What is NATURA 2000?
NATURA 2000 has key significance for the EU policy for nature and biodiversity conservation. It consists of a network of protected areas across Europe, created in correspondence with the Directive on natural habitats from 1992. The objective of the network is to guarantee the conservation of the most valuable and most threatened by extinction naturally occurring species as well as the sites which they inhabit. NATURA 2000 includes Special Areas of Conservation, identified by the member states in accordance with the Directive on natural habitats, as well as Special Protection Areas as defined in the Directive on the conservation of wild birds from 1979. The formation of such a network of protected areas is conformable to the obligations of the Union accepted within the framework of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
The Special Protection Areas (SPA) for birds are geographically determined territories designated in accordance with the Directive on the conservation of wild birds aimed at the conservation of species which require specific conservational measures for their habitats on the territory of the EU. They are designated for species which are threatened by extinction, vulnerable to changes in their habitats, rare or in need of special attention due to the specifics of their habitats and therefore included in Appendix 1 of the Directive. In Bulgaria this is implemented for 110 species included in Appendix 2 of the national Biodiversity Act. Also, protected areas can be designated for migrating species which are not included in Appendix 1. The important sites for their nesting, migration, moulting or wintering need to be designated as SPAs. Wetlands of international significance under the Ramsar Convention are treated with special attention. In Bulgaria, 76 such species have been identified; they are described in a special instruction, approved by the National Biodiversity Advisory Council.
The Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) for habitats are geographically determined territories designated by the member states in accordance with the Directive on habitats, in which actions are being taken for the conservation and restoration of a favourable conservation status of natural habitats and/or the species, for which the areas have been determined. Protected areas can be designated for habitats which are threatened on the territory of the EU; those are listed in Appendix 1 of the Directive. Special attention is given to habitats with priority such as coastal lagoons, floodplain forests etc. 88 types of habitats are listed in Appendix 1 of the Bulgarian Biodiversity Act; 26 of them have priority. Protected areas can also be designated for animal and plant species which are different from the species of birds which are endangered, potentially endangered, rare or endemic (occurring only in a particular geographical location). These are listed in Appendix 2 of the Directive. Respectively, Appendix 2 of the Bulgarian Biodiversity Act contains 25 species of mammals, 10 species of amphibians and reptiles, 36 species of invertebrates and 20 species of plants. Priority species are treated with special attention.
What are the common features of protected areas for birds and for habitats?
• They constitute NATURA 2000 as a functionally coherent ecological network. Every area has its value both as a particular site, and as an inseparable element of the network as a whole, too.
• Their management is aimed at the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development.
• The most appropriate measures for conservation and uses of natural resources are determined for each territory individually.
What are the differences between the protected areas for birds and for habitats?
• They are based on different legal documents. Different regulations – as set by the two Directives – apply for their definition and for the consistency of their networks. Therefore they need to be considered separately even though they are both parts of the joint NATURA 2000 network.
• According to the Directive on birds the member states are free to determine and to designate SPAs, whereas the decisive role for the approval of the SAC list under the Directive on habitats goes to the European Commission.
Is NATURA 2000 a network of parks and reserves?
NATURA 2000 is not a system consisting only of nature reserves where all human activity is forbidden. Even though the network does include nature reserves, the greatest part of the protected areas are likely to remain privately owned. The concept of the network is to guarantee their sustainable ecological, economical and social management for the future.
In Bulgaria the NATURA 2000 ecological network can include protected territories. Territories which were determined as internationally significant have priority for inclusion; this is done by following standardized conventional criteria: important bird areas, important plant areas, Corine sites, biosphere reserves and Ramsar sites. About 20% of the territory of the protected areas for birds in the NATURA 2000 network in Bulgaria includes protected territories; however, only 9% of it is under strict protection.
How are protected areas selected for inclusion in NATURA 2000?
The selection of protected areas to be included in NATURA 2000 is based entirely on scientific criteria such as numbers (number of pairs or individuals) and density (number of pairs per area unit) of the particular species, as well as the ecological quality and the total area of the natural habitats situated in these areas. The Directives do not include regulations for the selection of those regions. The member states define these according to their own judgment.
