We want you to know what is going on in the BOD, our meetings, our actions, members leaving, the new ones elected,... but text written in this blog cannot be taken an official position or statement of the Society for Conservation Biology. Probably it is not even an official statement of the section... as these need to be approved by the members.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

SCB Europe Section Board Elections Now Open

Attention all SCB Europe Members it is time to get your vote on! 

Vote for a new board member! We have two outstanding nominees, Cheli Cresswell & Petra Mihalic. Learn more by logging into conbio.org and going to your member area. In your member area you can read about both candidates and cast your vote! Voting closes March 3rd!

Happy voting! 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Seeking nominations: SCB European Section Board Member

Hello out there! One SCB Europe Board position has opened up and we are seeking nominations!

If you are an official SCB Europe member and interested in serving on the board, please take note that applications are due by 31 January 2016. Please note that all applications should be sent to Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley, SCB – Europe Section board member and section secretary stephierenee[at]gmail[dot]com. More details about the post as well as the nomination form are posted below!

We are excited to welcome a new member to the board!
Posted by S. Januchowski-Hartley on behalf of the European Section board - 21 January 2016.

European Section Board Member Agreement

As of January 2016, the European Section of the Society for Conservation Biology has a 'Board Member Agreement' that outlines our board's mission, values, and expectations of our board members. We are providing it here for easy access to our members, and to make it available for thew view of standing and incoming board-members. All standing and incoming European Section board members are expected to sign and uphold this agreement throughout the duration of their term.

Published by S. Januchowski-Hartley on behalf of the European Section Board - 21 January 2016.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

What is the European Union ‘fitness check’ and why should we care?

The European Commission’s review of the Birds and Habitats Directives under the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT) is a prominent topic in European nature conservation policy this year, and we here at Society for Conservation Biology - European Section (SCB-ES), have been following the process closely. Decisions made under this review could have substantial implications for biodiversity conservation across the EU. The Nature Directives provide the cornerstone of EU conservation legislation, protecting all wild birds, over 1000 other rare and endemic species, and over 200 habitat types, whilst also underpinning the Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

SCB-ES recently checked in with member, and former president, Professor Martin Dieterich, to find out more about the ‘Fitness Check’ of the Nature Directives and REFIT processes.* Professor Dieterich is a conservation biologist at the Landscape and Plant Ecology Institute, Agricultural University of Hohenheim (Germany). He has worked extensively on EU protected grassland habitats and species, and has also been involved in Natura 2000 management planning. Prof. Dieterich has been following the ‘Fitness Check’ process closely and recently visited Brussels to take part in the REFIT Conference summarizing the results of the process and providing last minute opportunities for stakeholder involvement.

Professor Martin Dieterich. Courtesy: Bajomi Bálint.

SCB-ES: Why is the European Union conducting a ‘fitness check’ of the EU Nature Directives?

Dieterich: The Fitness Check of the Nature Directives is part of the EU's REFIT established to assess the suitability of EU regulations in general. It is not specifically targeted at or restricted to the Nature Directives: Fitness checks are conducted to make EU legislation fit for purpose. The Nature Directives were on a list introduced by the new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, but why they were selected for the fitness check still remains unclear.

SCB-ES: Can you summarize the key processes being undertaken in the ‘fitness check’ and tell us what the EU hopes to gain from this process?

Dieterich: In short, the EU hopes to streamline legislation in a quest to reduce bureaucracy. There was a pre-consultation of selected stakeholders across Member States via a questionnaire supported by interviews. The pre-consultation covered a broad array of stakeholders, but as far as I know the science community was not openly engaged in this process. Then, there was a web-based public consultation that yielded a record of more than 550 thousand responses from all over the EU. Finally, the REFIT conference in Brussels provided a venue for the EU to present the outcome from the consultation process and to present results from commissioned research.

European Roller (Coracias garrulous). Credit: Bajomi Bálint.

SCB-ES: What led to the discussions about the ‘fitness check’ of Europe’s Nature Directives among conservation professionals at ICCB-ECCB 2015 in Montpellier?

Dieterich: There was concern from conservation scientists, administrations and non-government groups that the fitness check would be used to open and subsequently weaken the directives. In other words, if legal flexibility was added to the directives it could relax the fairly-strict requirements e.g. for impact assessments prior to proposed development projects. Such ‘relaxing’ would strongly undermine the directives. In preparing for the Montpellier symposium, we also noticed that the independent science community was hardly at all represented in working groups linked to the implementation of the directives. Consequently, these discussions and related concerns resulted in the SCB-ES Policy Committee writing a consensus statement on the need to strengthen the EU legal framework for nature conservation and incorporate scientists and science more actively in the process.

SCB-ES: What do you believe are key values of the EU Nature Directives that require consideration under the ‘fitness check’?

Dieterich: Ideally, I think, there is a need for more flexibility in terms of the annexes, probably a distinct addressing of areas with no or limited human intervention (e.g. remote mountain areas, nearly pristine forests), because these areas also are a key component of nature conservation in the EU. Otherwise, the directives are a beautiful piece of legislation that in very simple terms combines strict protection with a certain flexibility in terms of application and possibilities for some development to continue even within Natura 2000 sites, provided there is appropriate environmental compensation assuring continued or improved conservation status of species and habitats concerned. Importantly, the directives shift the burden of proof from conservation to development, meaning that proposed development has to prove there is no harm, rather than conservation having to prove harmful effects from a proposed project. 

Unlike similar regulation in other countries or regions, such as the United States’ Endangered Species Act, the directives also link site and species protection, they request overall coherence as a potentially important factor for favorable conservation status and they explicitly point to the need for scientific input with regards to the delineation of protected sites, how the directives are put into effect and how success is determined (monitoring).

Credit: Bajomi Bálint.

SCB-ES: Are there any possible negative outcomes that could result from the ‘fitness check’? If so, what are these?

Dieterich: In my opinion, the key negative outcome would be addition of more legal flexibility in terms of implementation. Such flexibility would subsequently weaken court cases and thus weaken the overall implementation of the directives.

SCB-ES: What do you believe is the best way forward for the EU and the Nature Directives?

Dieterich: In the legal sense, leave the directives as they are. However, the EU ideally needs to find a mechanism to update the Annexes. The Annexes hold the species and habitat types of "community interest", i.e. those species and habitats for which reserves have to be delineated or species that are under strict protection anywhere in the EU territory. In times of climate change, in particular, environments are variable, and many species could become more threatened for various reasons and subsequently warrant protection. It is also clear that some taxa and habitat types remain underrepresented or not represented at all in the directives. Updating the Annexes would allow the directives to have a broader reach and a greater flexibility to ensure adequate representation of species and habitats at greatest risk of further declines and loss.

In the practical sense, there is a need for effective implementation of the EU nature directives and associated policies. Through the Fitness Check, poor implementation has been unanimously identified as a prominent deficiency by diverse stakeholders. I think that effective implementation of the directives calls for more scientific involvement. The science community will have to pose themselves the question on how they want to address this need for more application targeted research in ecology and conservation science, rather than continuing a quest for general principles that in a field of science relating to context bound implementation often do not exist. Conservation biology urgently needs more science that is fit for application. 

SCB-ES: Many thanks to Prof. Dieterich for all of his time on this interview and for his commitment to improving our understanding of the European Union 'Fitness Check'. Remember, to stay up to date with the initiatives of the SCB-ES, and to get involved, follow us on Twitter @SCBEurope or on Facebook. If you have questions or comments about this post, or any of our other projects/initiatives, please contact us on Twitter, Facebook or email us at europe (at) conbio (dot) org.

*This interview was conducted by SCB-ES Board Member, Dr Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley. You can follow Steph on Twitter @ConnectedWaters to hear more about Fishes, Environmental Policy, SciComm and all things in between.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Report from the REFIT conference, Brussels 20.11.2015 by Martin Dieterich

As a part of its Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), the EU commission is currently The European Commission is currently undertaking an evaluation ("Fitness check") of the Birds and habitats Directives. A report on the state and outcome of the fitness check was presented and the opportunity for final inputs was provided during a conference for invited participants in Brussels on November 20th (see link here). The conference was attended by 500 participants representing a broad array of stakeholder groups.
There was basically a unanimous view that the EU Nature Directives should be left untouched. This was expressed by the report itself, the representatives from the EU Commission, European parliament (Environment committee - unanimous statement across party lines), EU Committee of the Regions (the majors!), land users, land owners, the Luxemburg government currently presiding the EU and the Dutch(!) and Slovak governments to follow in the EU presidency. There was no single request during presentations and discussions towards opening the directives!

The main reasons put forward in favor of keeping the directives include:
1. While the Directives’ and the 2010 biodiversity target has not been achieved and the 2020 target will (most likely) not be achieved, there is broad agreement that things would look considerably worse without the directives.

2. Basically all speakers considered lack of implementation as one basic cause for deficiencies in terms of biodiversity targets reached.

3. Lack of cohesion with other policy fields (mainly the CAP) was considered another basic obstacle for the directives to be more successful.

4. About half of the contributions thought that there was a need to change the Annexes without opening the directives - the possibility to open the Annexes while leaving the directives appears to be a quite interesting legal question.

