| Natura 2000 management in The UK
There is no requirement or mechanism for the development of management plans for Natura 2000 sites under law or policy in the UK. The only exception to this is a mechanism (but not a requirement) for the development of management plans (referred to as Management Schemes) for ‘European Marine Sites’ – a term used to describe the tidal and marine components of Natura 2000 sites).
Both on land and at sea, domestic law applies the tests contained in Articles 6(3) and 6(4) of the Habitats Directive to spatial plans and to individual development proposals. However, the application of these tests is only triggered by the initiation of consenting processes for specific activities under other legislation (e.g. the need for planning permission for built development or the need for a water abstraction license). Many activities that could have an adverse impact on Natura 2000 sites (e.g. farming and fishing activities) do not generally require consent under other legislation, and so other mechanisms are therefore required to manage these activities within Natura 2000.
Terrestrial Natura 2000 sites are normally also “underpinned” by national designations (Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England, Scotland and Wales, and Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) in Northern Ireland) that provide a reasonably effective mechanism to manage specified potentially damaging activities (e.g. certain agricultural activities). Within these sites, the specified operations may only be undertaken with the prior consent of the statutory nature conservation agencies.
On land, those Natura 2000 sites (or parts of those sites) managed as nature reserves do generally have management plans, developed by the statutory nature conservation agencies, other authorities and NGOs who manage them for their nature conservation value. However, this is an incidental consequence of land tenure, as opposed to implementation of policy or law.
Most Natura 2000 sites are not managed as nature reserves, and consequently do not have management plans, with the exception of those in Wales where in recent years plans have been developed setting out the management required to achieve site conservation objectives. In Natura 2000 sites where management by owners and land managers is not primarily focussed on nature conservation outcomes, agri-environment schemes, although not mandatory and often insufficiently targeted, have been hugely beneficial in promoting (and provide the main source of funding for) beneficial site management. However, this important mechanism for securing appropriate management of Natura 2000 sites is under threat from the 2014 CAP reform.
SSSIs/ASSIs are largely, and agri-environment schemes wholly confined to the terrestrial environment. There are no equivalent mechanisms for the management of ongoing activities (e.g. recreational activities, fishing and navigation) or the promotion of beneficial management within European Marine Sites. While new national legislation provides for the designation of nationally important marine protected areas in England, Wales and Scotland, the site selection processes are as yet far from complete and what contribution – if any – these will make to the management of Natura 2000 for Natura 2000 features remains unclear.
‘Management Schemes’ have been developed for the management of ongoing operations and activities within the majority of European Marine Sites by the authorities with jurisdiction over these areas, as a vehicle to meet the legal requirement on them to exercise their functions to meet the requirements of the Habitats Directive. The statutory nature conservation agencies are required to provide advice to these authorities regarding the conservation objectives for these sites and the types of operations that may cause damage to the designated features.
|The development of Management Schemes has had some positive benefits including developing the understanding of the importance of European Marine Sites and building mutual understanding and partnerships between statutory authorities and other stakeholders.However, the Management Schemes are not mandatory and generally contain only voluntary measures. There is little evidence that effective management measures have been secured through these schemes. Although a review of the efficacy of these schemes in England was commissioned by the UK Government in early 2012 and has (we understand) now been completed, the results have yet to be published.
The RSPB’s evidence to this review highlighted the failings of the current approach including:
Recommendation: The lack of an effective management framework for European Marine Sites must be addressed. The Government-commissioned review of the effectiveness of management schemes for European Marine Sites should be published, and measures put in place to address the short-comings of the current system to ensure that these sites are effectively managed to conserve, and where necessary to restore, their features of interest.
RSPB (BirdLife partner in the UK)
Kate Jennings, Kate.Jennings(at)rspb.org.uk