Since 1990, Interreg projects have supported nature conservation across the EU. Currently, the Interreg programme is in its fifth cycle focusing on cross-border cooperation in Europe. As a result of this cross-border cooperation, Interreg projects have proven to be a good mechanism in supporting nature in the EU. With the EU possessing a transnational network of protected areas, Natura 2000 sites, such cross-border cooperation is vital in the protection of Europe’s nature.
Interreg: focus on nature
The multinational nature of Interreg is one of its defining characteristics. Interreg is formed around three types of multinational cooperation: cross-border, transnational and interregional. Over time, the Interreg programme has increased its funding of transnational activities concerned with environmental protection.
In the current Interreg V programme, the EU has set aside €581 million of investment for nature and biodiversity. Interreg funding is available for the transboundary protection and restoration of biodiversity and soil, as well as the promotion of ecosystems services. Numerous projects have, in this vein, helped achieve these targets through supporting Natura 2000 sites and promoting green infrastructure.
The success stories from Natura 2000 in retaining Europe’s biodiversity would not be possible without Interreg’s contributions. Many Interreg projects, like Centralparks, are multidisciplinary in nature. This subsequently helps link Natura 2000 to socio-economic issues, through a cross-border and cross-sectoral exchange of knowledge and practices.
What is Natura 2000?
Natura 2000 is referred to as a network of protected areas in Europe. Essentially, it is a combination of protected areas laid out in the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives. The Birds Directive aims to protect all wild bird species found in the EU through the designation of Special Protection Areas. Furthermore, the Habitats Directive protects ‘rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species’, and around ‘200 rare and characteristic habitats’ in their own right. This covers many habitats, from marine wetlands to Alpine meadows. In total, there are over 27 000 Natura 2000 sites all across Europe, and Member States reassess the status of these areas and their protected species every 6 years. Above all, both of these directives protect vulnerable habitats and species, regardless of their geographical location in Europe.
The benefits of Natura 2000 are wide-ranging. In addition to focusing on the species and habitats outlined in the directives, Natura 2000 sites provide safe areas for numerous other others animals and plants, ensuring a healthier ecosystem on the whole. With a healthier ecosystem, humans also benefit. Natura 2000 sites help increase the security of vital ecosystems services such as drinking water provision, flood protection, temperature regulation, and food provision. When estimating the worth of the Natura 2000 sites all together, scientists have come up with a figure of between, €200 to €300 billion per year. This outlines the importance of Natura 2000, not just to nature, but to human livelihoods as well.
The role of Centralparks
Many protected areas targeted by Centralparks are part of Natura 2000. Centralparks adopts a strategic approach to their management, working across the whole Carpathian region.
Centralparks draws experience from partners across multiple sectors, including the Piatra Craiului National Park Administration and Danube-Ipoly National Park Directorate. These two project partners manage numerous Natura 2000 sites in Romania and Hungary respectively. In addition to their expertise, partners from academia, the state and the non-governmental sector also contribute their knowledge to enhance the livelihoods of local communities through biodiversity conservation and the improvement of protected area management, including Natura 2000 site management.
Currently, Interreg works to enhance the effectiveness of the Natura 2000 sites. Its focus on management, planning and restoration through cross-border and regional cooperation has benefited Natura 2000 sites in this respect. Despite the many good practices that originate from Interreg projects, they are sometimes not well known outside the Interreg community.
While Centralparks helps promote Natura 2000 management through a perspective that encompasses wider socio-economic issues by including cross-border and cross-sectoral experience and practice exchanges, it also ensures a long lasting impact of these efforts. By ensuring that the Carpathian Convention endorses any strategies and recommendations made by the project, it makes sure of the project’s long-term implementation and the transferability of its best practices to other parts of the Carpathian region, which include Natura 2000 sites.