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BirdLife International’s “Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas” well covered by Natura 2000 in Europe, but potential to extend network

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Science for Environment Policy  │  Issue 483  │  23 February 2017

The European Union (EU) Birds Directive is one of the longest-established policy tools in bird conservation in Europe and aims to protect threatened wild, often migratory, bird species which occur naturally in the EU.

Part of this protection involves the designation of key sites as Special Protection Areas. SPAs form part of the Natura 2000 network of protected sites along with Special Areas for Conservation (SACs) for other species and habitats designated under the Habitats Directive. Good implementation and management of Natura 2000 sites is a key part of the EU’s biodiversity strategy and the selection of sites has been a collaborative process between the European Commission (EC) and Member States.

BirdLife International, the world’s largest nature conservation partnership of 120 partners worldwide, has been working since the 1970s to identify and protect over 12,000 places of great significance for the conservation of the world’s birds; they have named these Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). In Europe, 20 criteria were used to identify IBAs of global, European and EU significance and the latter were selected specifically to qualify as SPAs.

The researchers identified a number of studies that supported the effectiveness of the Birds Directive and SPAs and yet others that suggested that current SPAs do not sufficiently cover particular species in the EU. They also acknowledge that in 2014, the EC received a mandate to deliver a ‘fitness check’ of the Birds and Habitats Directives as part of the its Regulatory Fitness and Performance program (REFIT), which is intended to simplify EU law. In light of the fact that international agreements, such as Target 11 of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, also mean that protected areas are due to be expanded, the researchers aimed to identify the best areas to incorporate into an expanded SPA network to increase coverage of species efficiently.

This study analysed the overlap in coverage between land-based SPAs and IBAs and in relation to the distribution of bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian species (since birds have been shown to be effective indicators of wider biodiversity). Information on species distribution was obtained from distribution models for 435 birds (including 181 species on Annex I of the Birds Directive), 179 mammals, 138 reptiles and 85 amphibians.

The models used habitat requirements, expert knowledge and known occurrence of species to produce high-resolution (300 m) maps of each species’ distribution. Species’ distribution could then be compared to the coverage of SPAs and IBAs, for different species groups as well as species in different IUCN Red List categories for threatened species. The researchers also assessed unprotected land that could be added to the SPA network, based on species occurrence and the location of current SPAs and IBAs.

  Click here to access the full study.

SOURCE: EC Environment