Nature, People and Economy

Kitara Foundation for Regional Tourism adopts the Nature, People and Economy practice from the European Union (EU) Plan. The EU Action Plan for nature, people and the economy was adopted in April 2017 as follow up to an evaluation of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. It aims to strategically boost the implementation and realize the full potential to achieve healthy ecosystems, whose services benefit people, nature and the economy and improve the coherence with broader socio-economic objectives, thus contributing to SDGs 14 and 15, as well as SDGs 2, 3 and 8.

Objective of the Nature, People and Economy Practice

The EU Nature directives aim to ensure the conservation and sustainable management of the most vulnerable species and natural habitats. This is achieved through designation and protection of areas of high biodiversity value (which form the Natura 2000 network) and species protection provisions for all wild birds and protected fauna and flora in the EU.

The Action Plan for nature, people and the economy since April 2017 has provided a rapid response to the findings of the evaluation of the Directives of December 2016. It aims to boost achievement of the biodiversity goals while also enhancing the benefits that flow from healthy nature to people and the economy. Sharply focused on key challenges and time bound, it contains 15 main actions with over 100 individual measures, organized in four priority areas, fully reflecting the 2030 Agenda

Priority A aims at ensuring better coherence with broader socio-economic objectives through improving guidance and knowledge. This includes guidance to support the integration of ecosystems and their services into planning and decision-making processes at local, regional, national and EU levels. This will assist decision-makers to implement best practices for plans and projects in order to minimize and compensate for unavoidable residual impacts on ecosystems and their services. This work directly delivers on target 15.9 and other targets indirectly

Priority B aims at building political ownership and strengthening compliance to ensure a fully coherent and functional Natura 2000 network as well as the protection and sustainable management of species. The Plan provides a valuable framework to strengthen partnership between the European Commission, Member States and stakeholders to facilitate and promote the conservation and sustainable use of nature. This work directly delivers on targets 14.2, 14.5, 15.1, 15.2, 15.5 as well as other targets indirectly

Funding shortages are preventing the Natura 2000 network from delivering its benefits in full and are a major factor undermining the effectiveness of the Nature Directives. The work under Priority C is aiming at strengthening investments and directly delivers on SDG targets 15.A and 15.B as well as other targets indirectly.

Finally, under Priority D, the Action Plan seeks to strengthen the involvement of the public, stakeholders, local authorities and communities. The Commission together with the European Committee of Regions and different stakeholder groups is using all available platforms to raise awareness and promote local involvement and exchanges of knowledge.

The Action Plan is providing better tools and approaches to address key challenges, such as local acceptance of co-existence with animals in areas where certain species is returning after a long period. Likewise, the Plan is addressing challenges related to permitting delays for plans and projects that may affect Natura 2000 sites through the development and promotion of dedicated guidance documents as well as a targeted support mechanism to local authorities.

Ultimately, the Action Plan offers a solid short-term response to insufficient implementation of the main pieces of EU legislation for nature conservation, which are key in meeting SDGs 14 and 15.


The Plan is the result of a comprehensive and participatory evaluation of the Nature Directives involving authorities, experts and numerous, stakeholders in all EU countries. Over 552 000 citizens participated in the public consultation. Recognizing the crucial role of local authorities, the European Committee of the Regions has been closely involved in its preparation and the European Parliament discussed it before adoption. Each action is assigned to one or more specific actors: European Commission, Member States, Committee of the Regions and stakeholders and promotes participatory approaches to encourage full involvement of landowners, users and other stakeholders.

Implementation of the Project/Activity

Initiation: The Nature Action Plan is solidly based on the findings of a thorough evaluation of the Nature Directives where the Commission carried out extensive consultation and listened to the concerns of citizens, businesses and local authorities, who sometimes feel that European rules are difficult to understand, apply and enforce. There have been more than 552.000 responses to the public consultation, showing broad support for the Directives. Concerns and suggestions have been raised in that context.

Planning: The evidence gathering and consultation during evaluation of the Nature Directive provided the Commission with information about key problems and potential solutions to address them. This was further refined in discussions with EU Member States and stakeholders in early 2017 allowing more focused development of proposed of actions to provide solutions.

Development of the Plan was overseen by a high level Project Team in the European Commission to ensure engagement and ownership of the different services, reflecting perspectives of different sectors as insufficient funding was singled out as the main obstacle hindering implementation. The Plan aims at making better use of the EU funding available and making nature more attractive for private investment as well as preparing for strengthened investment in nature in the next EU funding cycle.

