Biodiversity has emerged over the last 15 years as a significant global environmental and political issue. Scientific consensus that biodiversity loss has reached a crisis point stimulated the widespread global political support for the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. To give effect to the CBD, the European Union (EU) has endorsed the EU Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, of which Natura 2000 (N2000) is a major instrument. The aim of N2000 is to create a coherent network of nature conservation areas across Europe to maintain or restore favourable conservation status of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora across member states. This research will examine the social and ecological aspects involved in the designation of the N2000 network in Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Poland.
N2000 has been selected as the vehicle to investigate the biodiversity concept as it is considered to be the most ambitious supranational initiative for conservation in the world and its implementation across Europe has resulted in widespread controversy. The causes of implementation problems vary from country to country and have involved: non-compliance by national governments; community and business protests over site designations; conflict between different sectors of government and legal action by afflicted actors.
An international, multi-disciplinary team and comparative research process has been developed to investigate the social and ecological aspects of establishing the N2000 network, focussing on factors important for achieving favourable conservation status of selected case study sites and associated values in Sweden, Finland, Poland and Estonia.
The comparative approach will give opportunities to study political and administrative factors, as well as varying ecological interpretations that have created variations in outcomes, despite the overarching EU Directive. It is argued that the approach taken to the designation of the Natura 2000 network will have considerable management implications that to a large extent will determine the likelihood of maintaining the favourable conservation status of target habitats and species – the overall EU conservation objective. More generally, the findings of the study will be significant in providing empirically based evidence on how to assess social and ecological factors in future designations of conservation areas.