Europe and Central Asia
30 Oct 2014

Why the EU will fail to deliver on ecosystem restoration

© Nicky Petkov /
By Wouter Langhout

In response to the rapid and dramatic disappearence of plants and animals, in 2010 the European Commission put forward the ‘Biodiversity Strategy to 2020’, which contains six targets, underpinned by actions for the Commission and the Member States. All leaders of the EU supported this plan.

As we approach our mid-term review of what has, and hasn’t, been done a number of problematic issues that risk causing the failure of the Strategy can be highlighted. One of them is the “Restoration Prioritization Frameworks”. What are they, and why do they risk undermining the Strategy?

As we know target 2 of the 2010 EU Biodiversity Strategy commits the EU to restore 15% of degraded ecosystems by 2020. Clearly it is not possible to restore 15% of the EU to pristine wilderness in just a decade, as it would rather take hundreds of years and enormous investments. However, it is possible to improve the condition of 15% of EU ecosystems by 2020, and this is where Member States should focus their efforts. Restoration should therefore be approached as a process, meaning a significant improvement to a degraded ecosystem. An example of this is restoring a maize field to a natural grassland, restoring a field surrounded by dikes to a floodplain, or removing invasive alien species from a salt marsh. The debate on how best to approach this 15% is much needed in EU Member States, and it should take place in the context of a wider debate on how vital services by ecosystems can be secured for us and future generations. In Finland this has resulted in a lively exchange of views with the Forestry sector, while in countries as the Netherlands and Germany this could inspire discussions on how to deal with their intensive agriculture.

One crucial starting point for achieving Target 2 is the realisation of “Restoration Prioritisation Frameworks” that Member States committed to develop by 2014 under action 6 of the Strategy. The Frameworks not only define the areas of intervention but can also be used as basis to target EU funds for restoration projects, for example under the LIFE Fund or the European Regional Development Fund.

The European Commission has not provided strong leadership on the Restoration Prioritisation Frameworks, but has left the methodology to set the targets and develop the frameworks to the Member States. As a consequence, it seems most Member States have not even begun the development of the Frameworks, and the work that has been undertaken seems to be of low quality. This fact hinders severly the effectiveness of the Biodiversity Strategy.

To overcome this problem few simple actions could be undertaken: one concrete step for the Commission would be to collect the published frameworks on its website, so that experts and NGOs active in biodiversity policies and habitat restoration could track progress, applauding the good frameworks and criticizing the bad ones, effectively sharing knowledge via good examples.

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At BirdLife Europe we recognise the strategic importance of the Frameworks and intend to follow their development closely, to scrutinize quality and implementation, thanks to the assistance of the BirdLife Partners. Hopefully also European institutions will soon start to do so.

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. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.