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Nature Conservation - with a look to the future

Topic report 24/96

European Topic Centre on Nature Conservation


This report was prepared under the supervision of Ulla Pinborg, Project Manager,
European Environment Agency

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This is the first annual summary report on work performed by the European Topic Centre on Nature Conservation (ETC/NC), which was appointed in December 1994 by the European Environment Agency’s Management Board to carry out specific tasks identified in the Agency’s Work Programme.

The report summarises the main findings in 1995 and points to future work needed. The ETC/NC performed its tasks under 3 project headings :

  • MN1 Nature Protection - general approach to assessment
  • MN2 State and trends of biodiversity in Europe
  • MN3 Support to the NATURA 2000 Network

The tasks carried out concerned :

  • Technical support to the EU Commission in handling incoming data from Member States on sites for the NATURA 2000 Network
  • Identification of almost 200 datasources on nature
  • The first work on a frame for a future European Information System on Nature - EUNIS - with the aim to suit both the Commissions’ NATURA 2000 information needs and the Agency’s wider needs.
  • Initiation of production of a digitised map on ecological regions in Europe
  • Studies on aspects and methodologies for assessing biodiversity , including using species as indicators and criteria for identification of ecological corridors and bufferzones
  • Status reports on the CORINE Habitat Classification and the CORINE Biotope sites databases


Table of contents




General Results of Work Done in 1995

Projects Performed in 1995

Project NM0: Biogeographic expertise contribution
Project MN1: General Approach to nature conservation
Project MN2: State and trends of biodiversity in Europe
Project MN3: Support to NATURA 2000 Network


Looking to the Future


The Multiannual Work Programme of the European Environment Agency 1994-1999 indicated work on nature to be performed as part of media oriented monitoring and assessment of state and trends of the environment, placing the work in the EEA Monitoring and Database Group.

Nature is a complex subject and can be treated from many aspects. In the first EEA Multiannual Work Programme nature was treated under 3 closely related headings :

  • MN1 Nature Protection - general approach to assessment
  • MN2 State and trends of biodiversity in Europe
  • MN3 Support to the NATURA 2000 Network

To this was added :

  • MN0 Biogeographic expertise contribution

 This means, that the work had several, but coordinated directions :

  • support to the Commission on information related to legal requirements, including handling incoming data from Member States on Habitat Directive sites for the NATURA 2000 Network
  • initiation of work concerning Europe’s nature in a broader sense to provide a fuller picture for future policy development and assessment and to inform the public


In 1995 all work under the topic heading Nature of the EEA Work Programme was performed by the European Topic Centre for Nature Conservation, ETC/NC, except for the development of the software for NATURA 2000.

Formally ETC/NC is a project under EEA and work in ETC/NC is part of the EEA work, making the Topic Centre a virtual extension of EEA. The work is performed by a consortium, formed in 1994 from two separate groups of institutions.

The consortium has a variety of partner types, ranging from public science and research institutions to internationally concerned organisations with NGO affiliations or partners from national administrative bodies. The partners were not selected to function as national representatives, but as partners working on a specific project at a level of interest for Europe, each contributing to the work from a definite background of expertise. Not all EEA member countries are included in the consortium, but all will work with ETC/NC through their National Reference Centres or other Main Component Element institutions.

ETC/NC is lead by the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris and is also supported financially by the French Ministry of the Environment. The leader of the ETC/NC is Juan Manuel de Benito, and the Central Team of 6 is situated at the museum. Other partners also contribute to the project in different ways.

The ETC/NC has a Management Committee including all partners, chaired by Claus Stuffmann (formerly head of the Nature Conservation Unit of DG XI). Since the Management Committee is large, ETC/NC has also established a Steering Committee with 7 partners taking turns to assist the central team closely and quickly. The Management Committee met twice in 1995. The Steering Committee began to function in 1996.