Bulgaria has accepted an Instruction for selection of protected areas under the Directive on birds, which includes the standard criteria applied on the territory of the European Union. On the level of the Bulgarian national legislation the Directive on birds and the Directive on habitats have been integrated in the Biodiversity Act.
Who manages the protected areas from NATURA 2000?
The member states bear the responsibility for the management of the protected areas, included in the NATURA 2000 network. In the case of marine regions where management could involve fishing regulations, management on European level is advised. In order to facilitate this, the European Commission offers consistent support for the development of management plans.
In Bulgaria the management of the protected areas is the responsibility of owners and users who must implement the specially designed management plans. The management is to be coordinated and regulated by the Ministry of Environment and Water. Legally, the management plans are not obligatory for NATURA 2000; however, in order to ensure a relevant management and to guarantee its sustainability both for biodiversity as well as for people, it is important that such plans be developed and implemented.
Are there any restrictions with regards to investment interest and the land use in the areas included in NATURA 2000?
The protection of the areas included in NATURA 2000 is aimed at the long-term conservation of the protected habitats and species and needs to guarantee that their distribution, numbers (or area, respectively) and state will not deteriorate hereafter. For cases where these elements are officially recognized as being in an extremely bad state, it needs to be improved. The protection is achieved in two ways: through active management, i. e. maintenance, restoration and introduction in the protected areas of human activities which are directly linked to the conservation of the particular species and habitats, or do not bring damage to them, and through regulation of the activities which are harmful for the particular species and habitats.
• No activities and projects that can lead to the deterioration of the habitats and to damage for the species can be carried out. Besides certain industrial and infrastructural activities this includes also activities of the intensive agriculture and forestry, which are harmful to nature.
• Significant levels of disturbance for the birds and other wildlife are prohibited.
• The activities aimed at the use of resources can be realized in strict accordance with the management plans only. The latter are developed especially for the needs of species and habitats conservation, together with a conscientious use of the resources.
• In territories neighbouring SPAs and SACs the activities and the use must also be in conformity to the management plans so that they do not cause a deterioration of the habitats or damage to the species in the protected areas.
The Directives do not set other particular restrictions for the areas. Their purpose is to achieve their goal, namely – the conservation of species and habitats. Every member state has the freedom to choose the particular means to achieve that. There are no preliminary legal prohibitions against new activities or investment projects in the protected areas included in NATURA 2000. The cases which fall outside the restrictions cited in the designation order are considered individually. The Directive on habitats provides a clear procedure for assessment and making decisions, connected with development projects which will have an impact over a certain protected area. The ecological network is aimed at the preservation of traditional relations between humans and their environment. Activities which are innocuous to the protected habitats and species will not be prohibited in NATURA 2000 areas, and can even be stimulated financially: grazing (good for tortoises, sousliks, shrubs and natural pastures), mowing (good for the corncrake), small-plot agricultural planning. A general objective of NATURA 2000 is to support sustainable tourism – rural, educational, cultural etc. – in combination with serious restrictions for the mass tourism which is harmful for the environment.
In Bulgaria a certain number of restrictions are introduced through the designation orders of the protected areas – in the cases where the negative impact of certain activities has been known in advance. All projects for development falling outside the provided restrictions are assessed in conformity with the procedures of the European Commission, which have been integrated in our legislation too.
What percentage of the territory of a member state should be included in the NATURA 2000 network?
The Directives are not indicative as to the percentage of land or water area to be included in the NATURA 2000 network. That depends on the biological diversity of the particular region. For example, if a certain member state has a great diversity of species and respectively a great number of places inhabited by them, it is logical that the size of the protected areas correspond to the richness of biological species.
Bulgaria has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in Europe. Here the areas which are of the greatest importance for the birds and conform to the standardized criteria for the European Union include about 23.6% of the territory of the country; almost the entire area (22.7%) has been included in the NATURA 2000 network. Outside the NATURA 2000 comes the territory of Rila Important Bird Area which falls outside the boundaries of the national park and the nature park. The Council of Ministers has approved protected areas under the Directive on habitats on a territory measuring 30% of the territory of the country. Due to the significant overlap of the two types of protected areas the total coverage of the NATURA 2000 network in Bulgaria is 34.4% of its territory. Also, NATURA 2000 includes the coastal marine area which is important for the conservation of endangered species and habitats.
