Natura 2000 and People - a Partnership was the title of an international conference held in the city of Bath, England, on 28-30 June. It was attended by some 250 participants from 17 countries, and the Bureau was represented by Tim Jones, Regional Coordinator for Europe.
Natura 2000 is the name given to the European Union-wide network of nature conservation sites designated, or to be designated, under two EU Directives: one dealing with the Conservation of Wild Birds (adopted in 1979) and one with the Conservation of Natural Habitats and Species (1992). The sites thus designated under the so-called Birds Directive and Habitats Directive receive strict legal protection from unsustainable utilization and will eventually cover a substantial percentage of the territory of the EU, especially in southern and far-northern Europe, where there is a much greater extent of remaining natural (or semi-natural) habitat. Candidate EU Member States such as the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland are currently approximating their conservation legislation in preparation for implementing Natura 2000. Many Ramsar sites and other important wetlands are, or will be, part of the Natura 2000 network.
Because Natura 2000 brings with it strict development and land-use controls, there has been - and continues to be - a great deal of discussion revolving around the familiar nature versus people question. The combination of international designation, combined with legal controls, has been a potent catalyst for objections, with land-owners, farmers, industrialists and hunters being amongst the most vocal groups. This conference aimed to address some of the concerns in the framework of a partnership-based approach.
The conference had a high political profile, with keynote addresses in plenary by the EU Environment Commissioner (Mrs Ritt Bjerregaard), the EU Agriculture Commissioner (Mr Franz Fischler), the UK Environment Minister (Mr Michael Meacher), the Portuguese Secretary of State for the Environment (Prof. Jose Guerriero), and a leading Member of the European Parliaments Environment Committee (Dr Caroline Jackson).
During his address, Minister Meacher noted that "Adding to the sites listed under the Ramsar Convention is an important priority......Ramsar and Natura 2000 are mutually reinforcing". This comment was especially welcome since it was made in the Ministers capacity as President of the Council of EU Environment Ministers and comes soon after the Conventions Pan-European Regional Meeting in Riga called for closer Ramsar links with the EU.
Much of the conference was taken up by workshop discussions of the following issues:
- Communications and awareness raising
- Financing management of Natura 2000 sites
- Game shooting
- Managing change on Natura 2000 sites
- Management plans involving local actors
- Tourism, leisure and recreation
The workshop dealing with change in Natura 2000 sites was of special interest, dealing with familiar - for Ramsar - questions of how to interpret or define Habitats Directive Articles and terminology covering the assessment of development proposals and compensation issues. There are close parallels with interpretation of Ramsar Convention Articles 3.1, 3.2 and 4.2.
The full proceedings of the conference will be published by the European Commission in due course.
-- reported by Tim Jones, Regional Coordinator for Europe