 The consortium in 1995 consisted of 15 partners :

  1. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN), Paris (France)
  2. Bundesamt für Naturschutz (BfN), Bonn (Germany)
  3. National Environmental Research Institute (NERI), Rønde (Denmark)
  4. Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (MNCN), Madrid (Spain)
  5. Direccion General de Conservacion de la Natureza, Madrid (Spain)
  6. Finnish Environment Agency (FEA), Helsinki (Finland)
  7. Greek Biotope/Wetland Centre (EKBY), Thermi (Greece)
  8. Agenzia Nazional per l’Ambiente (ANPA), Rome (Italy)
  9. Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), Trondheim (Norway)
  10. European Centre for Nature Conservation (ECNC), Tilburg, (The Netherlands)
  11. National Institute for Nature Conservation , Lisboa (Portugal)
  12. Higher Institute for Statistics and Information Management (ISEGI-UNL), Lisboa (Portugal)
  13. Institute for Terrestrial Ecology (ITE), Monks Wood (United Kingdom)
  14. Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Peterborough (United Kingdom)
  15. Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), Stockholm (Sweden)

Several of the partners are members of the Connect network, and through ECNC there are close links to World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC).

The ETC/NC has represented EEA in meetings in the Scientific Experts Group of the Habitat Directive and in several of Council of Europe meetings.


General results of work done in 1995

The first year of work was used for exploration of possibilities and links and drawing the first lines, but also for laying the foundation for supporting the Commission.

 The EEA Annual Work Programme for 1995 stated, that the tasks for 1995 should concern :

  • definition of a general approach
  • assessment of information needs and data availability
  • assessment of state and trends of biodiversity
  • work on identification of regions, corridors and buffer zones in support of the NATURA 2000 Network
  • provision of information and tools to support the implementation of the Habitats and Birds Directives (NATURA 2000 tasks)

The results were :

  • formation and setting up of the European Topic Centre for Nature Conservation (ETC/NC) on the basis of a consortium
  • bringing together and raising the understanding of the need for collaboration between a significant number of institutions and experts, both in the consortium and in several workshops on a number of themes
  • participation through this in EIONET (European Information and Observation Network )
  • reports, laying the foundation for future work
  • initiation of direct collaboration with the Commission (DG XI Nature Protection Unit) on data concerning NATURA 2000

The actual tasks were performed as projects under a series of sub-contracts with partners from the consortium. Several were performed by the Central Team. The tasks were of different types:

  • identification of information problems
  • surveys of existing sources of information
  • surveys and recommendations on definitions and terminology
  • development of tools (software, maps, assessment or monitoring methodologies)
  • collection of information on assessment of biodiversity

The reports prepared under the tasks summarise the work done and make proposals or recommendations for further work. Four of the reports will be generally published, while the rest were working documents, mostly preparing the work to be carried out in 1996.

The 1995 Work Programme was ambitious, and since 1995 was the first working year for the ETC/NC and its partners, getting the wheels running at full speed for all projects was no simple task. This meant, that especially during the last period of the year work was performed under some stress, but it also meant, that the possibilities for in depth consultation or review among partners or in a scientific community as well as for interlinking and mutual exploitation of findings from individual projects were limited.

A large amount of sound work was done in 1995. Although as would be expected, not all work was of the same quality, the quality improved over the year, and by the end of the year there was a good foundation on which to build further work. But there also was a need for consolidation of several parts of the work in the light of the findings both in and among individual tasks.

Apart from getting the organisation started and working, the largest problem for all partners concerned securing both the relevant contacts in Member States and getting responses to questionnaires. Among the lessons learned were the need for better and more coordinated work concerning involvement of Member States or organisations as well as for having broader time-schedules and more time to deliberate.

Another type of problem concerned getting overviews and contacts to the many initiatives of importance in development of terminologies and indicators.

Projects performed in 1995

Project NM0: Biogeographic expertise contribution

Task leader : Central Team

Objective :
To coordinate and use biogeographical expertise from consortium partners in all nature projects and to prepare a preliminary assessment of the state and trends of flora, fauna and habitats in the biogeographical regions.

Results :
With assistance from consortium partners a first compilation was done of information on species and habitats in the biogeographic regions to be used for MN2.1 and MN2.2 as well as for the NATURA 2000 evaluation and state and trend analysis of the environment in Europe.

Delivered :

  • By Central Team and members of the consortium: a compilation document with a synthesis. (working document)

Project MN1: General Approach to nature conservation

MN1.1 General Approach

Task leader: Central Team

To define a general approach for the determination of the information needs of nature protection policies and measures in Europe, taking into account existing relevant information

The approach was based on the EEA Annual Work Programme for 1995 and the first Multiannual Work Programme 1994 - 1999. The concept was developed before the results of the work done under the parallel 1995 sub-contracts could be taken into account and before possible links to other topics were developed. The contents of the report was thus preliminary, mainly focused on nature conservation and assistance to the NATURA 2000 work. The concept has to be developed further on the basis of the findings from other projects and of the general progress of concepts and comments especially from EIONET members, but it has most of all to be developed as a wider frame for work on nature.