5. There was broad agreement that opening the directives would cause a period of renewed legal and administrative uncertainty and thus should be avoided.

6. There is a need for better financial support of measures connected to the directives - a specific EU conservation fund was proposed by several speakers.

A number of very stimulating contributions - especially Elsa Nickel from the German Environment Ministry almost got standing ovations for her well expressed accusations towards the CAP - request for complete overturn of the CAP (public money for public goods).
In spite of the very positive tone, I have come out of the meeting rather reluctantly. All the high ranking policy contributions praise the need to protect biodiversity and nature because they are our life support systems. At the same time, we know that this has been stated by politicians and administrators alike for the past 20 years and the decline continues. It appears to me that one of the basic causes for failure is that we ask the unrealistic and are happy to swim in the mainstream as long as we do not question the unrealistic. Thus, all these very nice to hear contributions from the environmental NGOs, other stakeholders, policy sector and the commission agreeing that there is a possibility for more biomass production and more nature conservation. More population and more nature conservation. More industry and more urban sprawl and more nature conservation. More economic growth and more nature conservation. "Live well within limits" as the popular proverb, but as soon as it comes to decisions go for more (immediate demand) and forget about the limits.

According to my experiences having lead a local NGO for the past 35 years (urban sprawl as the key topic), working with farmers and doing applied research in agricultural systems (grasslands and arable fields) this assumption that more nature/biodiversity can go with more of everything is pure nonsense - diplomatically speaking not feasible. Thus, we do not resist to a perspective that rationally speaking is unrealistic, but is being put forth jointly by a broad range of stakeholders (conservation allies and conservation I do not really care groups).

The consequence then is, while everybody verbally adheres to the need for protecting nature and biodiversity as a baseline for human well-being, concerns with jobs, material well being, needs of immigrants (refugees) etc. are of course always more immediate. Nature continues to lose out in spite of all these Sunday afternoon speeches and declarations and numerous best practice efforts targeted at reconciliation of the non-reconcilable. Best practice efforts that are never being examined in terms of to what extent they can be generalized (material and social terms) or how long they remain in place after a project has ended, or what side effects they may have elsewhere. Admittedly a very big topic that needs to be addressed!

Martin Dieterich 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Scientists call for strengthening the EU legal framework for nature conservation

Dear SCB-ES members! The following Europe Section Statement is based on a symposium at the ICCB-ECCB and following discussions within the Policy Committee of SCB-ES. It was completed and signed by Martin Dieterich and Stefan Kreft, (Policy Committee) and Piero Visconti (Section President). We would appreciate your help in further dissemination among colleagues and decision makers.

The congresses of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) are among the most important platforms for exchange within the global biodiversity conservation community. The International and European Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB‐ECCB 2015), held from August 2‐6 in Montpellier, France, was attended by 2,100 scientists and conservation professionals from over 100 countries. One of the topics discussed at the congress was the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), which the EU is currently conducting to evaluate the impacts and relevance of the Habitats and Birds Directives (“Fitness Check”). The Fitness Check of the EU Nature Directives involves a comprehensive policy evaluation based on stakeholder and public involvement.

There was a general consensus across a series of ICCB‐ECCB 2015 events that the Nature Directives have made a difference for nature conservation in Europe. Among a wide range of major achievements, the Nature Directives have managed to:

- build Natura 2000, a new network of protected sites of unprecedented size in Europe, providing connectivity for ecosystems and species across the European landscapes;
- slow down the degradation of European biodiversity, by reducing the pace of decline of a number of species from European landscapes, or even achieve their comeback;
- slow down or revert land use changes threatening biodiversity;
- strengthen nature conservation administrations in EU countries, by facilitating key components of an effective on‐site conservation management, such as implementing biodiversity‐sound land use schemes, carrying out impact assessments and standardised biodiversity monitoring.

However, concerns raised at the congress addressed the relatively sparse interaction with the scientific community in both the implementation of the directives and the REFIT. A peer review by relevant conservation scientists and academics specializing in legal affairs would have been appropriate for the REFIT process and could have added more relevant knowledge.

Discussions at the ICCB‐ECCB 2015 indicated that in many countries and geographic regions in and beyond Europe, the EU Nature Directives are considered models for effective design of nature conservation legislation. Participating scientists highlighted the value of the Nature Directives for achieving the targets outlined in the 2020 biodiversity strategies both at the global (Aichi Targets) and EU levels. Deficiencies in the implementation of the Nature Directives and the apparent lack of integration of conservation objectives in other major policy areas, such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) were identified. Looking at the conclusions from the EU Commission's evaluation of the 6th Environment Action Programme (6EAP), insufficient implementation and integration apparently is a more general problem in environmental policy. Scientists attending the ICCB‐ECCB stressed the need for the REFIT to focus on strengthening the implementation of the EU Nature Directives across all levels of governance in both the EU, the EU Member States, and locally within the Member States.

