In 1992, the Habitats Directive was adopted in order to protect remarkable or vulnerable natural habitats in Europe. Twenty-five years later, the European Commission is stepping up its support to the Directive’s implementation and putting resources on the table to make sure that it effectively delivers on its goals and establishes a coherent network of Natura 2000 protected areas on land and at sea. The EU Action Plan for Nature, People and the Economy, adopted in April 2017, aims to boost the contribution of EU’s nature laws towards reaching the EU's biodiversity targets for 2020.

On Tuesday 6 June, the Commission and the Committee of the Regions organised a conference to launch the Action Plan. The panels discussed the four priority actions outlined in the Plan:

  • Better implementation through the development of tailored and up-to-date guidance;
  • Creating ownership through an increased engagement of stakeholders;
  • Increasing investments and funding; and
  • Raising awareness.

Most of the panellists and participants focused only on the terrestrial part of the Natura 2000 network. Seas At Risk was invited to participate and give its views on the impacts of the Action Plan on marine Natura 2000 sites.

2017 06 Alice Belin Action Plan Nature2000

Alice Belin, SAR’s marine policy officer, denounced the gaps in the completion of a coherent network of protected areas at sea. She also addressed the lack of fisheries management measures in most marine protected areas. Action 4 of the Action Plan mentions the need to facilitate the development of fisheries measures in marine Natura 2000 sites using a mechanism under the Common Fisheries Policy (which you find explained in our recent webinar on fisheries management in offshore areas). Alice Belin pointed out to the conference participants, and in particular the Commission, that more scrutiny of this process is needed, as the measures adopted to date do not meet the requirements as outlined in the Common Fisheries Policy.

Alice also recalled that the lack of coordination between environmental and fisheries authorities is an important obstacle in the implementation of appropriate fisheries management measures. The Action Plan refers to the need to get Regional Sea Conventions (such as OSPAR in the North East Atlantic or UNEP/MAP in the Mediterranean) and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (such as NEAFC in the North East Atlantic or GFCM in the Mediterranean) to work together in developing fisheries management measures in marine protected areas. Seas At Risk highlighted that this action point is not really relevant for the Natura 2000 network as these organisations cooperate mostly in geographical areas outside EU’s waters. Instead, the Commission should encourage Member States to better coordinate internally between their environmental and fisheries authorities.

At the end of the Conference, a renewed sense of optimism could be felt, especially when Mr Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission, committed to better protect nature and ‘decrease the burden on Mother Earth’. Let’s hope this pledge also includes our seas and oceans!   


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