As a result of the general approach project a workshop was scheduled for May 1996 with involvement of the Scientific Committee and relevant parts of the EIONET.


  • Report by Central Team : Biodiversity and Nature Conservation: A European General Approach. (working document)

MN1.2 Survey of existing databases

MN1.3 Proposal for further data collection and tools

Projects MN1.2 and MN1.3 were closely connected, both dealing with sources of information on nature.

Task leader: MNHN (with collaboration from WCMC)

To make an inventory and to describe existing sources of information on species, habitats and sites of relevance for use in assessment of biodiversity in Europe and for work with NATURA 2000. The inventory should identify important databases or data collections, focusing on national or wide international initiatives. The focus of the description should be on existence of data on species and habitats of special interest for the NATURA 2000 work. Information should be collected with the prospect of being used in a general EEA/CDS (Catalogue of Data Sources).

Questionnaires were sent to all Member States, and though not all countries responded, more than 200 data sources were identified. Some of the major international data sources were also included. The character of the responses indicated, that there exists an even wider range of important data sources, connected with governmental research institutes, NGO’s or university research, but that these were not all identified in the first survey. There was also seen a variation in the concept of databases (small, single purpose or large, multipurpose).

The analysis showed not surprisingly, that data exist mostly for larger animals such as game or birds or for organisms considered threatened (Redlist species). This may have a self-perpetuating effect on considerations of development of Redlists. Information on common species apart from game and birds and on other species groups exists with distribution data for many species, but abundance data are scarce. For all groups ecologcial functionality information is scarce. The results gained can be exploited with care and should be extended.

Datasource descriptions were entered in an Access database, developed as an input and very limited query tool for the occasion, since no general EEA/CDS tool existed. The questions asked in this first initiative were not developed for EEA/CDS use directly, but some CDS aspects were included. Informations were of a general nature for institutions, with possibilities for enumeration of a large number of species, though for each only very few parameters.

Collaboration was initiated with ETC/CDS, and the general EEA/CDS should become the tool also for nature in the future.


  • Sophie Condé, Marc Roekaerts, Marie Paule Vignault, MNHN: Survey of Existing Databases on Species, Habitats and Sites
  • Sophie Condé, Marc Roekaerts, Marie Paule Vignault, MNHN: Analysis of Existing Data Sources and Proposal for the Future (1. and 2. to be published in a single volume)

Project MN2 : State and trends of biodiversity in Europe

Projects MN2.1 and MN2.2 were very closely connected and should be seen as a whole.

MN2.1 Conceptual framework for biodiversity assessment/monitoring

Task leader: ECNC

To set up a methodology for assessment/monitoring of biodiversity in Europe and for assessing its current state and trends. The methodology should be applicable in all ecological regions in order to serve as a background tool for evaluation of NATURA 2000 data as well as for development of reports on Europe’s environment. The information collected should be used in the setting up of a common system of information on nature, considering use of biodiversity indicators and needs for data.

The final report should incorporate the results of the pilot studies mentioned under MN2.2.

Problems with progress in some pilot studies and with time problems in acquisition of a basic map of potential vegetation lead to re-scheduling of the work during the year. Focus was of necessity put on use of existing information and on consultations. Based on a workshop in 1995, outlines of a conceptual frame were developed including assessment criteria such as species richness, abundance, habitat representativeness etc.

These concepts are mostly based on biodiversity work done outside Europe and at larger scales .They still have to be developed further and must take into account the specific conditions in Europe (more human influence over a long time, on-going dynamism, patchyness etc.). In the report the concept was best developed for hot-spot analysis and species or habitat richness as indicators, but also other concepts must be considered. Hot-spots only show one aspect of biodiversity, not the typical or representative biodiversity. Considerations have to be taken of pilot studies and results from MN2.3 on nature indicators and 2.6 on site monitoring methodologies. A workshop based on scientific inputs was foreseen for 1996.


