Natura 2000 is the centrepiece of EU nature & biodiversity policy. It ensures conservation of biodiversity by protecting the natural habitat types, wild flora and fauna and contributes to the sustainment and restoration of their optimal nature protection conditions. It is an EU-wide ecological network of nature protection areas established under the 1992 Habitats Directive.

The aim of the network is to assure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats. It comprises Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) designated by Member States under the 1992 Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) which are designated under the 1979 Birds Directive (Council Directive 79/409/EEC).

Natura 2000 is not a system of strict nature reserves where all human activities are excluded. Whereas the network will certainly include nature reserves most of the land is likely to continue to be privately owned and the emphasis will be on ensuring that future management is sustainable, both ecologically and economically. The establishment of this network of protected areas also fulfils a Community obligation under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

The general purpose of the Habitats Directive is to protect all the bird species naturally present in the Member States. Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are regions that give home to large populations of bird species listed in the I. Annex that are regularly present and migrate on the area of the Member State. These regions also include wetland habitats of international importance regarding waterfowl. The main objective of the Habitats Directive is to protect biodiversity, to ensure the long term survival of species and habitat types with sustaining or enlarging their natural extension.

This Directive ordered the establishment of the European ecological network, the Natura 2000, which also includes the areas designated under the Birds Directive. The Special Areas of Conservation have to be designated for the protection of the natural habitat types of Community importance listed in the 1st Annex (these are threatened by extinciton or their natural extension is small, or they have specific features typical within a given biogeographical region) and for the protection of animal- and plant species of Community importance (threatened, rare, vulnerable or endemic) listed in the 2nd Annex. Those habitat types and species, which need immediate actions for their conservation are of special importance and are given priority in the EU.

Condition of the natural values serving as basis of designation in Hungary

With the accession of Hungary, a new biogeographical region, the Pannonian region is added to the 6 biogeographical regions of the EU. Most of the Pannonian region is situated on the area of Hungary. The Pannonian region gives home to numerous species and habitat types that are not present on the area of the 15 Member States of the EU. The habitat types and species that are only present in Hungary are called "pannonicums?. It is especially important to have the adequate size for these designated areas regarding the given habitat type and the national population of the species, because their survival within the EU depends primarily on Hungary. Such Pannonian habitat types are: Sub-Pannonic steppic grassland, pannonic loess steppic grassland, Pannonic sand steppes, Pannonic woods with Quercus petrae and Carpinus betulus and Pannonic inland sand dune thicket (Junipero-Populetum albae).

The Hungarian endemic species of special importance, listed in the Annex of the Habitats Directive are e.g.: Pulsatilla pratensis, Linum dolomiticum, Ferula sadleriana, Bythiosopeum hungaricum and Vipera ursinii rakosiensis. Among the natural values of Community importance 46 habitat types, 36 plant species, 91 bird species and 105 other animal species are present in Hungary in large populations. Some areas had to be designated in relation to the national populations of these values.

Most of the above species had been given special attention by the Hungarian nature conservation, and their habitats played an important role during the designation of the areas (the majority of the species proposed by Hungary belonged here). At the same time many species are also present in the Annexes of the Directives, which are rare in W-Europe but their strong population is still present in Hungary and had not basis for designation during former designation processes (e.g. Lucanus cervus, Osmoderma eremita, Emys orbicularis, Lanius collurio, Ficedula albicollis, Cirsium brachycephalum, Pannonic woods with Quercus petrae and Carpinus betulus etc.).

Those populations in Eastern Europe, which are not yet endangered, can play a particular role in strengthening the decreasing Western European populations, if they receive an even more effective protection. Hungary can meet the general nature conservation goals of the EU if emphasized attention is payed to the protection of the habitats of these species.

Designation of Natura 2000 network

Preliminary data collection

Several data collecting projects, mainly in the framework of PHARE helped the designation in Hungary. In the framework of CORINE Biotope project, a data base was developed including the nature conservation data of 156 areas, which were also analised from the point of view of the Habitats Directive. During the PHARE project titled "Preparation for Implementing the Habitat Directive in Hungary", 171 botanists and zoologists were involved in the Intensive Botanical Data Collection (IBOA) and the national evaluation of the habitats, plant- and animal species listed in the Annexes of the Habitats Directive was based on current field experience and bibliographical database.

The list of areas to be designated under the Natura 2000 network was proposed by experts participating in the programme. Besides the PHARE programmes, the National Biodiversity Monitoring Programme launched by the State Secretariat for Nature and Environment Protection in 1997 also provided numerous data for the designation of the Natura 2000 areas, because research of the habitats and species listed in the Annexes of Birds and Habitats Directives was given prior importance when this project was developed and the monitoring components were selected.

