Financing Natura 2000 - the road to success
Public funds for nature conservation – a good investment
Conserving nature and ecosystems now is much cheaper than restoring them later, because the economic costs of ecological damage will be huge in the future. This is even more true in times of climate change. Read more on the economics of biodiversity on the European Commission's website.
Of course, an ambitious concept like Natura 2000 has its costs. Land managers, like farmers or foresters, should be paid for the environmental services they provide and compensated for income foregone. Scientific research, monitoring of the sites, land purchase and specific habitat restoration measures cost money, too.
It is necessary to use, to a large degree, public funds for Natura 2000, because nature will never be a fully “tradable” good on the market for which sufficient prices will be paid, and because the ecological services Natura 2000 generates benefit the whole society (just as environmental damage often is compensated from taxpayers’ money).
If Natura 2000 stays underfunded there is risk of serious setbacks, because conservation objectives cannot be achieved and the acceptance of the network by various stakeholders, for example from land managers, can be undermined.
EU funds for Natura 2000
Public funding for Natura 2000 needs to come from both the EU and national budgets. Through the EU it can be ensured that funds are targeted to priority areas and projects, and that Member States and regions with less resources but more extensive natural areas are supported. Nature doesn’t know national borders, therefore the EU is well-placed to act and has a share of the responsibility.
Article 8 of the Habitats Directive foresees that EU Member States should communicate to the Commission the estimated costs of measures to protect the Natura 2000 network and the scale of co-financing sought from EU funding sources. On the basis of such national estimates, the Commission adopted a Communication in 2004 on the financing of the Natura 2000 network, in which it estimated that for the EU25 the cost of financing the Natura 2000 network would be approximately 6.1 billion Euros annually. BirdLife believes this is a serious under-estimate of the total cost of financing the network, especially when the still undesignated sites are taken into consideration. A significant part of this amount should come from the EU budget.
Integrating financing Natura 2000 into EU funds
EU governments and the Commission decided that the so called “integration option” would be the best way forward to secure EU co-financing for the Natura 2000 network. This means that the resources to finance biodiversity conservation measures should come from a variety of important EU funding instruments, notably the Rural Development Fund (Common Agricultural Policy), Structural Funds (Regional and Cohesion Policy), Fisheries Funds and LIFE+ (Environmental Policy).
Member States are able to use available EU funds from a menu of options within these budget lines to achieve the conservation objectives of the Natura 2000 sites. In absolute terms the greatest possibilities exist within the Rural Development Funds, while LIFE+ has a very small budget, although 50% of that is dedicated to nature and biodiversity. There exists an EU Guidance Handbook and an IT tool to help identify potential funding sources for different types of activities from within the EU funds.
Why is Natura 2000 still underfunded?
Despite these opportunities, BirdLife’s experience with Rural Development, Fisheries and Structural Funds across the EU shows that very few Member States allocate adequate finances for Natura 2000. The responsible Ministries often do not see a priority in nature conservation, and often choose to subsidize environmentally harmful measures instead (e.g. by allocating funds to intensively operating farms on fertile land, instead of helping small farmers who preserve the landscapes, conserve biodiversity and produce high-quality food in marginal areas).
This situation needs to change, otherwise more and more conflicts will arise about Natura 2000 on local level. Without proper financing, the protection and restoration of these jewels in the EU’s crown cannot be secured as well as other benefits for Europeans from protection of biodiversity cannot be achieved (Download BirdLife's brochure "Wellbeing through wildlife" here). Member States must allocate more money urgently to fulfil the needs of the Natura 2000 network.
Reform is urgently needed!
In order to achieve better outputs for the environment and sustainable development BirdLife is actively promoting a reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (read more here) and of the EU Budget (read more here).