Culture

Emerging Europe environmental projects recognised at Natura 2000 awards

The European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius last week announced the six winners of the Natura 2000 Awards for 2020. The winners include projects from Finland, France, Belgium, Spain, Bulgaria and a trans-boundary project involving partners in Romania, Austria, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

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 network of protected areas.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought to light the link between healthy, resilient societies and keeping our natural environment in good condition. 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,” says Mr Sinkevičius.

Joint Efforts for Safe and Wildlife-friendly Transportation Networks in the Carpathians, otherwise known as TRANSGREEN, won the Cross-border cooperation and Networking Award. The project was led by WWF Central and Eastern Europe (WWF-CEE), with partners in Romania, Austria, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Joint methodologies were developed for monitoring collisions and road-kills, and three in-depth analyses and catalogues of measures have been produced for three pilot areas.

The final outcome is a comprehensive package of materials – called Guidelines for Wildlife and Traffic in the Carpathians – which describes and recommends integrated transport infrastructure planning, construction, management and monitoring that take into account biodiversity conservation and minimise landscape fragmentation. These guidelines will be pushed forward as unified guidelines or policies in all involved Carpathian countries as part of the implementation of the Carpathian Convention.

The special European Citizens’ Award went to the Partnership for Protection of Bulgarian Old-growth Forests project, led by the Executive Forest Agency (EFA), the Bulgarian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, WWF-Bulgaria, the Association of Parks in Bulgaria and the Balkan Wildlife Society.

The project helped to reconcile conflicting interests over the designation of forest-related Natura 2000 sites. The partners carried out extensive surveys and GIS mapping to draw up an inventory of old-growth forests in state-owned forests habitats. The final list of sites was agreed among interested stakeholders during a long process of exchanges and consultations. The process resulted in an additional 109,300 hectares of old-growth forests being designated for protection and excluded from harvesting.

Local Economy and Nature Conservation in the Danube Region (LENA) led by WWF-Bulgaria and including WWF-Hungary and WWF-Romania as partners was also short-listed.

The broad partnership coalition implementing LENA (17 partners from nine Danube countries) supported and strengthened joint and integrated approaches and policies for the conservation and sustainable use of protected areas, in particular in Natura 2000 sites along the Danube and its tributaries. It created new income opportunities in the nature-based economic sector and up-scaled impact across the region. Some of the aspects included sustainable income generation from wild plants (FairWild), fishing-based livelihoods, added value from sustainable agriculture, regional tourism marketing, training Danube tourist guides across borders, e-mobility creating e-bikes routes, and a profound analysis of nature-based business and green jobs.

Natura 2000 is an EU wide network of nearly 27,000 protected sites that covers more than 18 per cent of EU land territory and about nine per cent of its marine areas. The network aims at protecting and enhancing Europe’s natural heritage and securing the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species while promoting a sustainable land use and economic activity.

The awards are open to anyone directly involved in management of or communication about the EU Natura 2000 network – businesses, government bodies, NGOs, volunteers, landowners, educational institutions or individuals.

This year, 85 applications from across Europe were received, out of which 27 were shortlisted. A high-level jury then selected the winners.

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