Is the NATURA 2000 network complete?
In many member states of the European Union the development of the NATURA 2000 network has been completed or is in its final stage. At present the efforts are concentrated on the identification and protection of marine areas and the development of the NATURA 2000 network on the marine territories of the EU.
In Bulgaria the NATURA 2000 network has been completed to a great extent. Still, there are territories under both the Directive on birds, as well as the Directive on habitats which – according to the scientific criteria – should be a part of the network but are not included yet. The most significant territory remaining outside NATURA 2000 even today is the territory of Rila Important Bird Area which falls out of the boundaries of the national park and the nature park. This area is important not only for birds but also for species which are subject of protection under the Directive on habitats. Also, Bulgaria faces the challenge to identify protected areas for birds on the territory of the Black Sea. Even though many of the areas which are already under protection include portions of the Black Sea, further research on sea birds is required in order to identify the most important areas for them in the sea. This might lead to an expansion of the sea territory of the existing protected areas or to the designation of new territories.
How do the Commission and the member states collaborate?
The Commission works in close collaboration with the member states and interested parties for the implementation of the programme. This is realized through the “Habitat” and the “Ornis” committees which are authorized to implement the directives for the protection of biodiversity, as well as through the meeting of the board of directors organized twice a year. Also, meetings with the European “Habitat” forum and with the users’ “Habitat” forum are organized to involve the key players. These contacts are highly valuable for the discussion of a variety of topics, including the funding and the protection of the NATURA 2000 network. The Commission also develops documents with directions for a better implementation of the Directives.
How is the NATURA 2000 network funded?
At present the programmes of the EU – programmes related to the Rural Development Policy in particular, e. g. the agro-ecological schemes, – as well as the specially formed LIFE fund, grant substantial funds for the development of the NATURA 2000 network. The future funding of NATURA 2000 is still discussed. The European Commission launched a Prioritised Action Framework for NATURA 2000 which each of the member states has to develop; it must contain priorities for the protection of NATURA 2000 and the needed funding by European funds. Thus NATURA 2000 practically will become integrated in all EU funds achieving a shared responsibility for the funding and the protection of the network.
In Bulgaria direct funding for management and protection of the NATURA 2000 areas is realized under two Operational Programmes: “Environment” and the National Programme for Rural Development, as well as under the LIFE+ Programme. After 2014 the Prioritised Action Framework for NATURA 2000 will create opportunities for a more flexible and more comprehensive funding for activities aimed at the protection of NATURA 2000.
Are the NATURA 2000 regulations obligatory?
Regardless of whether the member states receive funding from the Structural Funds or not, they have to fully abide by the regulations of NATURA 2000. The compliance to these regulations is particularly important for programmes with funding from the European Community. In this respect it has already been made explicitly clear by the Commission that should a certain member state fail to submit a list of protected areas included in NATURA 2000, funding by certain Structural Funds could be suspended. The threat of suspension of funding from such programmes was a preventive measure meant to guarantee that Community-funded programmes would not bring irreparable damage in any protected areas before they were officially proposed for protection under the NATURA 2000 network.
According to information of the Ministry of Environment and Water in October 2013 there were 14 infringement procedures for non-compliance with the European environmental legislation. Some of those resulted from infringement of the Directive on birds and the Directive on habitats. In October 2013 the EU decreed to bring Bulgaria to court for the ineffective protection of Kaliakra Protected Area. If the government does not take effective measures for the cessation of the legislation infringements and does not restore the destroyed territories, substantial financial fines will ensue.
Where can you obtain information about the areas included in NATURA 2000?
At present information on NATURA 2000 is available on the websites of the member states. Find out more at the EC site.
After the submission of the lists with protected areas the Commission will distribute information about the network as a whole.
In Bulgaria information about NATURA 2000 can be obtained on the BSPB website, as well as on the Ministry of Environment and Water website. There the information system for NATURA 2000, maintained by the MoEW, is available too.
Information sources: European Commission and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds