2. Data Collection Procedures and Site Selection Criteria Applied in Each Participating Country

Prior to the start of the Biotopes project, data on important nature conservation areas had been collected in a variety of forms in the different Member States, at either national or regional level. These were identified in the 1991 Biotopes report as:

  • national computer-based inventory
  • national inventory on paper
  • regional computer-based inventories
  • regional inventories on paper
  • dispersed and thematic data sources

Several of the pre-existing data sources had already been used in compiling the Biotopes pilot study (Wyatt 1982), and this information, together with the Council of Europe's Register of Biogenetic Reserves and the Inventory of Important Bird Areas in Europe (Osieck and Bruyns 1981) formed the initial basis of the Biotopes database.

In compiling the database the following stages were followed by Biotopes Team members and the project coordinators at ITE:

  1. Preliminary site selection and initial data collection
  2. Collation of data and construction of a preliminary database
  3. Checking data and application of the site selection criteria
  4. Collection of supplementary data, selection of additional sites
  5. Revision and updating of the database
  6. Rechecking selection criteria
  7. Validation of data (biologically and geographically)
  8. Finalisation of database

Although the broad principles for site selection had been agreed at the first methodological meetings of the Biotopes Team and were given in the first (1986) edition of the CORINE Biotopes Manual, more precisely applicable criteria for individual species and habitat types as described above were not developed until autumn 1987, and these were defined in the 1988 edition of the CORINE Biotopes Manual. The analysis of the database content will reflect to what extent the current database shows the site selection criteria which have been applied, either in advance of data compilation or in retrospect. Some of the differences which are apparent between Member States depend on the extent of pre-existing data and the timing of data compilation in relation to the development of the specific site selection criteria. While the ideal would be a single run through steps 1 to 8 above, some Member States with existing databases began at stage 3, while others who worked gradually, effectively passed through stages 4 to 7 several times.

The following country-by-country account includes details of the authorities making the site selection, their sources and procedures used.

2.1. Germany

Data compilation has been the responsibility of the Bundesamt für Naturschutz (BfN), Bonn, since 1985. Source data on sites were held by the competent nature conservation organisations at the regional level, since site conservation is the responsibility of the governments of each Land, while the protection of species is the responsibility of the federal agency BfN.

Each Land had developed site recording and mapping methods independently of each other, and had operated at different speeds and with different degrees of computerisation, so that data content and availability were not comparable. The biotopes Team in BfN worked with the authorities in each Land separately, explaining the objectives of the database, drawing up lists from which to select sites, and extracting the relevant data. When the work was almost complete for the Federal Republic, Germany was re-unified and considerable new work was required to assimilate the information from the "new Länder" using the same standards as before. Concurrently, the existing database was re-evaluated to ensure that earlier site selections remained consistent with those made later: this led to the deletion of a number of sites.

The database was finally completed, with 1800 sites described, early in 1995. The site selection criteria as agreed in 1987 had been followed, with the exception that in some cases sites were selected on the basis of their importance for "red list" species in Germany which are not on the CORINE threatened species lists.

2.2. France

The Secrétariat de la Faune et de la Flore at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle has been responsible for the CORINE Biotopes database in France since 1985. A report to the European Commission (1989) described the development of the inventory, which completely replaced the initial data for France. The most important data source was the inventory of Zones Naturelles d'Intérêts Ecologique, Faunistique et Floristique (ZNIEFF), a database containing details of 13000 sites at that time. Other national and regional inventories and "red lists" were also used, with priority being given to species on the CORINE threatened species lists.

Site selection operated at a regional level in the 22 administrative regions defined for the site selection criteria (and in common usage in France). In each region all the habitat types present were identified, and then the most representative examples of each type were selected in each region. Differences in the numbers of sites selected per département were due to differences in surface area, extent of artificial habitats and also information gaps. Selection criteria related to the presence of vulnerable species of plants and animals were less useful due to doubts over the indicator value of several of the species, and data confidentiality aspects preventing disclosure of the occurrence of other species in the open-access CORINE system. In the first version of the database the selection criterion symbols (*, $, etc) were not used, but these were added whenever possible in the 1990 update. However the 1989 report also pointed out the lack of opportunity within the data format to report the use of selection criteria of a more general nature.

2.3. Italy

Responsibility for CORINE Biotopes in Italy was given to Prof. Mario Pavan of the University of Pavia, who worked with Dr. Gianni Pavan on development of the inventory until 1989. Following this, the European Commission entered discussions with the Servizio Conservazione della Natura of the Ministerio dell'Ambiente and in 1993 signed a contract with the Ministerio dell'Ambiente for the total revision of the database using regional sources of information and following the site selection criteria. No contact concerning the Biotopes site database has been achieved between ITE and the Servizio Conservazione della Natura since the initiation of this contract, so it is impossible to report the current situation at the time of writing.

The current Biotopes inventory for Italy contains data from three sources: a list of important nature conservation areas prepared for the Biotopes pilot study by Prof. Giordano; the Italian list of Important Bird Areas compiled for the 1981 European inventory; an inventory of nature conservation areas published in 3 volumes in the mid-1980s. Information on sites in these three paper-based inventories was compiled as far as possible using these sources by the Pavans, but at the time of writing it is not known whether the necessary rationalisation of the database has been completed. (Ed: Since this survey was performed by ITE Italy has continued the work in the regions)

2.4. The Netherlands

The Rijksinstituut voor Natuurbeheer was initially responsible for CORINE Biotopes in the Netherlands, compiling a database of 724 sites. In 1992 the European Commission gave a contract to the National Reference Centre for Nature, Forests and Landscape (IKC-NBLF) to produce a completely revised database in line with the site selection criteria.

Using the national databases on fauna, flora and habitats compiled by IKC-NBLF, the distributions of all CORINE species found in the Netherlands were examined. Particular problems were posed by wide-ranging or very dispersed species, and in selecting sites for those found principally in agricultural areas. Sites were also selected on the basis of habitats, restricted to Habitats Directive Annex I types in order to focus on the most vulnerable habitat units.

The new database containing 173 sites selected strictly according to the criteria was delivered early in 1995, and the final revision, including the addition of a new site (total 174 sites), in October 1995.

2.5. Belgium

The Institute Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique (IRSNB) has been responsible for the biotopes database in Belgium since 1985. The inventory was substantially completed by 1988 and has not been updated since, apart from the addition of some Important Bird Areas data from the 1989 publication.

In drawing up the inventory, the IRSNB took account of various national and regional inventories and dispersed data sources within Belgium, taking note especially of the inventory of Important Bird Areas. Sites were selected using the appropriate CORINE criteria, as shown by the very high percentage for which these criteria are recorded explicitly (see chapter 3). Extensive use was made of the site complex / subsite relation so that much of the database was compiled at two levels: large areas of high general importance for nature conservation, enclosing key sites for particular species or phytosociological units.

2.6. Luxembourg

The Musée d'Histoire Naturelle was responsible for the Biotopes inventory in Luxembourg from 1985 to 1989, and during this time compiled an initial database of 30 sites from paper files held by the Musée. However contact was lost with the Musée after 1989 (letters went unanswered) and the subcontract which ITE had arranged with the Musée was not completed. The inventory for Luxembourg is therefore inadequate in terms of coverage of the country (the lowest percentage of any Member State), lack of stated selection criteria and degree of detail available in the data fields. It has not proved possible to interest any other authority in Luxembourg in addressing this problem.

2.7. United Kingdom

The Nature Conservancy Council was the UK representative on the Biotopes Team from 1985 until the UK statutory agencies for nature conservation were re-organised in 1991, when membership of the Biotopes Team passed to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). The database sites were derived from the Biotopes pilot study (themselves selected from Ratcliffe's A Nature Conservation Review, published in 1977) and from the Inventory of Important Bird Areas in Europe (1981). Discussions were held with NCC at various times in order to replace this initial database with one reflecting the Biotopes site selection criteria, and it was agreed that the candidate sites for which data would be compiled would be the designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Such data would then be checked against the selection criteria to confirm the validity of their selection. However problems over data availability and conversion to the required standards (especially the habitat classification) absorbed all the effort which was devoted to this work by NCC, ITE and IRSNB (for the habitat classification), and when NCC was reorganised in 1991, only the site names, areas and locations of SSSIs had been loaded in the database. These did not constitute sufficient information to replace the initial database. In subsequent discussions, both JNCC and the UK country conservation agencies supported the principle that the UK should be better represented in the Biotopes database, but this has not resulted in an improved inventory as yet.

Data for sites in Northern Ireland were handled separately from the remainder of the UK, and were supplied in 1988.

2.8. Ireland

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has been responsible for the Biotopes database in Ireland since 1988, when a complete revision of a previous database was begun. The second phase of the revision was completed in 1991 so that all sites of international importance are included, together with many sites of national importance which satisfy the selection criteria. At the conclusion of the database, the NPWS produced a number of detailed reports to the European Commission on the compilation process and status of the database. In addition to the 519 sites included at that time, a further 216 candidate sites were identified for which there were insufficient data at that time.

Sites were selected on the basis of the Biotopes selection criteria through consultation with a number of specialist scientists working for the NPWS. Criteria based on the presence of threatened species or habitats were used where possible, and other sites were selected on the basis of overall species richness or typicality of habitats. The database coordinator then worked with these specialists to bring together the data concerning the selected sites from a variety of inventory sources.

2.9. Denmark

The National Forest and Nature Agency of the Ministry of Environment has been responsible for the Biotopes database in Denmark since 1985. Sites were selected on the basis of: a) designation as Special Protection Area under the Birds Directive, (for which 111 sites had already been designated before the Biotopes database began, forming the core of important nature sites in Denmark); b) marine areas of special interest for vulnerable species and habitats; c) the most important sites (the most natural or with the largest populations) for CORINE threatened list species. Sites of types a) and b) above were also attributed with specific selection criteria, resulting in a high level of use of these criteria. Data sources were mostly within the National Forest and Nature Agency, the government organisation responsible for nature conservation in Denmark.

The database was completed in 1989 and has not been updated since.

2.10. Greece

Responsibility for data compilation was held from 1985 to 1990 not by an official body, as in most other Member States, but by an independent scientist (Mr. Ben Hallmann). Mr. Hallmann had compiled the first list of Important Bird Areas in Greece, and his initial selections of sites for CORINE Biotopes were based on the IBA inventory. Throughout the late 1980s Mr. Hallmann worked with an independent botanist (Mr. G. Sfikas) under contract to ITE, with Mr. Hallmann supplying information on fauna and habitats, and Mr. Sfikas (working through Mr. Hallmann) adding botanical data and also sites of special botanical importance which were not identified for their fauna. Several updates to the data were made as additional information was collected.

Greece has a wide variety of natural and semi-natural habitat types, and a diverse fauna and flora, with widespread endemism. However information on the distribution of the fauna and flora was poorly known at the start of the database. The selection criteria used for the development of the inventory were therefore applied less stringently than specified in the Biotopes Manual, although where possible these criteria were added to the sites which had already been selected. Many selection criteria were also given on the basis of the presence of endemic plants, which although not listed as CORINE threatened species, could be regarded as under similar threat due to their small geographic ranges.

Early in 1990, DG XI gave a contract to the National Technical University of Athens (under the MedSpa programme) to develop a data bank for the natural environment of Greece. Part of the requirement under this contract was to build further on the CORINE Biotopes inventory in Greece, in collaboration both with the Ministry of Environment and the existing Biotopes Team. A second part of the project was the development of a species data bank for Greece. NTUA worked with a group of specialists in various aspects of fauna, flora and habitats.

First results from the MedSpa project in 1993 showed that much greater emphasis had been placed on the development of the species database than on the Biotopes inventory, and a further year's work was requested from NTUA to complete the data for the additional Biotopes sites which they had identified. This partly involved incorporation of species data which could be linked to Biotopes sites. The final update was delivered in summer 1994.

A complication with the site selection criteria applied in Greece is that the NUTS regions on which these were based in the period 1988-1990 were revised by Eurostat in 1991, so that in the current classification some of the regions used earlier are no longer consistent units.


2.11. Spain

The Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICONA) has been responsible for the Biotopes inventory in Spain since 1985. Initial data had been poorly coordinated, and from 1988 ICONA received contracts from DG XI to compile a new database. The first phase was completed in late 1989 and the second and third phases, completing the work, in early 1993.

