North Sea Natura 2000
Natura 2000 is a network of nature protection areas initiated by the European Commission which contain flora and fauna that are important due to their international significance to nature and biodiversity. The EU member states had to incorporate Natura 2000 in their own nature legislation. In the Netherlands, this is regulated in the Dutch Nature Conservancy Act of 1998.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality leads the North Sea Natura 2000 project. To that end, the Ministry works together with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, various pressure groups and academic institutions.
Natura 2000 - why was it necessary?
Biodiversity (the variety of species) has been in sharp decline in Europe for many years. Sustainable protection of flora and fauna is much needed. Plants and animals alike are uninterested in national borders, so it is important to organise nature protection at European level. That joint approach may help prevent nature in Europe and in the Netherlands from becoming increasingly uniform.
Initially, the Netherlands registered 162 terrestrial areas for the cross-border Natura 2000 network. Over the years, seven areas on the North Sea were added to these: The Voordelta, North Sea Coastal Zone, Raan Flats, Dogger Bank, Cleaver Bank, Frisian Front and Brown Bank (see also under 'Protected areas').
From designation to management plan
Following registration with the EU, the selected areas are placed on the list of protected areas. That means that they are immediately given protected status under the Habitats Directive. Then the minister responsible for nature adopted a designation decree for each individual Natura 2000 area.
A designation decree lists the targets for the habitat types and animal species for which the area was chosen and specifies the limits of the area. The designation goes hand in hand with a consultation procedure.
After a Natura 2000 area has definitively been designated, the appropriate authority (either the provincial executive or the government) drafts a management plan (see also under 'Management'). Many parties are involved in that process, including municipal authorities, social organisations and economic sectors. The protective effect of Natura 2000 does, after all, depend on stopping or reducing disturbance of species and habitats by human activities.
The Natura 2000 system does, in that way, differentiate between recognised, non-disruptive 'existing use' and use that is disruptive but for which a licence may be granted under specific conditions. The result of this generally complex process of research, coordination and negotiation is ultimately worked into the management plan.
There is a management plan for the North Sea Coastal Zone, Raan Flats and Voordelta. Views have been submitted in relation to the draft management plans for the Frisian Front, Dogger Bank and Cleaver Bank, and the management plan for the Brown Bank is still at the preparatory stag.