EU protected sites submissions pass 7,000

Progress in implementing habitats, birds, directives, reported at EU presidency conference

Progress towards creating an EU-wide network of protected sites has been reported at a conference organised by the Austrian EU presidency and held in Innsbruck, Austria, on Friday.

Bruno Julien of the European Commission's environment directorate told delegates that site nominations by EU member states had passed 7,000. Sites are being submitted by member states under both the 1992 habitats directive and the 1979 birds directive. They will eventually make up the Natura 2000 combined network of protected sites in the EU.

Luxembourg is the only EU country that has still to nominate a single area for Natura 2000, according to Mr Julien, though he said that a submission was expected from the country within weeks. At the other end of the spectrum, Italy has nominated nearly 2,500, he said. Greece has nominated the greatest proportion of its land area so far, at 17% (see table below).

Mr Julien also said that the Commission had been informed that both Ireland and Austria would be increasing the number of sites nominated for protection under the habitats directive.

-----------------------------------------
          Number of   % land     % marine
          land areas   area        area
-----------------------------------------
Austria       91       13.1
Belgium      101        2.4         0.5
Denmark      194        6.6        17.2
Finland      415        7.6
France       543        1.6         0.3
Germany      375        0.7        10.8
Greece       230       17.0         2.5
Ireland       48        0.8
Italy       2480       15.3
Luxembourg     0        0
Netherlands   76        6.7        11.1
Portugal      65       12.6         0.6
Spain        588       13.9
Sweden      1449        9.3
UK           331        3.4         3.6
-----------------------------------------

Environmental NGOs stress the large differences between EU member states over Natura 2000 site nominations. According to Bernard Drumel of WWF Austria, some countries have based their site lists on serious scientific data, while others have taken a less scientific approach. In countries like Austria, he said, some states have taken a scientific approach while others have not.

Meanwhile, a study prepared by European NGO Birdlife has estimated the total costs of implementing Natura 2000 at Ecu2.5-2.7bn annually. Average predicted costs of Ecu80 per hectare per year are conservative, the group says, because they do not include land purchase costs, habitat recreation costs, species conservation measures taken outside protected areas, or monitoring of nature conservation programmes.

Birdlife calls for changes to the EU's Agenda 2000 package of budgetary and funding reforms. EU regions with high biodiversity should become eligible for support under the EU structural funds, it says, and Natura 2000 sites should have enhanced EU backing in poorer regions.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111; WWF Austria, tel: +43 1 489 1641; Birdlife Europe, tel: +32 2 280 0830.

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