Compilation of the Biotopes database was effected as a subsidiary result of the creation of HISPANAT, a database on areas of conservation interest in Spain. HISPANAT is a national reference system, within which information on the sites selected as of European importance are embedded; however the rationale for the development of HISPANAT was the need to compile source information for CORINE Biotopes.

HISPANAT engaged a multi-disciplinary team numbering around ten researchers, split between those working in ICONA and external experts in universities and institutes. Information was gathered widely from central data banks and regional sources throughout Spain. In addition to information gathered for CORINE Biotopes, HISPANAT concerned other systems relevant to nature protection in Spain, for example Special Protection Areas under the Birds Directive, Ramsar Convention sites, and relevant nationally designated site types. The HISPANAT databases were screened to identify sites important for CORINE species and for a selected number of habitat types, following which these sites were further assessed to identify those satisfying the CORINE site selection criteria. For the selected sites, all information from HISPANAT data fields which matched the Biotopes data requirements was extracted.

The resulting database contains more detail, especially of species names, than that for any other Member State (see following chapter). It also required extremely lengthy validation of the species lists, which had been compiled without the aid of a computerised checklist of valid names. A proportion of species names (approximately 10% of plant names and 50% of invertebrates) could not be found in any reference lists, and so have not yet been validated: their records have been retained in reserve separately from the validated database, pending confirmation by ICONA.

2.12. Portugal

The Serviço Nacional de Parques, Reservas e Conservação da Natureza (SNPRCN) has been responsible for the Biotopes inventory in Portugal since 1985. The database has been compiled in a number of phases over several years, using information from dispersed sources in Portugal, in particular building on site data originally compiled for the Important Bird Areas inventory. Cross-reference to the CORINE Land Cover Project, used to validate data for each project, was possible at an early stage since the pilot study for Land Cover was conducted in Portugal.

The most recent update, for continental Portugal only, added substantially to the information available on habitats and species, but in many cases it has not been made clear what criteria were used for site selection. An update for the Açores and Madeira was planned for 1993, but has not been completed at present.

2.13. Finland

Observers from a number of non-EU countries were invited to attend the conference in Strasbourg in December 1991 at which the CORINE Biotopes Report and Manuals were officially launched, and to join the Biotopes Team meeting which followed. At that meeting, EFTA member countries were invited to participate in the compilation of Biotopes inventories. The Environment Data Centre of the National Board of Waters and the Environment, Helsinki (now the Finnish Environment Agency), took up this challenge, and internally funded the development of a first Biotopes inventory in early 1993. Three further updates were made by January 1995 (when Finland also acceded to the European Union), increasing the data content for the sites selected originally, and removing a small number of sites which did not meet the selection criteria.

Candidate sites for inclusion in the database were selected from several nature protection programmes operating in Finland; species records for CORINE threatened species occurring on these sites were extracted from the relevant data sources within the nature protection service. Unprotected sites were selected by examining species distribution map data for the same species lists to detect occurrences outside the initial site list. The reference data so derived were then assessed in order to determine the list of sites which satisfy the Biotopes selection criteria. Sites were not selected on the basis of habitats.

2.14. Other Countries

Compilation of a Biotopes inventory was begun in Austria in 1991, and by 1993 a preliminary list of candidate sites had been completed. No further information is available at the time of writing.

As mentioned above, Biotopes inventories were begun in 1991 in central and eastern Europe with funding from the EU PHARE Programme. These inventories are currently under compilation in six countries (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania), with completion planned for 1995/96.

As a result of their own successful implementation of the Biotopes methodology, the EDC in Helsinki, Finland, obtained funding to coordinate Biotopes inventory work in the Baltic States and western regions of Russia. These projects began in late 1993 in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Karelia, and extended to the St. Petersburg district in 1994, and are scheduled for completion at the end of 1996.

In all these countries the site selection and data gathering procedures follow the 8 stages outlined at the start of this chapter. Their work in some respects might be considered easier than it was for the first Biotopes data compilers in the mid-1980s since the site selection criteria are now clearly stated, personal computer software enables data to be entered without errors in formats, codings or species names, and there are few pre-existing site databases giving rise to complications over format conversion. However the hard work needed to locate, appraise and assemble the required data remains.

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