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Systematic site selections beyond NATURA 2000

Summary of the problem

The Natura 2000 network has been a cornerstone for biodiversity conservation within the EU. However, due to the top down policy approach used in the selection of sites and their management, the implementation of the network caused long and serious conflicts in most European countries. Therefore, many landowners and natural resource users challenged the legitimacy of nature conservation. The conflicts encouraged considerable changes in current approaches for biodiversity conservation. Now public or stakeholders' participation has become a kind of mainstream in environmental governance, and as a part of the change, voluntary approaches for site-selection are emerging. While voluntary approaches have increased the legitimacy of conservation, they have posed new challenges as well. In truly voluntary scheme, the landowners are final decision-makers, which may distort systematic selection of sites to be protected and, as consequence, affect the effectiveness of biodiversity policy. Hence, a key challenge is to combine voluntarism with systematic decision-making.

Polycentric governance systems as a policy response

Adapting the administrative level and spatial scale of governance to the characteristics of a specific biodiversity conservation issue and improving the participation of local and/or non-state actors in policy design and implementation are seen as key elements improving their effectiveness. The ecological functional unit is considered more and more as the appropriate planning, conservation and management unit. However, as a consequence managers have to deal with a growing number of vertical and horizontal levels of various governance agencies and their growing interactions. The network of interlinkages between agencies, tasks, policies, territorial jurisdictions, and ecological units is highly complex and often dynamic. In this context the decentralization in policy implementation seems appropriated. Polycentric governance systems containing a significant degree of stakeholder participation and involving several agencies and levels of governance should lead to long-term effective natural resource management policies (Ostrom 2005).

Through case studies, we explored how these kinds of governance systems have evolved in the context of sites selection. The case studies from France and Finland present innovative polycentric governance solutions found for policy challenges beyond Natura 2000 network. Solutions cover social issues by combining scientific and lay knowledge. The studies indicated that we still need a better understanding of the contextual or process factors that make conservation policy and site selection efficient. To do so, the following policy recommendations are suggested:


  • Monitoring and studying the impacts of protected areas' size and geographic distribution. Change in site selection approaches seem to result in some countries in a situation in which the new sites selected, on average, became smaller than initially selected sites but the total number of areas selected has increased. A research program should facilitate monitoring and studying the consequences from both ecological and social perspectives.
  • Managing a place for science as such for the public. The site selection decisions result from the evaluation of a range of - sometimes contradictory - interests (in the broad sense) of costs and consequences, whose relative weights depend largely on information available and the way this information is used. Thus, participatory and multi-level governance processes of site selection should take care to distinguish approaches based on a scientific frame only and approaches based on co-construction with state and non-state actors. A specific focus should be on the discussion of the quality of data sets with all stakeholders from all decision-making levels to define collectively the borders of uncertainty concerning the knowledge of biodiversity distribution and functioning. In addition hypothesis should be worked out jointly, especially when it comes to modelling approach.
  • Improving communication on scientific analysis and recommendations. Dedicating one or several persons to communicated scientific knowledge to a broad public most likely would facilitate communication and sharing of ideas among stakeholders. Besides, defining biodiversity policy targets at local-scale tends to focus on local concerns. Consistency among regional methods and decisions could be enhanced by a better communication among relevant regions.
  • Policy and instruments that learn to learn. Many signs of progress from conflict to legitimate conservation procedures, strategies, and practices were found and should be reinforced: (i) Bottom-up development of instruments that increase perceived legitimacy among land-owners and govern conservation of biodiversity that exists between jurisdictional scales; (ii) instruments with various time scale that encourage landowners to take pro-conservation action and learn from their own efforts; and (iii) instruments that take into account small- and large-scale ecological processes.

Applications: Experiences from Finland and France

For more detailed description of the case studies see links below

French case study: dealing with social issues and zoning

Finnish case study: dealing with social issues by combining scientific and lay knowledge

Useful links

Metso programme


Folke C, Pritchard L Jr, Berkes F, Colding J, Svedin U (2007) The problem of fit between ecosystems and institutions: ten years later. Ecology and Society 12(1):30.

Government of Finland, (2008). Government Resolution on the Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland 2008-2016, METSO-Programme, Helsinki.

Ostrom, E. (2005). Understanding institutional diversity. Princeton University Press, Princeton: NJ. Paloniemi R., Varho V. (2009) Changing ecological and cultural states and preferences of nature conservation policy: The case of nature values trade in South-Western Finland. Journal of Rural Studies. 25: 87-97.

Vimal R., Mathevet R., Thompson J.D., (2012). The Changing Landscape of Ecological Networks. Journal for Nature Conservation 20: 49-55. Frischmann, B. (2012) Infrastructure. The Social Value of Shared Recourses. Oxford University Press.

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