Execution: The European Commission is fully committed to ensuring delivery of the Plan and oversees its implementation. This requires coordinated efforts across many fields and actors. It has set up a series of support contracts to facilitate delivery of different elements of the programme of work. It is working closely with the Member States, including through new nature dialogues with the authorities and stakeholders in different countries. This is undertaken on a voluntary basis and has already taken place in 11 Member States Meetings with most other countries were foreseen in 2019. The open and transparent discussion helps achieve better understanding of key local challenges and possible solutions as well as best practices to share more widely. Another practical example is the provision of guidance and best practice documents in different languages of the Member States (26 among guidance documents, species / habitats action plans, etc)

Monitoring: The European Commission is closely monitoring implementation of each action of the Plan. An Interservice group of the Commission regularly meets to assess progress and discuss any challenges related to delivery of the actions. The Commission also regularly discussed progress on delivery of the Action Plan with the Member States and stakeholders, particularly in dedicated committees and working groups. The EU State of Nature report, in mid-2020, presented an updated assessment of the status and trends of protected habitats and species conservation. This allowed the impact of actions under the Plan to be assessed to enhance implementation. Many actions continued after 2019, e.g. those related to dialogue and awareness raising.


The Action Plan is providing a key impetus to finalizing the establishment of Natura 2000 as evidenced by the increased rate of Natura 2000 sites designated and site conservation objectives and measures established. The network encompasses more than 27 500 sites, covering 18% of EU land and over 9% of its marine territory.

This has involved both compliance promotion and assurance. Structured Nature Bilateral dialogues have in particular focused on Natura 2000 and resulted in agreement on implementation roadmaps. The Commission organized dedicated seminars in different Biogeographical Regions (Continental, Alpine and Macaronesian) as well as for the Marine regions, to promote the sharing of experience and expertise on setting conservation objectives and measures for the sites. The Commission has finalized four guidance documents on Natura 2000 site management, on electricity transmission facilities and Natura 2000, on hydropower and Natura 2000 and on fisheries; The Commission is also pursuing legal enforcement action in relation to failures of compliance on designation of Special Areas of Conservation and establishment of conservation measures.

Within the framework of the Action Plan there has been a 10% increase in the allocation of the LIFE funding to Nature and Biodiversity projects, which resulted in about 100 million Euro additional investment in nature over the final three years of the programme. With a view to strengthening investment for nature in the next EU funding period ‘Prioritized Action Frameworks’, in which Member States set out their funding needs and priorities for Natura 2000 and related green infrastructure, have been developed. Training seminars are being provided in all Member States to inform the authorities and stakeholders about the opportunities under different EU funds. The Commission also launched two pilot studies with a view to stimulating ‘private sector’ investment in Natura 2000.

There is also important progress in promoting the value and benefits of the Natura 2000 network. This has involved the institution of a Natura 2000 day and well as the organization of the European Natura 2000 award, which gives “the recognition that they deserve” to the many organizations and people that are managing Natura 2000 sites for the benefit of nature and local communities. In addition the Commission has provided opportunities for volunteering and vocational training of young people in the conservation of Natura 2000 sites through the new European Solidarity Corps.

The Action Plan is delivering:

Results for nature: Achieving a fully functional Natura 2000 network is central to reversing the negative trends of species and habitats of EU conservation concern;

Results for people: Healthy nature delivers benefits to all of us. From carbon storage to water purification and flood prevention, nature and the many services it provides go much beyond its mere beauty.

Results for the economy: Nature is essential for our well-being and underpins the health of our economy. Several million jobs depend directly on healthy ecosystems in Europe. Moreover, Natura 2000 alone contributes between 1.7 and 2.5% to EU GDP through the provision of vital ecosystem services.

Enabling factors and constraints

Enabling conditions: The Nature Directives have been the subject of a comprehensive performance evaluation of their implementation as part of the Commission’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT) programme. The Directives have been evaluated in five standard categories: effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, relevance and EU added value. The extensive evidence-gathering process included questionnaires sent to Member State authorities and stakeholder groups in all EU Member States, an extensive literature search, 10 fact-finding visits to Member States and a public on-line questionnaire. The public consultation attracted a record number of responses (552,472). This extensive and participatory evaluation process has de facto created unprecedented favorable conditions for boosting the implementation of the Directives. The wide support received during the public consultation has raised political attention and action.