Criticism of the Habitats and Birds Directives stems from perceived inflexibilities in updating provisions to allow for adaptation to climate change. In addition, it is argued that there has been a perceived lack of action by the EU Commission to implement the Habitats Directive’s Article 19
(amending the annexes listing habitats and species of conservation concern). Much research is needed to assure and promote functional connectivity and coherence of Natura 2000 sites at local and landscape scales (Habitats Directive’s Article 10). The potential consequences of land use change and related infrastructure for energy and transport also need close scrutiny by administrations and science. By defining favorable conservation status as a basic target, the Habitats Directive leaves room for flexibility, which includes the consideration of ecological processes. Scientists at the congress remarked that more attention should be given to restoring natural processes through non‐intervention management in the network, following the EU Guidance on the management of wilderness and wild areas in Natura 2000. Presently, there is no explicit reference to non‐intervention areas in the directive itself which can be considered a weakness in the legal document.
Scientists have found there is inadequate implementation of Habitats Directive Article 18 (scientific research) by both the EU Commission and most Member States. Scientists and scientific methods have not been adequately used to support more effective conservation planning and management. Specification of favorable conservation status for species and habitat types, best management practices, monitoring programs and the quality of impact assessments require more and continued scrutiny from the scientific community.

The Habitats and Birds Directives have delivered demonstrable improvements for target habitats and species in the EU, although the results were and remain insufficient to attain the agreed international and environmental policy targets for 2010 and 2020. Insufficient implementation cannot be remedied by rephrasing the directives in a lengthy and complex political process. Demonstrable improvements must be developed through analysis of the processes used to implement conservation programmes, effective monitoring of implementation and subsequent intervention by competent legal entities in the Member States and by the EU Commission. In conclusion, scientists attending the ICCB‐ECCB in Montpellier perceive a need to significantly improve the implementation of the Habitats and Birds Directives at all levels. More input from conservation science is also required so that the agreed upon environmental and biodiversity targets can be achieved. Political discourse which diminishes responsibilities and weakens the EU regulatory systems would contradict the global responsibilities adopted by the EU and its Member States.

Monday, 17 August 2015

After ICCB-ECCB 2015

Back home from Montpellier, where I attended the ICCB-ECCB. Wow... what a meeting. An extreme abundance of experiences, of which I would share only a few. Unavoidable is the headache on which parallel section to attend, but finally I managed to attend a couple of great talks. I liked the plenaries, although they varied in the approach to the audience - and the success. Although some colleagues think that plenaries are boring, too general, lacking science etc., I do not agree. Plenaries are to give insights, lessons or even visions on the main directions of conservation, including even philosophical debates. And we got that in Montpellier.

The strong emphasis in IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) is an important step. If our community want to take a role in this intergovernmental process, we need to know it and be involved. SCB is an active stakeholder from the beginning of IPBES (see also editorials in Conservation Biology) and now it was spread to the 2000+ audience.

I liked the large free space at the Antigone level, which provided a quite place for rest, discussion or checking e-mails. It is vital in a meeting of this size to provide such relaxing spaces. Indeed. During one poster session I leaved this level and descended to the first floor, and the voice of thousands of people from the zero level lobby was simply frightening, I almost ran back!

Although SCB meetings usually great for the social programs and funs, I would like to highlight a new intervention at this meeting, and this was the jam session on Wednesday evening. Organised by European Section board member, Francisco Moreira, it turned to be a great evening. Fans of instruments from guitar to flute and drums, and singers slowly showed up, and entertained us at a more or less professional level. Considering that these guys met first time to play music together, I have to say I had serious reservations on whether it will be something good to attend, but I thought I have to be in the audience to support Francisco :-).  And indeed it was worth to attend and enjoy the evening including singing several songs together with the ad hoc SCB band.

As I was involved into the organisation for a while, I know what extreme difficulties were behind the scene, including the rather complex organisational structure, a result of being both global and European conservation congress (thus the global board, the European board, the executive office and the SCB conference committee had responsibilities), and some unexpected changes in key persons. The result of such a huge meeting, with a smooth running, however is a great success of the organisers, led by Piero Visconti (Europe Section president), Raphael Mathevet from Montpellier (Europe Section board member), and Geri Unger SCB executive director.

Now, after a busy day in the field in the central Camargue wetland bird paradise, I have one day to recover, then back to the office. But the week behind was a great time for me.

András Báldi