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LIFE and agri-environment supporting Natura 2000

Why is there a link between LIFE, Natura 2000 and agri-environmental measures?

The Natura 2000 Network must surely be one of the more ambitious environmental targets the European Union has set itself. It is probably the first attempt in the world to create, in a systematic way and according to a strict timetable, a coherent ecological network spanning half a continent.
Political support for the network was given at the G÷teborg summit in June 2001, when the Union's heads of state and government set a goal of ending the loss of biodiversity in the EU by 2010, but the practical implementation has proved to be less straightforward.
There have been delays in identifying and proposing suitable sites for inclusion in the Natura 2000 Network. However, the network has now been officially established for the Macaronesian biogeographic region (comprisingthe Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands), while discussions on the other regions are well advanced2 .With Natura 2000 site designation nearly complete, the
focus has moved to the next phase. On a site-by-site basis, conservation targets must now be set and management plans drawn up and executed. What this means in practice to stakeholders, local communities and individual citizens has led to very vigorous, and at times confrontational, debate and will certainly remain a very important issue during implementation of Natura 2000 on the ground. In June 2002 the EU Ministers of the Environment adopted the El Teide Declaration, which
confirms the necessity of dialogue between landowners, land users and other stakeholders in the implementation of Natura 2000.
The legal basis of Natura 2000 is the Birds and Habitats Directives3 which fixed a target of restoration andmaintenance of each designated site at a favourable conservation status. The means to achieve this is left to Member States. The implementation of Natura 2000 does not imply a
long list of compulsory rules and constraints imposed by "Brussels", nor that human activities are necessarily forbidden. It does mean adapting activities which may adversely affect habitats and species (agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, recreation) and adapting them to the sustainable maintenance of Natura 2000 sites. That is why the contractual measures of Articles 6.1 and 6.2 of the Habitats Directive are being widely used in the practical implementation of Natura 2000. In
consultation and collaboration with landowners and stakeholders, voluntary site management agreements are drawn up in which practices favourable to nature conservation are maintained or existing practices are modified to be more compatible. For degraded sites, projects are negotiated with owners and users which imply significant landscape changes through, for instance, rehabilitation of wetlands or removal of plantations of exotic species. Site restoration and management implies costs. Until now there have been limited resources for Natura 2000. The most frequently used EU funds are: first, LIFE-Nature, which since 1992 has co-financed projects, selected on the basis of merit. The projects must support implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives. Second, under the Common Agricultural Policy, the agri-environmental Regulation 2078/924 and  agrienvironmentalmeasures of the rural development Regulation 1257/995 have sometimes been used tofinance maintenance of Natura 2000 sites on agricultural land. The two sources have also been successfully combined to restore sites and install sustainable longterm management, as many of the cases described in this report will reveal.