Current status of the Natura 2000 Network

INFONATUR 2000 addresses several environmental problems, all related to the implementation and development of the Natura 2000 Network:

 

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1. Widespread lack of knowledge among society in general of the Natura 2000 Network, its values and natural resources.

Society is aware of forms of protection such as national parks, natural reserves, etc., but currently has an obvious lack of knowledge of elements of Natura 2000 Network such as SCIs and SPAs, with a high percentage of people who are unaware of the very existence of the Natura 2000 Network. In 2008, in the region of Villuercas-Cáceres, 82% of respondents did not know what a SPA was, while, in Llanos de Cáceres, 97% of those asked did not know what a SCI was*. A very low percentage of people have good knowledge, due to their sensitivity and responsiveness to environmental information, while another percentage have knowledge but in a very skewed way (unaware of the objectives and motivation). Even the people living in daily contact with these forms of protection (farmers, hunters, fishermen, tour operators offering nature-related products, etc.) have limited and sometimes skewed knowledge of the established legal framework and the natural values which are to be preserved with such sites. This situation seriously undermines the proper implementation and development of the Natura 2000 Network, leading to practices disrespectful to the environment and to the proposal of alternatives for economic development which contravene the regulations or ignore the possibilities of harmonious development which could be exploited as a result of the recognition the incorporation of the areas into the Network entails. The Natura 2000 Network would consequently be reduced to an abstract form of protection, as the involvement of the population in these areas and their knowledge is essential for the preservation of the environmental values.

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2. An erroneous perception of the Natura 2000 Network among the primary sector, which regards it as a threat to their economic present and future and social well-being. 

There are sectors which have a very negative view of the implementation of the Natura 2000 Network, namely the development of conservation guidelines and the implementation of management plans. 33% of the agricultural employers asked in the SPA in Llanos de Cáceres believed that no activities can be performed in the protected areas while 50% did not know or didn't reply; 90% associated protected areas with restrictions; 92% believed that the protected areas generate problems and 85% associated them with difficulties*. The above, brought about by a lack of knowledge of its content, has led to a unilateral confrontation between farmers and livestock breeders and the administration responsible for the development of such plans and their application to some protected areas. At the same time, there is an atmosphere of confusion among the inhabitants of towns in places within the Natura 2000 Network regarding the constraints imposed on them. As a result, this situation has led to low or zero participation among the inhabitants and different sectors of production in the implementation of the Natura 2000 Network in some parts of Spain, and this, consequently, is hampering the work on the conservation of natural values performed by the competent authority in this matter.

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3. Low sustainable socio-economic development in the Natura 2000 Network areas.

It is normally the case that the areas in the Natura 2000 Network are places where the traditional land uses have had a strong agricultural, livestock breeding and hunting nature, favouring the conservation of important biodiversity, or areas which, due to the pressure from industrial and tourism development, are maintained as small islands of biodiversity. Thus, as uses of an industrial, intensive agriculture and conventional tourism nature are not significantly represented, these areas tend to be “economically depressed”. However, these places retain a number of resources which, at first glance, may go unnoticed but which nevertheless having a rising demand in society (traditional quality products, health and nature tourism, hunting and fishing, ethnographic and cultural attractions, etc.), resources which can be exploited by the local communities in these areas in a sustainable manner and which would be an alternative supplement for the rural economy. The use of these resources would increase the perception of “value” that they have for the people and would therefore favour the “need” for their conservation, thereby becoming a patrimony valued by the community. This process would positively influence the implementation of the Conservation Guidelines and Management Plans for the Natura 2000 Network.

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4. Poor promotion of the Natura 2000 Network and its resources for internal tourism around the country.

One of the main potential uses of the Natura 2000 Network is tourism. This activity obviously has to be reconciled with the conservation of nature, in other words, it must be sustainable tourism or “green” tourism. These spaces have sufficient resources to attract a wide range of tourists, from a single tourist seeking rest in a natural setting to gastronomic tourists wishing to consume wild products (mushrooms, asparagus, thistles, game, freshwater fish, honey, liqueurs, fruit, etc.), not to mention organized tourism aimed at the observation of nature and hunting activities, fishing, photography and adventure sports. It is worth pointing out that this kind of tourism caters for everyone, increasing its chances of success. However, it is evident in many areas of the Natura 2000 Network that there is a total absence of this sector, together with the inefficient use of their resources. Similarly, the low demand for this type of tourism until a few years ago has led to very low promotion of these places by tour operators, except for the National Parks. The presentation of these areas, values and resources to these tourist companies which have detected increased consumption of this product is sure to promote the development of tourism in these areas, under the “quality product” motto.

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5. Low environmental awareness among children and young people in the towns in the Natura 2000 Network.

The maelstrom of negative information on the Natura 2000 Network which exists in some local communities and the lack of sensitization and environmental education means that future generations will lack a positive view of nature conservation and protected areas. We have a real idea of the current situation but it is likely that if the wrong idea - that the Natura 2000 Network is a threat - becomes widespread among the younger population, it is certain that the children of today will become the men and women of tomorrow who have been unable to get involved in the development of these areas, becoming an obstacle for them and causing the disappearance of biodiversity in these areas. In the future it is essential to have a generation of people aware of the environment and proud to live in an area in the Natura 2000 Network, which will undoubtedly be a vector for the transmission of the benefits and advantages of these protected areas.

* GEDERUL. 2008. “Management and Economic Assessment of Natural Protected Areas and the Natura 2000 Network in Extremadura"

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