  • Workshop ( 19-20.4.1995, Wageningen)
  • Report by Dirk Wascher, Ben Delbaere (ECNC) and Gery Fry (NINA): Biodiversity Assessment / Monitoring Methodology (working document)


MN2.2a General conception of a digitised biogeographic map of ecological regions

Task leader: ISEGI

Preparation of a digitised Pan-European map of ecological regions, based on climate, topography and geobotanical data. For the Habitats Directive the Commission had an agreed map produced to indicate very large biogeographic regions of the European Union as an overview tool for NATURA 2000 work. This map has limited possibilities for factual analysis and for broader ecological use.

Therefore an additional digitised map with more factual information and delineations of more directly based ecological regions was initiated, containing hierarchic legends and explanations. To be finalized in 1996.

Input from pilot studies in biogeographic regions were to be used for testing the delineations of ecological regions.

The map of ecological regions will be of importance for the Landcover work and for the general biodiversity work.

The concept of the map was defined, software developed and demonstration versions developed to be used by pilot studies. Problems with progress in some pilot studies and in acquisition of the basic map of potential vegetation for subsequent digitalisation lead to some re-scheduling of the map work during the year.

Delivered :

  • Report by Marco Painho, ISEGI :
  • Digital Map of European Ecological Regions (DMEER) : Its application to Pilot Studies. (working document)
  • Digitised demonstration version of the map for use in pilot studies and assistance to pilot study leaders requesting help by Marco Painho, ISEGI


MN2.2b Regional pilot studies

Task leader: ECNC

Contribution to identification and description of ecological regions in Europe (see MN2.2a) and assistance to validation of a proposed biodiversity assessment/ monitoring methodology (see MN2.1)

The work was to be based both on results from consultations with experts and on pilot studies undertaken in regions : West-Atlantic, North-Atlantic, Boreal, Baltic, Continental, Pyrenean, West Mediterranean, East Mediterranean, Alpine, Macaronesian. The pilot studies were to be managed by partners of the consortium.

To be continued in 1996.

After a workshop and development of guidelines a number of pilot studies were initiated in order to cover all regions. Due to the problems mentioned also under MN2.2a with progress in pilot studies a re-scheduling of the work was done.

The conclusions and recommendations from the 1995 work stressed the need to have information from each region before the final work can be done, because the habitats of importance for biodiversity differ so widely between regions. The conclusions also pointed to the problems of representativeness of study areas, but foresaw outlines of possible biodiversity indicators to emerge from the work. To continue in 1996.


  • Workshop and guidelines for pilot studies (19-20.4.1995, Wageningen)
  • Report by Dirk Wascher, ECNC: Pilot Studies for the Assessment of State and Trends of Europes’s Biodiversity (working document)

MN2.3 Survey of use of indicators

Task leader: NERI

To deliver a critical evaluation of the indicator-concept and a synopsis of indicator species and other parameters used for monitoring state and change in species, habitats and environment in European countries.

Questionnaries were sent to all member countries and information was likewise sought through contacts to major international initiatives on development of indicators for species , habitats or sites (Eurostat, OECD, Nordic Council of Ministers). As with other projects the results of the questionnaires came late and information was of very different quality. Some of the most relevant activities were not yet in a final stage and results could not be used fully.

The report contained a discussion of problems of the indicator concept, focused mostly on indicators based directly of occurrence of species, while other types of nature indicators were omitted. A suggestion of species groups for further work was given, but no specific indicators were proposed.

The next phases of work must connect to further developments in international initiatives, but also to the various initiatives within EEA in different topics, among others integrated assessment, landcover and development of a landscape description, and it must be developed beyond close species relations. The work must be based on further reviews and documentation of ongoing initiatives, and a workshop based on scientific input was suggested in order to draw up outlines of possible nature indicators, possibly for 1996.

Delivered :

  • Report by Michael Stoltze and Peter Wind, NERI : Nature Indicators Survey (working document)


MN2.4 Survey of activities in species nomenclature

Task leader: MNCN

To design a methodology for building a flexible system to be incorporated as a common species reference list for use in an information system on nature, among others related to future work with NATURA 2000. The final proposals should be coordinated with existing projects on consistency of terminology as well as with the development of the environmental thesaurus (ETC/CDS).

Species reference lists are the basic tools for assessment of species biodiversity and for creating simple terminological compatibility between data sources.

A number of major initiatives in creating harmonised terminology for organisms were identified and described. Among these were the Species 2000 programme of IUBS (International Union of Biological Sciences) as an umbrella initiative as well as initiatives for developing standard guidelines and software or for directly developing termlists.

