The Natura 2000 Awards recognise conservation success stories across the European Union and raise awareness about one of Europe’s outstanding achievements, the Natura 2000, an EU wide network of nearly 27,000 protected sites that covers more than 18 per cent of EU land territory and about 9 per cent of its marine areas.
“The COVID pandemics has brought to light the link between healthy, resilient societies and keeping our natural environment in good condition,” said the European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius. “This year’s winners demonstrate that investing time, energy and resources into nature protection brings big rewards for nature but also for us. They show how conservationists, farmers, foresters, local communities, infrastructure companies and authorities can work together to deliver tangible results for nature and people. These are the models of cooperation and solutions that need to be scaled up if we are to deliver on the commitments of the EU Biodiversity Strategy.”
The project Joint efforts for safe and wildlife-friendly transportation networks in the Carpathians with partners in Romania, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine, won the Cross-border cooperation and Networking Award for its interdisciplinary cooperation addressing landscape fragmentation in the Carpathian Mountains.
The Carpathian Mountains are one of the richest natural areas in Europe, hosting an enormous diversity of habitats, fauna and flora, protected to a large extent by the Natura 2000 network. However, over the past decades, the sustainable development of this region has been challenged by a rapid growth of transport infrastructure. This has had a negative impact on populations of many species, especially animals that are dependent upon moving freely across the landscape, beyond the borders of individual Natura 2000 sites.
“Covering six countries, 16 partners and multiple Natura 2000 sites over a very large area of the Carpathians: if this isn’t true cross border cooperation, then what is?,” said Roby Biwer, Committee of the Regions, presenting the Award.
He pointed out that the project not only encouraged cooperation between people but also, if not exactly cooperation, at least communication between other species, with large carnivores and herbivore populations better-connected thanks to the activities carried out.
In addition, the special European Citizens’ Award went to another project from Central and Eastern Europe, the Partnership for protection of Bulgarian old-growth forests in Natura 2000, led by the Executive Forest Agency (EFA), the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry of Bulgaria, WWF Bulgaria, the Association of Parks in Bulgaria and the Balkani Wildlife Society.
One-third of Bulgaria is covered in forests and about 55 per cent of them are included in the Natura 2000 network. In the beginning, there were opposing groups with different visions of how to ensure the protection of the Natura 2000 forest habitats. Forestry enterprises were reluctant to limit their activities in Natura sites because of the consequent loss of revenue. On the other hand, environmental organisations saw that the lack of sufficient measures was leading to further biodiversity loss.
To address this problem, the Executive Forest Agency in partnership with WWF Bulgaria, the Association of Parks in Bulgaria and the Balkani Wildlife Society carried out extensive surveys and GIS mapping to draw up an inventory of old-growth forests in state-owned forest habitats within Natura 2000 across Bulgaria.
Tsenko Tsenov from the Executive Forest Agency stressed that Bulgaria was a pioneer in protecting their forests having started putting protected areas in place 100 years ago.
“We are extremely happy to win,” he said. “This shows great appreciation for the important work of conserving old-growth forests. This achievement was only possible with the collaboration of the wide range of partners from the state, civil society and Bulgarian citizens.”
In November 2016, an additional 109,300 hectares of old-growth forests were designated for protection and excluded from harvesting which translates into a 3 per cent extension of the Natura 2000 network.