Constraints: Funding shortages are a major factor undermining the effectiveness of the Nature Directives and preventing the Natura 2000 network and wider biodiversity from fully delivering their many benefits to society. Compliance costs of designating, protecting and managing Natura 2000 sites have been estimated to be at least € 5.8 billion annually across the EU. The overall EU co-funding for Natura 2000 during the 2007-2013 period represented only 9-19% of the estimated financing needs and national co-funding was unable to cover the remaining gap. These figures are likely to be underestimated. The on-going work on updating the “Prioritized Action Framework” (PAFs), a strategic planning tool supporting Member States in setting out the strategic needs and priorities for investment and use of EU funds over the next multi-annual financing period, is likely to provide more robust assessments of the needs. The Action Plan sets out measures to promote and support better use of available EU funding and to make nature more attractive for private investment such as a 10% increase of the support for nature under the LIFE Fund, result based schemes under the CAP and support for private land stewardship.

Other constraints relate to lack of awareness of the Directives’ requirements and poor communication between stakeholders and authorities. The Action Plan dedicates many actions to overcome these limitations, encouraging promotion of good practices and support recognition for good management of Natura 2000 sites. One of the main tools is the Natura 2000 award, a Pan-European award recognizing excellence in the management of Natura 2000 sites and conservation achievements, showcasing the added value of the network for local economies, and increasing public awareness about Europe’s valuable natural heritage. The 21st May has been proclaimed as the European Natura 2000 day. Every year events are organized across the EU, involving the public thus creating ownership and awareness.

Sustainability and replicability

As many of the sites are privately owned the Natura 2000 network is a much broader concept than nature reserves and is fully based on the promoting sustainable land and water use management that is in line with nature conservation objective. Natura 2000 is therefore a key tool for sustainable development, particularly in rural and more peripheral areas.

The Natura 2000 network is also a strategically important tool to support green growth and jobs through sustainable land management practices that benefit local communities

Many local socio-economic activities depend on healthy nature and several million jobs are linked to the ecosystems that Natura 2000 protects. For instance, 1.3 million of the 9.6 million farming jobs in the EU are estimated to be linked directly or indirectly to Natura 2000. Similarly, in the tourism sector up to 2 million jobs are linked to Natura 2000.

The network has been estimated to deliver economic benefits of the range of 200-300 billion EUR per year through the provision of many ecosystem services. There is mounting evidence to the fact that the capacity of ecosystems to provide a wide range of ecosystem services depends on their structural and functional integrity. By boosting the implementation of the Nature Directives on the ground, the Action Plan contribute delivering these benefits to our society.

In addition to securing a wider range of ecosystem services, biologically diverse natural ecosystems in good condition are also more resilient, i.e. they have higher capacity to persist against further pressures and to recover from disturbances. The role of the network as a tool to help prepare for climate adaptation and mitigation is increasingly being recognized. This is an important consideration for securing essential services in the face of global environmental change. Once again, the full implementation of the Action Plan is key in facing these challenges.

The achievement of the Action Plan objectives is an essential contribution to the EU and global agenda.

The Action Plan for nature, people and the economy is a political instrument with high replicability also in different contexts.


The EU Nature Action Plan gives a real impetus to the conservation of biodiversity in the EU in a way that also fully embraces the socio-economic context for success. This is critical in the EU, given the high population density and its history of land use, which has led to significant declines in nature, particularly in the 20th century

The Action Plan has placed biodiversity conservation more centrally in the EU agenda and given an opportunity to all stakeholders and citizens to support environmental protection.
It has given a particular impetus to implementation of the Natura 2000 network, which is critical to securing the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and natural habitats and delivers multiple benefits, estimated at € 200-300 billion per year, significantly exceeding identified costs. This is our natural capital to be preserved and harnessed for the future generations

The Directives are the cornerstone of the EU biodiversity policy. Their full implementation is the first of six targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. They will also play a central role in the post-2020 strategy. They are key to meeting the EU & #39 of international commitments on biodiversity and implementing by 2030 the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 14 on conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources and Goal 15 on protecting terrestrial ecosystems. Protecting biodiversity will also contribute to achieving other SDGs, for example on sustainable growth and jobs, food security and human health.

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