Several major problems were identified : need for standard guidelines for term formats (suggestions made, but not discussed), responsibility for updating, choice of basic taxonomic and hierarchic concepts.

The work in 1995 did not result in a synthesis and no connection was made to the environmental thesaurus work, which is not foreseen to include many species, but higher groupings of species (orders, families, special species). In 1996 several bodies have indicated continued initiatives concerning species terminology.

Coordination to Commission projects funded under Research and Development and similar programmes is vital as is connection to EEA work on standard formatting for transmission of data.

Delivered :

  • Preliminary report consisting of 4 parts by Pere Alberch, Miguel A.Alonso-Zarazaga and A.Gacia-Valdecasas, MNCN: Species Nomenclature Survey (working document)

MN2.5 Finalize and exploit CORINE habitat classification

Task leader: ITE

With a view to establish a Habitat-type reference list for use in a nature information system previous work done with the CORINE and Palaearctic Habitatclassification should be described and proposals given for better operationality/user friendliness of the habitat database

PHYSIS, in particular to permit relations to the Habitat-type reference list of the NATURA 2000 work and to the CORINE Biotopes Database. It should also permit further development and improvement of the habitat classification and give a proposal for links to other sectorial classifications (soils, forest, natural vegetation, landcover) and for possibilities to generalise type descriptions (parametrisation) using Nordic Council of Ministers project experiences.

Development and present state of the CORINE and Palaearctic Habitat Classification , its changes and role was described as were the development of the habitat list in Annex of the Habitat Directive. Concrete detailed comparisons of changes in hierarchies and terminologies were made, as well as an analysis of the occurrence of each habitattype in NUTS regions (using the HABNUTS database).

This information can be used as part of the assesment of biodiversity in ecological regions as background for analysis of data for NATURA 2000 and state of the environment reports.

An Access demonstration software was developed based on the Palaearctic Habitat Classification (PHYSIS) and based on ITE Palaearctic Habitat Information System PALHIS. The software provided viewing of titles, texts, codes, hierarchies, links to Annex I types of the Habitat Directive or CORINE Landcover types.

With the ending of the CORINE contracts under the Commission there is a need of a new framework for consolidating the future work on habitat classifications. Four functions have been indicated : validation and acceptance of typology, monitoring of changes, improvement of utility through parametrisation and authorship of descriptions.

Several international and national not fully coordinated initiatives exist, and work in 1996 must be related closely to these and to the problems of responsibility for future work. A workshop was already being prepared for 1996 to join existing initiatives in order to adjust the Palaearctic Habitatclassification especially for marine and culturally dependent types and to discuss possible parametrisations.


  • Workshop (5-6.10.1995, Paris)
  • ITE : operational version of the PHYSIS database
  • Report by Dorian Moss and David Roy, ITE: Habitat Classification (to be published)

MN2.6 Develop a standardised methodology for monitoring sites of European importance

Task leader: NERI

To make a survey of existing programmes and methods for monitoring biodiversity in sites and propose a standardised methodology for permanent monitoring of sites and/or habitats of European importance, especially in relation to the NATURA 2000 work. The methodology should be applicable in all ecological regions and be developed with a view to supply reference data on the sites and being part of an integrated monitoring of sites, taking into account similar approaches such as the EU forest site monitoring. The work should be done in consultation with the partners responsible for biogeographic activities under other sub-contracts.

A questionnaire (part of questionnaire for MN2.3) was sent to all Member States, and the same problems as for MN2.3 in getting responses in time and of differing quality was experienced, changing the working possibilities. 12 Member States answered, showing that most Member States carry out some type of nature monitoring, but to a very varying degree and with very varying methods. Most initiatives were very recent. The species groups and habitats or site types included vary, but some core species groups are widely monitoried (birds, mammals). Most terrestrial groups monitored are game, migratory or threatened species, while aquatic species more often are related to fishery or species indicative of general water quality. General biodiversity was not monitored.

An overall proposal for principles for NATURA 2000 site monitoring was developed, relating to use of indicators from the Habitat Directive annexes and to the need for management, but no specific methodology including datasheets was developed at this stage.

Further discussions must be held with the Commission to define the level of monitoring necessary for NATURA 2000 follow up, according to the Commission needs.

