practice under sustainable forest management.

66. Why is it important to involve the different stakeholder groups in the establishment of nature conservation objectives and Natura 2000 management plans?

Recommendation
Target: large public, forest managers/owners, authorities

Considering that Natura 2000 aims to contribute to ensuring biodiversity while taking into account socio-economic and cultural requirements, all relevant stakeholders should be previously identified and involved in the preparation and development of measures that address the conservation of forests in Natura 2000 sites.

Different stakeholders are to be considered in relation to Natura 2000 management. Authorities, forest owners and managers are the most relevant in decision making processes, but other stakeholders should also to be taken into account, in particular local communities and other land users, NGOs, hunters, anglers, etc. who may be able to contribute to the process with their knowledge and experience.

Public participation in planning and preparing the site-specific conservation objectives and conservation measures for a Natura 2000 site allows taking into account the views of the people that live and work on the site or use it. It provides an excellent opportunity to create a social atmosphere more favourable to environmental conservation. The likelihood of success will be greatly enhanced if the different stakeholders are informed and consulted on the management of the site. It may also be an opportunity to develop a multidisciplinary and professional approach as well as cooperation and possible synergies between different actors.

Involving non-forest players is an opportunity for avoiding or solving possible conflicts (e.g. excessive game pressure) and for benefiting from others' knowledge and experience. Taking into account that the conservation status of protected habitat types and species is often influenced by the activities of a range of stakeholders (foresters, hunters, tourist sector, etc.) the communication with and between them is essential for reaching an integrated management and achieving the conservation and other objectives in a balanced way.

67. What steps should a participatory process include?

Recommendation
Target: large public, forest managers/owners, authorities

There are several methods of undertaking participatory processes12. A participatory process in the management of Natura 2000 forest sites could include the following main steps:

  • Identification of all relevant stakeholders.
  • Establishing a multi stakeholder working group or committee as appropriate.
  • Mapping values, rights, resources, lands and territories and assess impacts.
  • Participatory Impact Assessment – define positive and negative impacts.
  • Detailed and public information on conservation objectives and discussion of planned measures. Targeted information to all stakeholders directly concerned.
  • Discuss and identify the best means and mechanisms for implementation of the necessary measures, considering financial resources, compensation and benefit-sharing.
  • Facilitation in case of conflicting claims, using adequate procedures for conflict resolution.
  • Set up a participatory monitoring model involving all stakeholders since the beginning: what to monitor, how, when, where, by whom.
  • Implementing Advisory services.

12 See e.g. a toolbox for public engagement in forest and woodland planning that has been published by the Forestry Commission in the UK: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-5XMDS8

68. What kind of information should be made public?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Open, public access to information is extremely important, in particular information on conservation objectives, obligations, recommendations, agreements, both at site and national/regional levels. Further to the necessary consultations, forest owners and forest managers should be well informed about the reasons behind and the importance of site-specific conservation objectives and measures in Natura 2000 forests. Therefore detailed description of the conservation objectives and measures, as well as suitable information on the location of key natural features and the respective conservation measures should always be made publically available. Contrary to some Forest Management Plans (which may contain private and sensitive information), a Natura 2000 management plan is a publicly available document (see also Question 33).

Communication of relevant and understandable information is of paramount importance to enhance mutual understanding and to foster dialogue between stakeholders. It is also a prerequisite for fruitful discussions on conservation objectives and conservation measures. A good communication plan requires developing appropriate communication and information strategies about the general objectives of Natura 2000, the sites’ conservation objectives and measures, etc. This may involve establishing a multi-stakeholder working group or committee if possible and developing a transparent process for meetings and consultations (roundtables, newsletters, etc.). Stakeholders should be properly informed not only about the constraints but also about the opportunities offered by Natura 2000.

69. Forest owners often have difficulties understanding Natura 2000. How to improve this situation?

Recommendation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

Although there are no explicit communication obligations in the Habitats Directive, the Commission has stressed the importance and the need to communicate and explain the objectives of Natura 2000 to the wider public and in particular to stakeholders directly connected to the site for the management of the sites. The Commission has produced useful guidance on the general provisions of the Birds and Habitats Directives as well as guidance more specifically addressed to particular economic sectors.

Several tools are available to increase awareness, provide advice and build local capacities for the management of a Natura 2000 site and to develop a participatory process (see also Question 25).

The protection of species and habitats of EU importance across their range, outside Natura 2000 sites

70. Do forests outside the Natura 2000 network have a role to play in the conservation of species and habitats of EU importance?

Information (I)/ Recommendation (R)
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities

(I) Yes, forests outside the Natura 2000 network do play a significant role in the conservation of habitats and species of EU importance, especially those that are vulnerable to fragmentation or isolation. Such forests can help to substantially improve the ecological coherence of the network and the functional connectivity between Natura 2000 sites.

The areas outside the Natura 2000 network can also provide further refuges for the species and habitat types outside the designated sites. This is especially valuable in the case of forest species and habitats that are wide-ranging (e.g. bears and lynx) or have a wide distribution (e.g. riparian forests) since only a part of their total resource is included in the Natura 2000 network (sometimes less than 50%). Those areas outside the Natura 2000 network are needed for achieving favourable conservation status.

(R) Article 10 of the Habitats Directive encourages Member States to manage features of the landscape which are of major importance for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of wild species of fauna and flora. Such measures may also involve forests and forest land that are not designated as Natura 2000 sites. Article 10 has practical implications for forest owners and managers only if Member States have taken specific measures related to that issue. Some countries are addressing this issue in national or regional strategies (e.g. Ecoforests in Latvia, "Schémas Régionaux de Cohérence Ecologique" in France). The Green Infrastructure initiative of the European Commission will further encourage Member States to take such measures.

The importance of areas outside the Natura 2000 network for birds is reflected in Article 3 (b) and 4 of the Birds Directive which require Member States to strive to upkeep and manage habitats inside and outside the protected zones in accordance with the ecological needs and to avoid pollution or deterioration of habitats.

71. What are the legal requirements to protect species outside Natura 2000?

Legal obligation
Target: forest managers/owners, authorities.

The two EU nature directives also require the protection of certain species across the EU, both within and outside Natura 2000 sites, to ensure their conservation across their natural range within the EU. This concerns all naturally occurring wild bird species in the EU as well as other species listed in Annex IV and V of the Habitats Directive which are also associated with forest habitats.

In addition, Member States are also required to preserve, maintain or re-establish a sufficient diversity and area of habitats for all the wild bird species in the European territory (Article 3 of the Birds Directive). That requirement may imply habitat protection measures outside the Natura 2000 network.

As regards the provisions on species protection across their whole range, the two Directives require Member States to prohibit the:

  • deliberate killing or capture of protected species by any method;
  • deliberate destruction or taking of eggs or nests, or the picking, collecting, cutting, uprooting or destruction of protected plants;
  • deterioration or destruction of breeding sites or resting places;
  • deliberate disturbance particularly during breeding, rearing, hibernation and migration;
  • the keeping, sale and transport of specimens taken from the wild.

These prohibitions must therefore be respected by all forest owners, users and managers as well.

Derogations to these provisions are allowed in some circumstances (e.g. to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water) provided that there is no other satisfactory solution and the consequences of these derogations are not incompatible with the overall aims of the Directives. The conditions for derogations are set out in Article 9 of the Birds Directive and Article 16 of the Habitats Directive.

Further guidance on the species protection provisions under the Habitats Directive are available from: /environment/nature/conservation/species/guidance/index_en.htm.