Process and aspects of the designation of Natura 2000 areas

The areas of the Natura 2000 network are designated by the Member States. During this process only professional aspects can be taken into consideration, economic and social aspects can not be considered. The Special Protection Areas to be designated under the Birds Directive is also the competence of the Member States. The Commission makes a remark only if the designation is incomplete. Designation has to be based on the available national, overall researches.
Habitats of migrating birds have to be also considered, especially resting sites, with special attention to the wetland habitats of the Ramsari Convention.
The Member States can only make proposal for the Special Areas of Conservation. The Commission reviews the proposal list regarding each species and habitat types, involving experts during the so called biogeographical seminars. The Commission has the right to alter the habitat list, eg. to oblige the Member State to add a new area to the list.
The areas have to cover a sufficiently large propotion of the national population of the habitat type and species present in the country, so that they can ensure the sustainment of the optimal nature conservation condition at the Union's and at the biogeographical region's level.
The designation proposals were developed by the staff of the 10 Hungarian National Park Directorates, according to the mentioned aspects and the existing data basis. These proposals were petitioned to the State Secretariat for Nature and Environment Protection of the Ministry of Environment and Water. The proposal list was finalised during several months, with the involvement of experts. Besides staff of the State Secretariat the Natura 2000 Consulting Committee also participated in the evaluation process.
The designated Natura 2000 areas comprise almost 1,95 million hectares, 21% of Hungary's area. The overlap of the two area types (SAC, SPA) is near 42%. The Natura 2000 network is partly based on the already existing protected nature areas (39% of the designated areas) and it is also made up of areas that have not been protected. The proportion of the designated areas in Hungary is above the EU average to some extent, taking it into consideration that this country has outstanding natural values and the level of their protection is better than that of most Western-European countries.
A detailed documentation has to be sent to the European Commission with general data (code, name, size, coordtinates, NUTS region) of the areas and with their ecological data. The documentation also includes the evaluation of the population of the species that provided basis for the designation, and further description of the area.

Legislation background of the Natura 2000 areas is included in a government order including the designation preparatory procedure and the detailed legislation regarding the Natura 2000 network. Currently the reconciliation within the public administration sector is under process. The Annexes of the plan include lists of species and habitat types of Community interest that give the basis of the designation, and a list with the topographical lot numbers of the designated areas.

Supervision of the Natura 2000 areas by the European Commission

The Special Protection Areas are announced by the Member States. If the list of the areas is incomplete and a complaint is made about it, the Commission has the right to initiate an informal consultation with the Member States and a formal procedure may follow with even the involvement of the European Court if the consultation had an unfavourable result or the incomplete performance of the State is obvious.
The Member States have the possibility to handle the criteria prescribed in the Annex III. of the Habitats Directive with more flexibility if the area that gives home to one or more highlighted species or habitats covers more than 5% of the State?s area. Besides representing significantly the species and habitats, the designated areas also have to serve the coherence of the Natura 2000 network. In certain cases the Commission may initiate the designation of further areas. If this is not implemented, a formal procedure described above may follow.

Tasks after the announcement of the Natura 2000 areas

After announcing the Natura 2000 areas the Member States take the necessary protection measures and restrictions in order to reach or conserve the favourable nature protection condition of the Natura 2000 area, in the form of management plans to be made by the nature conservation authority.
The Habitats Directive announces clearly that the designation of the Natura 2000 areas does not aim at creating closed reserves where every kind of activity is banned. Certain forms of farming can be continued if they are compatible with conservation. Protection is to be ensured only from the aspects of the species and habitats on which the designation was based.
The implementation of the protection measures on the areas is the task of the Member States. This can be carried out by legislative restriction but contract based solutions involving the authorities or the landlords is also applicable if the nature conservation condition of the area can be preserved this way as well. In case of authority protection, permission from the authority is necessary for certain activities, such as reed cutting, using pesticides or any kind of hunting, fishing or touristic activity. In case of contracting with the landlord, the land owner undertakes farming acitivities only according to the management plan. There are numerous examples of the contract based protection in many Member States. In Hungary the establishment of the conditions of contracting with the landlords is still under process.
The Directives also prescribe monitoring and researching tasks for the Natura 2000 areas. The population, national extension and natural conservation condition of the natural habitats and species of Community importance have to be controlled regularly and special attention has to be payed to the research of the species and habitat types of Community importance. Research for the protection, management and utilisation of populations of European wild bird species is also to be facilitated. Monitoring methods and regulations are not yet integrated, but the sample taking procedures elaborated in the National Biodiversity Monitoring System functioning since 1997 will give a good basis for monitoring the Natura 2000 areas.
The Natura 2000 network will measurably contribute to the sustainable development of the countryside by raising the employment rate of the local workforce, creating alternative ways of income, raising the touristic attractivity of the region and the trade of bioproducts and introducing agro-environmental measures. The protection and management of natural values can also bring economic advantages, which is already proved by many examples also in Hungary.
One of the biggest advantages of the network is that the natural values of Hungary receive legislative protection from the EU at a higher level than the previous one. This supports the national nature conservation work and objectives to a great extent, facilitating the more effective protection of our exceptionally rich natural heritage.
However, it is worthy of note that the Natura 2000 network is a complementary tool for Hungarian nature conservation. The areas of the network do not substitue the national system of protected nature areas, they rather complete it.

List of Natura 2000 sites with topographical numbers on the operational area of Balaton-felvidéki National Park Directorate (14/2010. (V.11.) KvVM regulation, see the 1. Melléklet (Appendix), points 2.1–2.5)

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