The work is closely connected to the results of several other projects (indicators, habitat classification, maintenance of the CORINE database and of an information system on nature, NATURA 2000 work) and results from these projects must be included, before a final detailed methodology can be agreed. A workshop based on scientific inputs was suggested for 1996.


  • Report by Michael Stoltze and Peter Wind, NERI: Site Monitoring Methodology (working document)

MN2.7 Criteria for identification of ecological corridors and buffer zones

Task leader: ECNC

To deliver criteria for identification of ecological corridors and buffer zones in support to national activities implementing the NATURA 2000 Network.

The NATURA 2000 sites are foreseen to be connected into a functional network encompassing the sites and where necessary with shielding buffer zones and interconnecting ecological corridors.

On the basis of detailed reports from initiatives in a number of European countries and after holding a workshop in 1995, definitions and general concepts for buffer zones and ecological corridors were developed, with special relation to use in the context of NATURA 2000 work. The results have the form of reflections about different types of problems, procedures and planning challenges (type of site, types of species, time scale, nature conservation and planning laws and systems) to be used when identifying, planning and designating corridors and bufferzones.

No development of a specific methodology for use in the field was foreseen. A discussion must be held with the Commission on the level of specific interest for further work (overall guidelines, overview of points to consider) of relevance for the NATURA 2000 Network.


  • Workshop (2-3.11.1995, Madrid)
  • Report by R.H.G Jongman and A.Y.Troumbis, ECNC: The Wider Landscape for Nature Conservation : ecological corridors and buffer zones. (to be published)

Project MN3 : Support to NATURA 2000 Network

MN3.1 Maintain Corine Biotopes database

Task leader: ITE

To analyse current status and use of the CORINE Biotopes data base in Member States. To give a historic overview of the database use for the Commission, Member States and other bodies. Update and maintain the existing database with data collected with EC funding. Draft a new approach with common criteria for future use of the CORINE Biotopes database as a part of a information system on nature.

The history and use of the CORINE Biotopes database was summed up. On the basis of an enquiry to Member States and a workshop an overview was given on data collection procedures and site selection criteria used in Member States. The database was described in detail.

A solution was found for incorporation of most relevant information in the NATURA 2000 software of CORINE Biotopes information, creating a historical layer for relevant sites.

An analysis was made of the number of biotope sites for each Habitats Directive Annex I habitat type for each Member State.

A number of reflections was given for use in an information system on nature, concerning the merits of basing it on concrete site information and synoptic data for comprehensive geographical overviews. A recommendation was made for an open objective record, as complete as possible, of presence and status of species and habitats across Europe to be used both for policy-related objectives and for general survey of states and trends of nature. This could be developed from the NATURA 2000 software as an enlargement. Reflections were also made on problems of distinction between NATURA 2000 site data and other site data and reference information, on the need for modular implementation, strict updating policy, documentation of changes.

The results are closely connected to MN3.3. Even with a spread of 10 years in the date of data the present CORINE Biotopes information is the only existing European collection of data on sites, following the same procedure for collection and storing. It is important as a basis for an EEA information system on nature as a basic site oriented geographically widespread information, but problems of maintenance and openness must be discussed further.

Delivered :

  • Workshop (5-6.10.1995, Paris)
  • Report by Dorian Moss, Cynthia Davies and David Roy, ITE: Maintenance and Review of the CORINE Biotopes Sites Database. (to be published)

MN3.2 Initiate creation of NATURA 2000 Network database

Task leader: Central Team

To assist the Commission and the software company in the development of the NATURA 2000 software.

Close involvement in development of software through commenting on software.


  • Report by Sophie Condé and Marc Roekaerts: Initiate the Creation of the NATURA 2000 Data Base. (working document)

 MN3.3 Common European wide nature protection database

Task leader: MNHN in collaboration with WCMC

To assess the possibility for integrating relevant information in a common European information system. The system should over time be developed to contain information necessary for assessing state and trends in the functionality and quality of Europe’s nature in relation to socio-economic development, human activities and environmental policies. The project should give a description of main characteristics of a system concerning need for comparability of data (concepts and nomenclatures), compatibility and ability to integrate existing databases and geographical information, taking into account as much as possible from other nature projects under ETC/NC and previous initiatives from CORINE, Council of Europe, WCMC etc.

No EEA decision had been made whether an information system on nature is to be a more or less central- or decentralised system or a combination of both. Therefore the task was to describe general features and problems of an information system.

