Europe celebrates ‘Natura 2000 Day’!
As Europeans celebrate their first official ‘Natura 2000 Day’, Asunción Ruiz, director of SEO/BirdLife Spain, tell Spanish press agency EFE why “the planet needs Europe’.
It’s one of the European Union’s single greatest achievements, yet millions of Europeans are not aware of its existence. For the past 25 years, the Natura 2000 network has probably been Europe’s best kept secret. And for all this time, it’s been hiding in plain sight. Natura 2000 is an EU-wide coordinated network of 27,000 conservation sites – the largest in the world – covering around 18% of the total land area and significant areas of the surrounding seas.
But now the secret is out! At a ceremony in Brussels last week, the EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella was all smiles as he declared 21 May to be officially ‘European Natura 2000 Day’. This announcement, together with the celebrations on the day itself, was a very proud moment for the whole BirdLife family. So much of the fantastic work accomplished by our national partners takes place within these sites and we have seen first-hand how pivotal this network is for the survival of our most threatened species and habitats.
Cabrera en Sierra, Spain Ⓒ SEO-BirdLife
25 Years of Protecting Nature
The Natura 2000 network blossomed out of the EU Habitats Directive of 21 May 1992. Its goal was (and remains) clear: to ensure the biodiversity of wild fauna and flora through the protection or, where necessary, restoration of natural habitats within the territory of the EU’s Member States. By connecting existing conservation sites within one coherent ecological network, Member States can work together more effectively to head-off and, in some cases reverse, species decline.
Birds know no borders. Thanks to Natura 2000, we can better protect some 450 wild bird species and, notably, our national efforts to conserve migratory birds need not be stopped at the border. And protected areas really do work. The Bearded Vulture – one of Natura 2000’s great success stories – is a case in point; in Italy, for example, these magnificent raptors are only reproducing inside protected national parks.
Aquilanos Hills, Spain Ⓒ SEO-BirdLife
Nature & People
At the heart of Natura 2000, is its mission to connect nature and people. Unlike many other protection schemes, it doesn’t seek to exclude all human activity but rather ensure that it interacts harmoniously with natural processes. Indeed, some 4.4 million jobs are supported by the network.
Many of our most beautiful landscapes, such as the traditional open grazing woods known as dehesas, are born out of human activities. When sustainably managed, croplands and pastures provide food and appropriate living conditions for many threatened species of fauna (especially birds) and rare varieties of flora that have adapted to the environment. Farming in Natura 2000 sites, therefore, provides an opportunity to maintain or revive important landscape-conserving activities and direct farmers towards more sustainable practices.
Tourism is also a fantastic way to unite nature and people. Natura 2000 sites are popular hotspots for nature lovers who are increasingly discerning about the environmental quality of the areas they visit and the local products they consume. In Spain alone, protected sites are visited each year by about 50 million people. And across Europe, Natura 2000 tourism revenue is estimated to be worth between 50 and 85 billion euros a year.
Cangas de Narcea, Spain Ⓒ SEO-BirdLife
SEO/BirdLife Spain – Making a gesture for nature…and Europe
Our Spanish partner SEO/BirdLife has been leading the charge to raise public awareness of Natura 2000 – and it is thanks, in large part, to their tireless efforts to promote ‘Natura 2000 Day’ that the day has been officially recognised by the EU.
Almost 30% of Spain (nearly 15 million hectares) is part of the Natura 2000 network, yet lack of public awareness was negatively impacting SEO’s conservation work in these sites. Their solution was to secure just over €1 million of EU co-funding for their four year ‘LIFE+ Activa Red Natura 2000’ project. Their goal was to help Spaniards discover this network in a fun and dynamic way – from interactive games to the now iconic ‘butterfly’ hand gesture for nature – and foster a real sense of public ownership and pride in these areas, inspiring a better understanding of biodiversity as a whole.
SEO/BirdLife is similarly passionate about raising public awareness of what the EU has accomplished for nature. SEO/BirdLife director, Asunción Ruiz, in an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE (who partnered with SEO on LIFE+ Red Natura 2000) last week, highlighted environmental protection as one of the single greatest testaments to the value of the European unity. “Every euro that we invest in conservation is multiplied times seven in benefits for European society’’ she explained, alluding to how a healthy ecosystem guarantees quality of human life by providing us with clean water, soil, air and natural carbon storage.
Ruiz also told EFE that we are the “first generation” aware that something has to be done, and warned that we may also be the “last” generation whose actions can make a difference in time. For the NGO director, the answer is as clear as clean water: “Europe faces a challenging moment, but the environment needs Europe ... and the planet needs Europe”.
Commissioner Karmenu Vella (centre) officially declares 'Natura 2000 Day' along side SEO direcor Asunción Ruiz (right) Ⓒ Boris Barov
Gui-Xi Young - Editor, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia
Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.