New study by WWF: Moving nature protection from paper to the ground

Posted on 09 February 2017

Over half of Europe’s natural areas are only protected on paper
Brussels - Over half of Europe’s natural areas are only protected on paper due to widespread delays and defaults across member states, according to a new report by WWF. The study also shows clear benefits for threatened species and local economies where effective measures have been taken by both the European Commission and national authorities.
The European Commission recently confirmed that the EU Birds and Habitats Directives were Europe’s strongest conservation legislation and committed to further improve their effectiveness. WWF’s new report “Preventing paper parks: How to make the EU nature laws work” offers a good overview of the main problems on the ground and effective solutions to put them right. Increased marine protected areas, effective measures and plans for all natural sites, increased investments and better monitoring and enforcement of legal obligations are identified as the right responses to ensure Europe’s nature is effectively protected and restored.
“Europe has some of the strongest nature laws in the world, but nevertheless we are losing species and habitats due to illegal industrial developments every day. Protection on paper is meaningless if it’s not backed up by effective management and adequate funding on the ground. This report is an eye-opener on what the EU Institutions and national authorities need to do urgently to halt the loss of nature and move towards a much needed sustainable use of our natural resources.” said Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF European Policy Office.

As the report shows, unique natural sites like wetlands, pristine mountains and rivers, and marine areas are threatened by legal loopholes, lack of adequate environmental impact assessments and inexistent or inappropriate management plans. These leave the door open to large ski resort developments threatening the survival of brown bears in Pirin National Park (Bulgaria), illegal hydropower plans in the Ţarcu Mountains (Romania) and along the Yantra river (Bulgaria). Poland has approved plans to triple logging in the Białowieża Natura 2000 and UNESCO site.
On the other hand, the report also presents good practices that are already put in place in many protected areas with significant benefits for wildlife, local people and their economies. Thanks to the large-scale restoration of degraded habitats, the aquatic warbler, Europe’s rarest migratory songbird, is recovering in Poland. Strong cooperation between local authorities and the private sector has, for example, transformed the Austrian Tiroler Lechtal into a symbol of local pride and nature tourist destination.
The public and political success of the Nature Alert campaign run by WWF and environmental NGOs demonstrated that nature protection should be at the heart of the European Union. Working with nature has immediate tangible benefits for people and their economies and it must be the driving force of the future transformation of our farming, energy and transport sectors.

What are the sites of concern in Central and Eastern Europe?

The Pirin National Park in Bulgaria, a UNESCO World Heritage and Natura 2000 site, boasts exceptional biodiversity. But a new draft management plan proposes a tenfold increase of ski areas in the Park’s territory. No appropriate assessment has been carried out on the impacts this plan may have on the natural values of Pirin. In addition, existing illegal developments within the site could be legalized.
Białowieża is the best preserved old-growth forest of the northern temperate zone in Europe and is home to the largest bison population. In March 2016, Poland c– going back on a 2012 agreement to limit logging to save the most valuable species and habitats, while enabling small-scale felling to provide wood for local people. Seven NGOs – including WWF – filed a complaint with the European Commission, which responded by launching a formal infringement procedure in June 2016.
Rivers in the Țarcu Mountains and other Natura 2000 sites in Romania are threatened by hydropower developments, in breach of the Habitats Directive – highlighting widespread management failings in the country. Around half of Romania’s Natura 2000 sites do not have approved management plans, and procedures for obtaining permits to develop activities within the sites are not transparent. There is considerable pressure on site managers – often NGOs – to accept new infrastructure projects such as hydropower plants.
Hydropower has had well-documented negative impacts on rivers in Bulgaria, including reduced water flows, migration barriers, disruption of sediment balance and destruction of riparian habitats. The number of hydropower plants could double if all projects in planning go ahead. While Bulgaria has introduced a ban on new hydropower plants in Natura 2000 sites, too many loopholes exist and the legislation is not properly implemented, putting precious river-related species and habitats like those of the River Yantra at risk.
What does it need to ensure “Full and Effective Implementation” of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives? WWF urges Member States and the European Commission to step up their efforts by addressing the following priorities:
  • Complete the designation of marine Natura 2000 sites;
  • Develop conservation measures and management plans for all Natura 2000 sites
  • Increase investment in Natura 2000; and
  • Strengthen enforcement across Europe.
For more information:
- Stefania Campogianni, Senior Media and Communications Officer, WWF European Policy Office,, +32 499 53 97 36
- Konstantin Ivanov, WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme,, +359 884 514 636