The provisions of article 6(1) of the Habitats Directive clearly establish that the responsibility for ensuring the management of Natura 2000 sites lies with the Member States. For many Member States this responsibility is delegated to regional authorities. In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, it is left entirely up to Member States to decide which option to follow – management plans, statutory, administrative or contractual measures – but all of them have to take concrete actions (or no actions when needed) to guarantee a favourable conservation status of habitats and species.
The preparation of management plans has already started in most Member States. Different countries adopted different approaches, depending on the size of the country, national legislation, administrative organization and natural environment.
According to the document “Integrated management of Natura 2000 sites. The contribution of LIFE Nature projects”, prepared by Comunità Ambiente and published by the Commission in 2005:
in Denmark, Estonia, France, the Netherlands, the Slovak Republic and Sweden, management plans for Natura 2000 sites are obligatory,
in Belgium they are obligatory in two of the three administrative regions,
in Finland, Natura 2000 management plans are obligatory only for sites in national parks and wilderness areas,
in Hungary, there is no obligation to adopt a management plan for a Natura 2000 site, except for those already protected by national legislation,
in the Czech Republic, management plans are mandatory for proposed Special Areas of Conservation, but not for Special Protection Areas,
in Latvia, all Natura 2000 sites are designated as Specially Protected Nature Territories, for which the national government has issued general rules for their management, including a list of activities that are allowed and not allowed,
in Germany, specific management plans are obligatory in some of the regions,
in Portugal, measures to protect species and habitats listed in the Birds and Habitats directives are to be included in other territorial plans.
The same document underlines that, until 2004, the financial instrument LIFE Nature was the main source of funds for the preparation of Natura 2000 sites management plans. It also financed the preparation of national guidelines on how to preparare a management plan in three member States (Italy, France and Slovenia).
About a half of the LIFE Nature projects approved between 1992 and 2004, foresaw the preparation of management plans and actions connected with the plans. Administrations responsible for the management of Natura 2000 sites throughout the EU are confronted with similar, and in some cases identical, problems, such as involving landowners and land users in nature conservation activities. The Habitats directive covers also semi-natural habitats, created and maintained by human activity, and in order to conserve them the collaboration with local users is essential.
Other challenges common to Member States have arisen with the adoption, in October 2000, of the Water Framework directive and, in 2002, of the Recommendation by the European Parliament regarding the Integrated Coastal Zone Management. The first one requires Member States to prepare river basin management plans taking into consideration the conservation of Natura 2000 sites, and the second recommends an integrated approach to the management of coastal areas.
The first attempts to provide indications on the minimum content of a Natura 2000 management plan go back to October 1996, during the Galway seminar, when representatives of the EU Commission, NGOs, Member States, and stakeholders met to exchange views on the content and structure of an ideal management plan. The result of the meeting was a document illustrating the basic structure of a Natura 2000 management plan, which was used as reference by the EU Commission, even though it was always made clear that it was up to the Member States to decide how to manage a site.
A considerable number of Member States have already elaborated national guidelines for managing Natura 2000 sites (EU Commission, 2005), among them:
Denmark: regional environmental agencies will be responsible for both river basin and nature planning, thus linking the requirements of the Habitats and Water Framework directives. Indications on the content of the plans have been also provided.
Estonia: the 2004 Nature Conservation Act designates all Natura 2000 sites as protected areas, for which management plans are foreseen. The plans should include a description of the main environmental conditions, the purpose of protection and details of actions to be undertaken together with a timetable and budget. The government has already drawn up guidelines for species action plans.
Finland: the Ministry of the Environment produced, in 2002, a guideline to help Regional Environmental Centres decide where to start intervening in site management. Each Centre was required to group Natura 2000 sites into four categories according to the need for a management plan.
France: Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development has published guidelines on Natura 2000 management plans. The main recommendation is the adoption of a negotiation approach, involving all actors from the very start of the planning process, and introducing the role of a “facilitator”, in charge of drawing up the plan.
Slovakia: Slovak State Nature Conservancy published the manual: Favourable Conservation Status of Habitats and Species of Community Interest, which contains guidelines for elaboration of management plans for the sites of community importance based on evaluation of favourable conservation status of habitats and species.
In Spain, some regions have produced guidelines for the elaboration of management Plans for Natura 2000 sites and the Ministry of Environment is currently working on the preparation of management guidelines for habitats included in the habitats Directive.
Sweden: the Environmental Protection Agency prepared a Natura 2000 handbook, containing the indications for the elaboration of management plans, and the preparation of habitats -and species- wise guidelines is underway.
European Union: the document published in 2000 by the Commission “Managing Natura 2000 sites. The provisions of Article 6 of the ‘Habitats’ Directive 92/43/CEE” gives a good insight into the obligations in relation to management of the areas. While no indication of the specific contents of management plans are given, the document provides a number of important considerations that can be made in view of the preparation of the plans, taking into account the indications of the Galway seminar (1996) and of the Bath conference (1998). For the first time, the document refers to the need of an integrated management of the Natura 2000 sites, which “has to contribute to the coherence of the network”.
In Italy, Regions and autonomous Provinces are responsible for the management of the Natura 2000 sites. Most of them have delegated to other administrations this responsibility.
There is no obligation to prepare a management plan. A ministerial decree provides a logical procedure to help local administrators decide whether to adopt a specific plan or to integrate measures in other existing plans. The Ministry also produced a manual with basic indications for a correct management of a Natura site, focusing on the 24 typologies of sites individuated.
During the last few years, the elaboration of the management plans has been financed by DOCUP and POR, which in a great part of Regions include specific measures directed at the Natura 2000 network.