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Supporting biodiversity protection through Interreg

Currently, the Interreg programme is in its fifth cycle focusing on cross-border cooperation in Europe and has proven to be an effective mechanism in supporting nature in the EU. The support of such cooperations, focusing on areas comprising Natura 2000, as well as UNESCO World Heritage is vital in the protection of Europe´s nature.

Interreg: focus on nature

Interreg funding is available for the transboundary protection and restoration of biodiversity and soil, as well as the promotion of ecosystems services. The success stories from Natura 2000 in retaining Europe’s biodiversity would not be possible without Interreg’s contributions. Many Interreg projects, like BEECH POWER, are multidisciplinary in nature. The project focuses on empowering UNESCO World Heritage Beech Forest communities. At the level of individual components and the larger protected areas in which they are embedded, management effectiveness varies significantly, largely due to different levels of available financial and human resources. Many of these component parts and their buffer zones are also part of the Natura 2000 network. Through a cross-border and cross-sectoral exchange of knowledge and practices enabled by Interreg, BEECH POWER aims to enhance the integrity of the entire World Heritage site ‘Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe’.

Linking Natura 2000 and UNESCO Natural World Heritage

Natura 2000 sites can naturally be found on cross-border areas within the EU. That presents ample opportunity for transnational cooperation. Interreg’s strong focus on transnational cooperation compliments such conditions of Natura 2000 very well. It facilitates the cross-border cooperation that is crucial in preserving natural, socio-economic and cultural values. The Habitats Directive approaches sustainable development in a holistic manner, not excluding socio-economic activities from Natura 2000 sites. It aims to achieve a harmonisation between such socio-economic activities and the protection of valuable species and habitats.

Interreg projects have done exactly this. For instance, BEECH POWER aims to improve the management quality and effectiveness of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, in order to safeguard the ecosystem integrity of the site and the Natura 2000 sites within them as well. These activities will not just focus on the scientific elements of nature conservation but also have added socio-economic benefits.

For instance, new capacities have been created by an elevation of areas to World Heritage status within protected areas in Austria, Croatia and Slovenia. Communities around the beech forest areas targeted by BEECH POWER will benefit through further employment opportunities that will take advantage of the new opportunities for local and transitional cooperation created by this project.

Nature knows no boundaries. This emphasises the role that transnational cooperation facilitated by Interreg has already achieved success in promoting the coherence of the Natura 2000 sites, encouraging species conservation across frontiers.

BEECH POWER’s role in achieving Interreg objectives

BEECH POWER focuses on the conservation of beech forest ecosystems across Europe. The project draws experience from partners across multiple sectors, including the Slovenian Forest Service and Nationalpark Kalkalpen. These two project partners manage numerous Natura 2000 sites in Slovenia and Austria respectively. The Nationalpark Kalkalpen also plays a vital role in integrating the socio-economic dimension into the project’s objectives and Natura 2000 management. It has connections with the wider community through partner schools, tourism organisations, and National Park partners, including restaurants, producers and farmers.

These wide-ranging connections allow for a greater consideration of the socio-economic impacts of Natura 2000 and protected area management. In addition to the expertise of the two aforementioned organisations, partners from academia, the state, local administration and the non-governmental sector also contribute their knowledge to enhance the livelihoods of local communities through biodiversity conservation and the improvement of protected area management, World Heritage Beech Forest component management and Natura 2000 site management.

Lasting impacts

Currently, Interreg helps enhance the effectiveness of the Natura 2000 network. Despite the many good practices originating from Interreg projects, they are sometimes not well-known outside the Interreg community.

BEECH POWER aims to achieve similar success in its work to preserve the values of an undisturbed and functional primeval or ancient Beech Forest ecosystem. One of the major planned outputs is the development of the Common code of best practice for World Heritage beech forest management. This will support local administrations and public authorities in their daily work managing World Heritage site component parts. Furthermore, this encourages transnational learning between different stakeholders that would not be possible on a national level. Rooting the results within the framework of the ‘Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe’ helps make sure that the effects of this project are felt long after its official end date.