5. International Workshop on CORINE Biotopes

The goals for a reorientated Nature Database and the requirements of a common habitat classification were discussed in the framework of the European Workshop on CORINE Biotopes Sites Database and Habitat Classification, convened by the European Environment Agency European Topic Centre on Nature Conservation in Paris, 5-6 October, 1995.

131 people were invited to attend the Workshop, drawn from the following:

  • European Environment Agency National Focal Points

  • European Environment Agency National Reference Centres for Nature

  • The Habitats Directive scientific committee

  • Staff of the European Commission DG XI and DG I (PHARE)

  • CORINE Biotopes teams in the European Union, PHARE countries, Baltic States and Russia

  • Representatives of the EEA Scientific Committee, and EEA Project Managers

  • The European Topic Centre on Nature Conservation Central Team

  • Members of the European Topic Centre on Nature Conservation Consortium

  • Non-governmental organisations and environmental policy researchers

  • Independent phytosociologists

Annex I contains a list of the 76 people who attended the Workshop. Representatives of 24 countries attended.

5.1. Introduction and Objectives

Juan M. de Benito, ETC/NC Director, introduced the Workshop with the following words:

«The three projects which constitute the ETC/NC 1995 Working Programme (two of which will continue in the biennium 96/97) include direct or indirect references to the need for a European Information System for Nature Conservation :

  • To propose a general approach for the future European Nature Conservation activities, we need to know, to describe and to evaluate which relevant data (and data sources) are available; also to identify the main information and procedural gaps and to analyse the feasibility of new techniques to fill in such gaps.

  • To assess the state and trends of European biodiversity we can start from different perspectives, but in all cases we need to have at our disposal harmonised data on species and habitats, as well as an appropriate tool for their integration, analysis and synthesis.

  • To support the Natura 2000 implementation it is important we make an effort to harmonise national contributions, and to synthesise knowledge on the status and distribution of species and habitats (as quantified as possible), as well as on their relationships with land planning and use.

It is obvious that obtaining European data is not just limited to juxtaposing national data, which is the currently prevailing system in default of an appropriate integration structure; rather, it is the matter of producing a new system capable of providing added value through the integrated utilisation of relevant data previously selected, harmonised and synthesised at European level. We are talking about a European Information System on Nature which must be a bit more (or much more) than the simple addition of existing national databases.

To ensure that this new system will be an efficient one, a rigorous analysis of each existing experience, already finished or still on-going, must be carried out; and it is clear that, among those experiences, the CORINE Biotopes project is one of the most relevant at European level. That is the reason why the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, on behalf of the ETC/NC, has organised this Workshop and has invited you to participate.

We have high hopes for the results of the Workshop. We are asking you for an open discussion about the CORINE Biotopes experience, including both its positive and negative aspects. We are expecting some relevant conclusions on the subject which could serve to define the main requirements of our Database project, as well as to establish the necessary guidelines for the EEA working programme in future years. We count on your help. Thank you very much.»

5.2. Conclusions of the Workshop

Summary of conclusions concerning the database, which were agreed following a day of presentations, discussion groups and a plenary discussion session:

Given the consensus view that there is a demonstrable need for an objective reference tool for nature conservation purposes at the European level:

  1. A new information system needs to be constructed, in the framework of the European Environment Agency (EEA) and responsive to its needs and to the needs of its user communities.


5.2.1 Guidelines

  1. Intuitively, it appears that site-based information systems alone - though more achievable, considering spatial and temporal scales across the entire land surface of the EU - are not the ideal means of delivering the primary objective of this new EEA information system (i.e. as a reference tool for assessing biodiversity status).

  2. More synoptic data are needed, to provide a geographically comprehensive picture and to give insights into temporal dynamics.

  3. Ultimately, the aim should be the establishment of an open, objective record, as complete as possible, of the presence and status of species and habitats across the EU and across the territories of collaborating states in Europe. Opening the system beyond narrow policy-related objectives will encourage wider use, acknowledgement of ownership by a broader community and will provide motivation and an increased capacity for data acquisition and validation.

  4. This system should take into account the experiences acquired in constructing CORINE Biotopes and, where appropriate, the existing CORINE structures and data.


