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Natura 2000 in the Marine Environment


Guidelines for the establishment of the Natura 2000 network in the marine environment. Application of the Habitats and Birds Directives (1,7MB)

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The need to fully apply the Habitats and Birds Directives to the offshore marine environment of the European Union, especially with regards to the establishment of the Natura 2000 network, represents a key challenge for EU biodiversity policy in the coming years.

The establishment of a marine network of conservation areas under Natura 2000 will significantly contribute, not only to the target of halting the loss of biodiversity in the EU, but also to broader marine conservation and sustainable use objectives.

This document addresses questions that Member States may wish to consider when preparing requests for fisheries conservation measures under the CFP to meet their obligations pertaining to Natura 2000. It also provides an overview of the procedural options available to Member States in presenting their requests to the Commission.

The document above provides a common methodology at EU level, to assess the impact of fisheries on marine protected areas, as a basis for the subsequent development of fisheries measures, with a view to ensuring level-playing field and compliance with applicable provisions under the Habitats and Birds Directives and the CFP. The document is not legally binding and has been developed by the Commission services, with the assistance of the Marine Expert Group. It is based on relevant projects carried out by Member States, scientific literature and best available knowledge. An additional document, developed by the Commission services and with the assistance of the Marine Expert Group, offers an overview of the potential interactions and impacts of commercial fishing methods on marine habitats and species protected under the EU Habitats Directive.

The Natura 2000 network also includes a growing marine protected area (MPA) network. These areas are of importance for marine biodiversity, but also provide a range of co-benefits in the form of ecosystem services, including provisioning services (e.g. fish), regulating services (e.g. carbon storage) and cultural services (support to recreation activities and tourism).

A paper has been prepared on Measuring the benefits of marine protected areas in the context of EU’s Natura 2000 network - scoping the methodology. Its aim is to provide an overview of existing analyses of the benefits provided by the EU MPAs, and to outline a possible step-wise methodology to assess the overall benefits provided by the EU marine Natura 2000 network.

The document above addresses some Frequently Asked Questions about links between the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC) and the implementation of the Birds Directive 2009/147/EC and the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC in the marine environment. It has no formal legal status and its aim is to identify and clarify interactions, synergies, differences and potential areas for greater coordination between these instruments concerning the conservation of marine biodiversity.

The aim of this document is to offer guidance which would facilitate the knowledge and implementation of EU legislation underpinning Natura 2000 in relation to aquaculture activities.

Natura 2000 biogeographical process for the marine regions

The Natura 2000 biogeographical process involves a series of seminars and other activities aiming to help Natura 2000 practitioners and experts to work together towards managing Natura 2000 as a coherent ecological network, by exchanging experience and best practice, addressing objectives and priorities, and enhancing co-operation and synergies. The process was launched in 2011 for the terrestrial biogeographical regions. The process is now extended to the marine biogeographical regions and the first kick-off marine seminar was held in Saint-Malo, France, in May 2015, with an exclusive focus on the management of marine Natura 2000 sites, bringing together participants from 23 Member States with marine areas. The Natura 2000 Platform is an important online tool to support this process and all practitioners involved are encouraged to use it for their benefit.

The context of EU marine biodiversity and protected areas policy

EU policy for marine biodiversity, including protected areas, is developing in the context of commitments at global, EU and regional levels.

At the EU level, EU Heads of State and government have made a commitment ‘to halt the loss of biodiversity [in the EU] by 2010’. And at the global level, they have joined some 130 world leaders in making a commitment ‘to significantly reduce the current rate of biodiversity loss [worldwide] by 2010.’ Faced with evidence of the continuing and even accelerating loss of biodiversity and of critical ecosystem goods and services – as recently highlighted in the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment - the European Council has repeatedly called for accelerated efforts to meet these commitments.

The 6th Environmental Action Programme of the European Community identified ‘nature and biodiversity’ as one of the priority themes for action. Objectives and priority areas for action on nature and biodiversity laid down by the European Parliament and the Council in the 6th Community Action Programme include:

  • Establishing the Natura network and implementing the necessary technical and financial instruments and measures required for its full implementation and for the protection, outside the Natura 2000 areas, of species protected under the Habitats and Birds Directives (Art 6.2.a. 7th indent)
  • Further promote the protection of marine areas, in particular with the Natura 2000 network as well as by other feasible Community means (Art. 6.2.g. 4th indent)

As a contracting party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) the European Community has prepared an EU Biodiversity Strategy and Biodiversity Action Plans which aim, inter alia, to integrate biodiversity considerations into other Community policies. Marine biodiversity issues are addressed by both the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for Natural Resources, and the BAP-Fisheries. Marine issues have also been raised in relation to the impact of European fishing fleets in international waters.

Acting on many of the priorities identified in the Message from Malahide, the Commission adopted in May 2006 a Communication on Halting the Loss of Biodiversity By 2010 — And Beyond [COM(2006) 216 final], which sets out an ambitious policy approach to halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010. In particular, it provides an EU Action Plan with clear prioritised objectives and actions to achieve the 2010 target and outlines the respective responsibilities of EU institutions and Member States. In coherence with the above process, the first action identified in this EU Biodiversity Action Plan is to accelerate efforts to finalise the Natura 2000 network. This states: "complete marine network of Special Protection Areas (SPA) by 2008; adopt lists of Sites of Community Importance (SCI) by 2008 for marine; designate Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and establish management priorities and necessary conservation measures for SACs [by 2012 for marine]; establish similar management and conservation measures for SPAs [by 2012 for marine]". This Action Plan also specifies indicators to monitor progress, and a timetable for evaluations.

This Biodiversity Communication has been broadly welcomed by other Community Institutions, including December 2006 Environment Council, which invited the Commission and Member States to proceed urgently with implementation of the Biodiversity Action Plan.

The Communication and Action Plan take account of various existing international commitments relating to marine protected areas.