Europe needs healthy ecosystems that benefit biodiversity and people and are resilient to climate change.
In October 2020, European Union Member States committed to legally protecting a minimum of 30% of the European Union’s land and sea area and to strictly protect at least a third of these protected areas. This is expected to contribute to the European Green Deal’s goal of preserving and restoring Europe’s natural capital and taking a leading role in the Post-2020 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Framework.
One of the cornerstones of this strategy is to develop a coherent Trans-European Nature Network (TEN-N) to function as a connected system through ecological corridors with natural and semi-natural areas, which, if appropriately managed, can deliver a wide range of benefits for biodiversity and people.
To help the European Union and its Member States to realize their ambitious strategy for protected areas, the European Union Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Programme has funded a new project called NaturaConnect. The Project brings together experts from 22 partner institutions*, jointly coordinated by the International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA), the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), and Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU).
Working closely with protected area managers, conservation organizations, and other stakeholders, the project team will conduct research, engagement, and dissemination activities across Europe to identify the best areas to protect and connect to preserve biodiversity and adapt to climate change. The team will also work with national and sub-national nature conservation agencies and other stakeholders within six case studies to test and refine their approaches and inform local ongoing conservation efforts. One such example is the Carpathian-Danube region, where NaturaConnect will evaluate the connectivity design and implementation challenges in a transboundary area encompassing ten different European Union countries.
“By working with key decision makers, policy experts, and other important stakeholders, NaturaConnect will create a strategic plan for realizing an ecologically representative, well-connected network of conserved areas that contribute to achieving the objectives of the European Union Biodiversity Strategy to 2030,” notes project coordinator Piero Visconti, who leads the Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group in the IIASA Biodiversity and Natural Resources Programme.
“Designing a truly coherent nature protection network is a major scientific challenge since it requires not only predicting where and how biodiversity may be threatened in the future but also finding ways of reconnecting natural areas through highly modified landscapes,” adds deputy coordinator from iDiv and MLU, Néstor Fernández.
The project aims to:
- Support planning authorities, by collecting and making accessible the best available data and tools to assess biodiversity and the benefits to people.
- Provide input to planning authorities into the design of an effective Trans-European Nature Network by anticipating future developments in climate and land use conditions that may limit or enable the development of such a network.
- Identify alternative configurations of protected areas and corridors based on preferences related to policy targets.
- Identify opportunities and challenges to the implementation of the network, mechanisms, and instruments of implementation, particularly financial instruments and ways to mitigate barriers through extensive dialogue with practitioners, capacity building, and decision support.
- Showcase applications of the protected area network design through case studies.
The European Commission counts on the project results to support Member States in identifying priorities for Protected Area designations.
”Establishing a truly coherent trans-European nature network with both Natura 2000 and nationally protected areas by 2030 is one the key priorities in the new EU Biodiversity Strategy. As a first step towards achieving this ambitious target, EU Member States are invited to submit by the end of 2022 their commitments for additional protected areas and for improving management effectiveness. For supporting this process, we firmly count on the expertise in the NaturaConnect project,” notes Frank Vassen, Policy Officer at the European Commission Directorate General for the Environment.
“We are excited to embark on this project and to develop and create knowledge, tools, and capacity building programs with our partners to support the European Commission, European Union Member States, and conservation practitioners in realizing the vision of TEN-N,” Visconti concludes.