5.2.2 Specific Requirements

  1. It should be distinguished from, but should be associated with Natura 2000, since the one has at its basis the need to inform the EEA and the other supports particular EU legal instruments. For example, the new EEA system might need to have wider geographic coverage and should certainly service a wider range of applications than the needs of the Habitats Directive.

  2. Distinguishing the new system from Natura 2000 does not necessarily imply structural or physical separation. Clear distinction must be made between the systems because of their different objectives and ownership. For example, Natura 2000 will incorporate implicit or explicit value judgements that preclude its use as an objective reference. However, there is no reason why the two systems should not utilise common data structures, or even be held in a single physical database.

  3. Although there is a need to distinguish the specific objectives of Natura 2000, it will be helpful if the validation of the Habitats Directive is taken as the first objective for the new EEA system. This task has two aspects:

a) validation of the completeness and integrity of the network of sites designated in Natura 2000;

b) appraisal in the longer term of the effectiveness of the Habitats Directive in achieving its objectives, and provision of information which might guide the evolution of its Annexes.

  1. It is important to recognise the responsibility of the EEA to service a user community beyond the Commission and the Member States of the Union. If it is to develop this wider role, practical arrangements for the generation and validation of data must reflect, amongst the scientific communities, local government, NGOs and others, a culture of involvement. A sense of shared ownership and responsibility will motivate participants to strive for completeness and validity of data and will stimulate inputs into environmental policy from a wider range of cultural interests.

  2. In addition to these less formal mechanisms for data validation, the need for consistency in the quality of data is such that special measures for quality appraisal are required, covering, inter alia

end-to-end tracing of the origin and history of each item of data; given the above proposals to extend potential data provision beyond those official bodies that were responsible for much of the CORINE Biotopes database, it must be possible to identify the originators of the data and, in the case of data that do not meet minimum quality standards, to record their existence in a catalogue, rather than in the database itself.

establishment of expert review groups, charged with the task of development and implementation of formal procedures for data review and validation.

  1. There should be the possibility of extending the system to include cultural and aesthetic dimensions.

  2. In view of the extent of these proposed changes and in recognition of the reservations of several groups concerning certain aspects of the present CORINE Biotopes system, the name 'CORINE' should be dropped, (though bearing in mind the damaging consequences of too precipitate a change for the on-going CORINE activities in the PHARE countries).


5.2.3 Implementation

  1. The magnitude of the above tasks should not be underestimated. After 10 years of effort, CORINE Biotopes remains incomplete, and there is an obvious need to take a careful look at the present strategies for data acquisition and validation.

  2. A possible way forward might be to build the database into the Work Programme of the Topic Centre. The ETC/Nature Conservation is charged with the task of reviewing the status of nature conservation in the various biogeographic regions of Europe. Implicit in this task is the need to undertake studies to assess the status of threatened or endangered species and habitats. This task could provide a focus for data acquisition in the new EEA information system, making it responsive not only to the needs of the Topic Centre, but also to the priority target of reviewing the Habitats Directive (see paragraph (viii) above).

  3. Data collected in support of these studies would be assembled in formats compatible with the systems design that emerges as a result of this review of the CORINE Biotopes system. Priority could be given to the most threatened species and habitats. In this way the European database will be constructed in modular fashion; at each stage in the process, the task of data collection, validation and management would be better defined and much more feasible.

5.3. Initial Technical Advice to the European Environment Agency for the Implementation of the Above Conclusions

The requirement of the EEA for a comprehensive information system able to function at a European level in servicing the Agency's needs in the fields of nature protection and the maintenance of biodiversity (conclusions i) - iv)) can only be met through a centrally organised database with a common methodology. One of the lessons of CORINE Biotopes was that even with a common methodology and standards, it was impossible to achieve completely consistent information. If data and the methodology were decentralised in each contributing Member State, or even regions within Member States, the consistency in data standards and ability to access data at EU or biogeographic regional scale would be severely limited.

