The EU’s Biodiversity Strategy calls for a significant improvement in the conservation status of species and habitats protected under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives by 2020. To meet this target, it will be important for Member States to step up their efforts to manage and restore their Natura 2000 sites. Whilst this responsibility essentially lies with the countries and regions concerned, the Commission also has an important role to play in promoting cooperation and exchange of experience between all actors involved in the management of Natura 2000 and ensuring that the potential of the Natura 2000 network is fully exploited.
Last year, it launched the Natura 2000 Seminars Process involving a series of seminars, one for each of the nine biogeographical regions or for a group of regions. The aim is to exchange experiences and best practices, identify common objectives and priorities, and enhance cooperation and synergies in managing Natura 2000 sites. Each seminar cycle aims to capture the latest information on the threats and priority conservation needs, as well as good management practices, for key habitats and species of EU importance within and between countries of that particular region.
Indeed, one of the most important elements of the process is actually the continuous networking and exchange of information and best practice between experts involved in Natura 2000 management prior to and between the major meetings (preparatory workshops and seminars), as well as during the workshops and seminars themselves.
As such the process offers a unique opportunity to encourage greater dialogue between key experts, policy makers, NGOs, stakeholders and site managers and stimulate more coordinated action and synergies amongst Member States as regards the management of the Network and the achievement of in particular the first target of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy.
For each region, the cycle starts out with the preparation of a scoping document. Drafted by the European Topic Centre for Biological Diversity ( ETC/BD), the document analyses all of the habitat types of Community interest in that particular region and ranks them according to their conservation status and representation, using data from the Article 17 conservation assessment reports.
The Steering Committee made up of representatives from each Member State in the region then selects those habitat types that it would like to focus on. Species of Community interest are not targeted directly, although measures for species management will be integrated into the recommendations for the habitats when relevant. Once the habitats have been chosen, relevant information on their conservation status, pressures and threats, and management measures, including best practice experiences, is collated by the Commission’s contractor and presented in the form of a draft background document. This is then sent for comments to key experts designated by the Member States as well as the NGOs and stakeholder groups.
Once the background document has been reviewed, a preparatory workshop is held to bring key experts from each of the habitat groups together in order to discuss the main conservation issues, management solutions and recommendations for these habitats within that biogeographical region and to prepare the ground for a Natura 2000 Seminar. For each group of selected habitat types a ‘Lead country’ coordinates the work and chairs the respective working group.
The Natura 2000 Seminar is the next major event. It is designed to bring key actors (competent authorities, NGOs and stakeholders) from different countries together to agree on a list of recommendations and proposals for concrete actions regarding the management of the selected habitat types. These action points are then recorded in the Seminar Report, along with a practical ‘roadmap’ for their implementation.
So far three seminar cycles have been initiated. The Boreal Cycle is led by Finland, the Atlantic Cycle by the Netherlands and the Alpine Cycle by Austria. The Alpine seminar is planned for the autumn 2013. The next seminars for the Mediterranean and Macaronesian regions (combined) are foreseen in spring 2014 and for the Continental, Pannonian, Steppic and Black Sea regions (combined) in spring 2015.
All countries within each region participate in meetings of steering committees for the respective seminar cycles, and help coordinate the input of their national experts. The European Environment Agency (EEA), the European Topic Centre for Biological Diversity (ETC/BD) and the European Commission are also present, as are observers from the European Habitats Forum and the Natura 2000 Users Forum.
The Commission is in the process of establishing a web-based Communication Platform to facilitate communication on the Natura 2000 seminars. All relevant documents will also be published on this platform. Until the platform goes online documents can also be consulted on the following Natura 2000 CIRCABC site.