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Brussels, 17 January 2005

New progress in establishing the Natura 2000 network in the Boreal region

In order to safeguard Europe’s most important wildlife areas, an EU-wide network of nature protection areas is being established under the 1992 Habitats Directive[1] – the Natura 2000 network.

The reduction and loss of biodiversity in Europe has accelerated dramatically over recent decades. The pressures responsible for this loss are urban, infrastructure and tourism development, agricultural and forestry intensification. Natura 2000 is central to halting the decline in biodiversity.

The lists of sites foreseen in the Habitats Directive are divided in seven bio-geographic regions (Pannonian, Boreal, Continental, Atlantic, Alpine, Macaronesian and Mediterranean) within the territory of the Union. The list for the Macaronesian region (Madeira, Azores and Canary islands) was adopted by the Commission on 28 December 2001. The list for the Alpine region was adopted on 22 December 2003 and for the Atlantic and Continental regions, on 7 December 2004.

For each bio-geographic region, Member States propose to the Commission a list of sites selected following criteria contained in the Habitats Directive. The Commission evaluates these proposals for each bio-geographical region in order to create a coherent ecological network of sites of Community importance. By doing so, the Commission is assisted by the European Environmental Agency and by experts from Member States and NGOs.

Surface of sites and biodiversity in the Boreal region

The Boreal region covers 1/5 of the EU15 territory and involves two of the EU-15 Member States: Finland and Sweden. In addition, Estonia, Latvia and part of Lithuania are situated in the Boreal region.

The Commission decision for the Boreal bio-geographical region includes 5,026 sites with a surface of 82,377 km2 within Finland and Sweden. From this area, 73,003 km2 are terrestrial (12% of the terrestrial surface of the Boreal region and 10% of the EU territory) and 9,375 km2 are marine. The number of sites with a marine area varies from 95 sites in Finland to 235 sites in Sweden.

The Boreal region in Europe is part of a large zone dominated by coniferous forests, which circles the northern hemisphere in Europe, Asia and North America. The characteristic mosaic landscapes of this region are formed by taiga forests and mires, numerous lakes and rivers. Along the coast bedrock archipelagos intermingle with low-lying brackish fens and grasslands.

Forty-eight animal species listed on Annex II of the Habitats Directive[2] occur in the Boreal region, of which fifteen (31%) are endemic to the region. They include the Flying squirrel (Pteromys volans), Ringed seals (Phoca hispida saimensis & Phoca hispida bottnica) and the Flat bark beetle (Cucujus cinnaberinus). Other species such as the Lynx (Lynx lynx), although not endemic, are also typical of the region.

Increased protection for Boreal region

The Habitats Directive sets rules for how sites and species must be protected. Where development proposals are put forward, these are subject to detailed assessment. Where negative impacts on habitats and species for which a site has been designated are identified, development actions can only be permitted if there are no viable alternative sites and where it can be demonstrated that there is an overriding public interest. If such a development does receive permission to proceed, there is a requirement to compensate for the impact on the habitats either by the creation or restoration of a replacement habitat or by improving management of other sites to ensure that the integrity of the overall network is retained.

New Member States

The three Baltic Member States that are situated in the Boreal region (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) have already sent their site proposals to the Commission. The Commission will at a later stage decide on the sites in these Member States to be included in Natura 2000. First all the necessary information needs to be submitted and an in-depth scientific evaluation of the site proposals has to be made, in particular with the assistance of the European Environmental Agency, before the final lists can be adopted.

Next steps

The next step as regards the Boreal network is now the designation of all the sites by Sweden and Finland under their national law and the establishment of the necessary management regime. The Commission decision stresses that for a number of habitat types and species, Sweden and Finland still need to complete the list with further site proposals. This last fine-tuning of the list will make the network even more efficient in the future.

With regard to the completion of the network, the Commission will first adopt the remaining EU-15 list of sites of Community importance - for the Mediterranean region. It will then, on the basis of the site proposals from new Member States and after a scientific evaluation of the provided data, extend the Natura 2000 network to the new Member States by accordingly updating the Alpine, Boreal, Continental and Mediterranean lists and by adopting the EU list for the Pannonian region (covering the territory of Hungary and part of the territory of Slovakia and of the Czech Republic).

See IP/05/52 for more details.

For more information on the adopted lists (decision text and annexes, overview maps, background material) see:

[1] Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora

[2] Annex II of the Habitats Directive lists animal and plant species of Community interest whose conservation requires the designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), which are part of the Natura 2000 network.

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