Conclusion (ii) points toward the development of information across the whole EU or pan-European area, rather than focused on individual sites, and provision is made for that type of coverage in the plan for the European Database on Nature mentioned by the ETC/NC Director at the opening of the Biotopes Workshop. However it is also relevant that nature protection is implemented through the designation of particular sites, (i.e. areas of land and sea), which can be given special status through agreed national and international legislation, and therefore the concept of site-based information remains a valid one.

The Regulation (1990) establishing the European Environment Agency includes in Article 2 a requirement for the EEA to "be responsible for continuing the work started under Decision 85/338/EEC" (i.e. the CORINE Programme). This should not merely be interpreted as continuing with the CORINE Projects unchanged, but as building on their experience and results, rather than attempting to adopt a completely fresh approach. This was agreed in the conclusions of the workshop attended by 76 people (conclusion v). Ultimately, the re-oriented CORINE Biotopes database will have a significant place within the general framework of the European Database on Nature.

The position of the Biotopes database with regard to the Natura 2000 network which is being established under the Birds and Habitats Directive remains a delicate one. On the one hand, the Biotopes database must not be seen as a "shadow list" used by the European Commission or others to judge the adequacy of the site designation process adopted by Member States, since to do so would undermine the scientific principles of objectivity in the site selection criteria on which the Biotopes database is based. This is a difficulty in implementing conclusion (viii). On the other hand, the Biotopes database already contains a considerable body of data of direct relevance to the Directives, as summarised in section 4.3, which can be used by Member States in selecting sites for designation or supplying data on the sites in their proposed lists.

Several conclusions (especially viii, xiv, xv) of the workshop concentrate on strengthening the Biotopes database as a source of information for Natura 2000, and conclusion (vii) suggests convergence in their data structures. In view of the origins of the Natura 2000 data model in CORINE Biotopes, that would not be an impossible task, and could be achieved in particular through:

  1. inclusion in the Natura 2000 data model of a file for detailed habitat types

  2. generalisation of the Natura 2000 habitat classes to the 2-digit level of the biotopes database

  3. conversion of Biotopes human activities to the more comprehensive Natura 2000 impacts table

  4. extension of the Natura 2000 designation types to include all national designations recognised by the Biotopes database

  5. substitution of the Natura 2000 fields for the judgement of the importance of habitat and species records with the Biotopes site selection criteria

  6. the Biotopes selection criteria themselves should be expanded to allow the recording of sites selected on the basis of broader features, such as richness for a species group, or typicality and representativity of habitats, rather than solely the importance for individual species or habitat types.

Conclusion (vi) is already partly satisfied, in that 75% of the habitats and 75% to 99% of the species records (other than birds) refer to habitats and species outside the annexes of the Directives. So although the database already provides valuable sources of information for the Directives, it also already serves a data need beyond them. With the completion of the Biotopes databases in 10 non-EU countries by the end of 1997, the approach to a pan-European coverage will also be achieved. However the problem of incompleteness of the existing database remains, and it might be hoped that with the backing of the EEA, Member States who have attached little importance to compiling the relevant data might attach greater priority to completing their contribution to a consistent database (conclusion xiii).

Conclusions (ix, x, xiv) all point to organisational evolution of the Biotopes database from the original CORINE system to one serving the needs of the EEA and its user community, which could function through the European Topic Centre on Nature Conservation. In making this transition, the need to involve the wider scientific community and the interests of non-governmental organisations must not be overlooked, and it should be part of the remit of the ETC/NC in taking on this task to ensure such representation. Data already collected at considerable effort and expense should be retained in the database, subject to the methodological developments outlined above. Subsequent to the completion of a review process involving the appropriate expert groups, sites which do not demonstrably meet the selection criteria should, at some future point, be relegated to a second tier database.

In summary, therefore, the immediate aims of the European Environment Agency in following up the 1995 work programme of the European Topic Centre on Nature Conservation should include:

  • the establishment of agreed lists of species and habitats which are threatened at the European level

  • an intensive data-gathering operation to fill the gaps in existing data, including scientific, NGO and governmental communities on an equal basis

  • establishment of those layers of the European Database on Nature necessary to answer questions such as:

'what it the total European population/extent of species/habitat x?'

'what is the geographic distribution and range of species/habitat y?'

'where are the most important examples/populations of species/habitat z?'

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