A framework for a modular information system was described, dealing with species, habitats and sites and with relation to other data such as background data and land cover as building blocks. Emphasis was on NATURA 2000 relations and on use for general purposes for state of the environment reports. Reflections were made on lists of important parameters, the need for terminological and other standards and for quality controls. The concept must be developed further in the light of the findings of other projects. It should be treated at the general workshop foreseen for 1996.

The system should contain CORINE Biotope information.


  • Report by Sophie Condé and Marc Roekaerts, MNHN: Framework of a common European Information System on Nature (working document)


Looking to the future

For 1996 work related to nature conservation was again be centered in ETC/NC. Two more general projects on nature in a broader sense were to be performed by other bodies as a result of open tendering. These projects concerned a survey of development of national biodiversity strategies to follow up on the Convention of Biodiversity and development of a methodology for description of landscapes.

The nature topic must be linked to other topics under consideration under the EEA Work Programme. Such links concern both sources of information, content matter, definitions of key-data sets to be used for simpler or more integrated assessments and for collaboration on terminology especially concerning species and habitats. There are close links to water, soil, landcover, coastal and marine environment, to forests, the CDS and thesaurus, and also to air. The most relevant and pressing links must be agreed and developed.

The need for consolidation of the preliminary or initial work done in 1995 was reflected in the tasks to be performed in 1996 subvention. The tasks foreseen for 1996 centered on :

  • further development of the framework for EEA work on the nature topic
  • distribution of reports from 1995 work and use of comments for finalization of reports and for future work
  • holding a workshop in May 1996 on future work , including considerations on the next State of the Environment report
  • support to the Commission related to NATURA 2000
  • further development of the concept for an information system on Europe’s nature and starting to get access to and use of data
  • establishing links to other relevant EEA topics and to other relevant initiatives
  • continue development of concepts for indicators and site monitoring methodology
  • harmonisation of terminologies

The support to the Commission should include direct concrete work (development of methodology and handling) on the data to be delivered to the Commission from the Member States, but it must also include the beginning of identification and collection of information necessary to deal with the Habitat data, the so called reference information. The Commission needs on monitoring of sites must be established.

The rate of delivery and the problems in dealing with data from Member States will continue for some time to be an unknown factor. Work must therefore be of a flexible nature. Some corrections of the NATURA 2000 software to be foreseen after a period of usage.

The reference information must at one and the same time be seen as the necessary background for treating the Habitat data as to distribution, validity etc. and as the beginnings of a wider and more generally useful system of information on Europe’s nature to be used for assessment of the state and trend of Europe’s nature.

The first view of nature under the EEA Work Programme was much influenced by aspects of classical nature conservation. Nature conservation is a very important aspect of the work for and with nature, but the importance of nature for environment and society is much wider and may sometimes be very different from nature conservation in its narrow sense. Nature both in its pristine and cultivated forms and in all its diversity (species, genetic resources, habitats, ecosystems) forms the biological infrastructure and resources for agriculture, forestry and fishery, at the same time also being the biological part of ecosystems and of the large chemical cycles of the environment (air, water, chemicals). Nature forms the basis for most recreation and for documentation, and patterns, functions and history of habitats are integral parts of landscape perception and function.

Biodiversity is at present the commonly used term for denoting nature in its variety, and conservation and wise and sustainable use of this diversity are main tasks of all work with nature. Because of the importance of securing biodiversity and removing the threats to it and because of the agreement on the global Convention on Biological Diversity in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the term has come to be used very widely. Sometimes even indescriminately and imprecisely, implying all types of work concerning nature. This has also to some extent been visible in the work under the EEA topic nature in the past year and in the phrasing the EEA Work Programme. A similar imprecise use of the term indicator can be seen. Care should be taken in future to indicate more precisely the contents of projects.

In 1996 the framework for the nature topic of the EEA Work Programme should be further developed to ensure that nature will be treated as a broad functional topic of basic socio-economic importance. This means that work must be done on identification of the most crucial functional and political issues concerning the state and trends of Europe’s nature, the use and functionality of nature and the problems associated with a sustainable future use. Many such issues are already indicated both in the Dobris report and in the report "Environment in the European Union 1995" and shall be followed up. There are also several links to other activities in relation to work done by the Commission, which have to be followed up, among others to BIOMAR and MEDWET and the PHARE projects on biotopes.

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