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SCALETOOL IntroductionDriversBiodiversityPolicies and managementConnectivity and protected areas

A multi-criteria assessment and evaluation of the processes underlying the political decision for the prioritization of a national Natura 2000 conservation network: the case of Greece


The Natura 2000 network represents the cornerstone of nature conservation policy in Europe and the largest conservation network worldwide. Sites of the network were selected on the basis of two EU directives, aiming to conserve priority species and habitats. Still, for several member states, management authorities have been established for only a limited number of sites, and thus not all sites of the network could be equally protected.

Money allocation, research efforts, conservation activities and mitigation of human-related impacts should somehow be prioritised. In addition, the current economic crisis in Europe further poses some obstacles (in terms of organizational and logistic issues) in allocating similar efforts at all conservation sites. Against this background, member states have actually established sub-networks within their National N2K network that are under specific management protocols.

In the Greek Natura 2000 network only 83 sites out of the 419 are under the protection of a management agency. Still, no evidence for the selection process and the efficiency of the sub- network exists. In the present study, an attempt was made to a) assess the efficiency of the existing sub-network of sites under a management agency and b) to improve our understanding on the potential criteria that have been used for its selection.


The methodology developed here involved four basic procedures (Table1). First, a list of ecological, economic or socio-political criteria, which represent the basic drivers for the establishment of management agencies within the national network of Greece, was identified. In total 15 criteria were selected and for each one of them values were assigned at a site level. As the third step, A total of 150 alternative sub-networks of 83 sites, equal to the number of sites currently under a management agency, were developed (Table 2). As a final step, a multi-criteria approach and modified Analytic Hierarchy Process (mAHP) (Moffett et al., 2005. Env Modelling & Software 20, 1315-1322.) were applied: 1) Weights assigned to each criterion based on pairwise comparison matrices produced: actual rank order 2) Equal weights to all criteria produced: null rank order 3) Single & Multi-dimensional sensitivity analysis for robustness. As a final step, the "most effective" sub-networks were compared with the sub-network composed by sites that have a management agency. A sensitivity analysis was further applied to test the robustness of the ranking of each alternative set.

Results -Discussion

Under all scenarios and combinations examined, the sub-network of managed sites performed better than random for some criteria and worse than random for other criteria but was not ranked as the best one in any case (Fig.1). The analyses further demonstrated that the two highest ranked alternatives were sub-networks consisting of sites having the lowest population densities and those being subjected to increased environmental education and awareness projects. Still, several sites consistently scored high for all criteria and approximately half of them are included in the sub-network of managed sites, suggesting that the prioritization of conservation efforts on these sites is important in the post-financial crisis era when public funding for conservation is rapidly decreasing and conservation administration is being gradually dismantled.

The analyses showed that the lack of specific criteria and principles for the selection of the priority sites has a serious effect on the performance of such sub-networks of managed sites. Acknowledging that socio-political and economic criteria are critical components at any step of the prioritization processes, the analyses surprisingly identified that the performance of such criteria has largely been ignored in the selection of sites with management bodies in the Greek Natura 2000 network. This study emphasizes the intricacy involved in conservation planning. It also highlights that the selection of the managed sites of a national Natura 2000 network was primarily based on scientific reasoning and political motivations, whereas a more integrative approach, such as considering socioeconomic factors, appears to be absent from the process.

Table 1. Decision tree used to split the criteria used for prioritizing the sub-networks of NATURA 2000.

Table 2. Description of the alternative conservation area sub-networks.

Figure 1. Results of the multi-criteria approach applied to assess the potential decision-making criteria and principles which underlie the selection process of Greek Natura 2000 sub-networks to be under a specific management scheme.


Tsianou, M.A., Mazaris, A.D., Kallimanis, A.S., Deligioridi, P-S. S., Apostolopoulou, E., John D. Pantis, J.D. 2013. Identifying the criteria underlying the political decision for the prioritization of the Greek Natura 2000 conservation network. Biological Conservation, 166: 103-110
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