30 years of Natura 2000: a contrast assessment of its effectiveness

So far, the question of zone efficiency Nature 2000 – but EU device – biodiversity was not assessed in full, but only on a local scale. Study fiefdommixed service French Office for Biodiversity (OFB)from National Museum of Natural History (MNHN) as well as CNRSdating from the end of 2021, provides a comprehensive experience at the national level of network policy in the terrestrial domain.

Discussed spatial distribution

At the beginning of 2017, the network Nature 2000 French included 1,766 sites in 13% of the metropolitan area with the sole purpose of conserving biodiversity while preserving human activities. These voluntary areas are managed in collaboration by elected officials, farmers, foresters, hunters, fishermen, landowners, associations, users and experts.

This coherent governance allows partners to take responsibility for the protection of the system’s biodiversity. Nature 2000, and support current activities (leisure sports, hunting, agriculture, etc.) in accordance with the protection of species and natural habitats. France has chosen to build on a “protected area” type of strategy, delimiting very specific areas in this way, allowing for effective targeting of measures by concentrating them on high-stakes sectors. However, this strategy excludes the so-called “autonomous” regions and therefore does not allow for the coordinated management of the entire territory, which makes it very difficult to achieve the original “global” goal.

This choice also does not rule out inequalities in the target areas: “The Alpine and Mediterranean biogeographic regions are almost three times more covered by the Natura 2000 network than the continental and Atlantic regions. emphasizes learning. Although the latter are larger and therefore actually contain most of the habitats and species of interest to the Community.“.

In addition, the Atlantic and continental regions mainly consist of agro-pastoral lands, which are under much greater pressure, especially due to the intensification of agricultural activities and growing urbanization. Thus, these environments require special attention in terms of conservation, but it is environments with a lot of heritage (mostly located in the Mediterranean area) that, paradoxically, are the most protected. Less affected by human impact, heritage sites nonetheless include species and habitats that scientists and conservationists consider important for environmental, scientific or cultural reasons. But network coverage is ultimately unbalanced:

  • Wetlands: 76%
  • Coastal environment: 82%
  • Rocky environment: 56%
  • Aquatic environment: 53%
  • Cultivated areas: 5%

The low level of coverage in the Atlantic and continental areas is an obstacle to the hope that the Natura 2000 network will have a significant impact on the conservation status of habitats and species in these biogeographic zones.‘ warns the study.

Map of the habitat conservation status of the Natura 2000 site with associated pressures and threats. 1 credit

In addition to the presence or absence of a network, the study assessed the relevance of the areas covered in relation to the distribution ranges of the target species. The analysis shows a good network relevance with few underrepresented species, but areas that cover distribution ranges very well (+60%) remain very rare. Therefore, despite its relevance, the network does not fully use its potential.

“Natura 2000 can only slow down the degradation”

In 2019, the level of French biodiversity showed generally negative figures, with only 15% of habitats and 27% of species in favorable condition. Thus, the original goal remains elusive, but the results of the network are encouraging. The tools provided are relatively complete, but not sufficiently mobilized. Measures taken at the sites, however, significantly slow down the extinction of species within the network. So the effect is real, but spatially limited.”This is why Natura 2000 policy cannot be better than curbing degradation, especially since the effect seen in the network itself is limited to stopping decline there, far from fueling reservoirs of biodiversity that could spread on a larger scale.“, – the authors are temperamental.

Graph illustrating population trends on-line (blue) and off-line (red). (A) agricultural species (B) forest species. 1 credit

In conclusion, real gaps remain in network distribution. Nature 2000 and on the management of major pressures and, in particular, on agricultural inputs (pesticides and fertilizers) and artificial tillage, which remain poorly understood. Contracting rates and membership in the charter Nature 2000 also remain too weak to hope for a massive effect, despite the rather proven relevance of the existing network. “Funding appears to primarily support biodiversity-friendly traditional farming practices rather than encouraging real change in practices. on the other hand, on the restoration of the environment‘, the study advises.

“We are not achieving the goals we set for ourselves”

For the anniversary of the system, a conference was held in February 2022 with the participation of 27 member states of the European Union to assess European biodiversity. After two days of discussion, Berenger Abba, Secretary of State for Biodiversity, acknowledged that “despite the efforts and significant resources committed at the community level, we are not achieving the goals we set for ourselves in terms of combating the erosion of biodiversity.“. Thus, the parliamentarians concluded the congress by adopting on February 25, 2022 a declaration of intent, called “Strasbourg Declaration“, which highlights three key principles: strengthening existing European legislation, reducing anthropogenic pressure and supporting practices that are compatible with the conservation of biodiversity.

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