Main authors: Froukje Maria Platjouw, Harriet Moore, Susanne Wuijts, Sandra Boekhold, Susanne Klages, Isobel Wright, Morten Graversgaard and Gerard Velthof
FAIRWAYiS Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Platjouw F. M. et al. (2021) Coherence in EU law and policy for the protection of drinking water resources. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 6.1R 200 pp


Here we discuss the legal requirements imposed by the Habitats Directive on states and/or the farming industry with a focus on ecological, monitoring and reporting, public participation (including farmer organisatons) and coordination requirements. The ecological requirements are subjected to a (vertical) coherence assessment of their contribution to FAIRWAY's objectives of protecting drinking water resources against pollution by nitrates and pesticides from agricultural practices.

Details of the analyses are contained in the Appendices of the full report:

Contents table
1. Overview of the Habitats Directive
2. Contribution of the Habitats Directive's requirements to achieving FAIRWAY's objectives

1. Overview of the Habitats Directive

Member states have a clear responsibility under the Birds Directives and the 1992 Habitats Directives (HD) to ensure all habitats and species of Community interest are maintained or restored to Favourable Conservation Status (FCS). Natura 2000 sites have a crucial role to play in achieving this overall objective since they harbour the most important core sites for these species and habitats. Each site must therefore be managed in a way that ensures it contributes as effectively as possible to helping the species and habitats for which it has been designated reach a favourable conservation status within the EU.

Once a site has been included in the Natura 2000 Network, member states are required to implement, on each site, the necessary conservation measures which correspond to the ecological requirements of the protected habitat types and species of Community interest present (Art. 6.1 HD). In accordance with the HD they must also prevent any damaging activities that could significantly disturb those species and habitats (Art. 6.2 HD) and protect the site from new potentially damaging plans and projects likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site (Art. 6.3 and 6.4 HD).

Member states are making significant efforts to ensure appropriate management of all designated sites, although the situation is quite variable depending on the countries, with some of them having approved management plans or established conservations measures for all Natura 2000 sites while some other have only covered a percentage of the sites.32 To ensure that each Natura 2000 site contributes fully to reaching this overall target of FCS, it is important to set clear conservation objectives for each individual site. These should define the desired state, within that particular site, of each of the species and habitat types for which the site was designated. Once the conservation objectives have been set, the necessary conservation measures that are required in order to fulfil these objectives and targets should be identified and negotiated with all involved so that they are effectively implemented. These must correspond to the ecological requirements of the habitats and species for which the site is designated. A dialogue with all relevant stakeholders is needed to ensure that farmland management in Natura 2000 sites can contribute to the conservation of agricultural habitats and species.

2. Contribution of the Habitats Directive's requirements to achieving FAIRWAY's objectives

Table 2. 8 Requirements and objectives of the HD

Label Requirements and objectives of the Habitats Directive
Ensure biodiversity To contribute towards ensuring biodiversity through the conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora in the European territory of the MS (art. 2.1)
Maintain/restore favourable status To maintain or restore, at favourable conservation status, natural habitats and species of wild fauna and flora of community interest (art. 2.2)
 Establish network of special issues  A coherent European ecological network of special areas of conservations shall be set up under the title Natura 2000 (art. 3.1)
Designate special areas MS shall designate sites as special areas of conservation (art 3.2). Each MS shall propose a list of sites (art.4)
Establish strict protection systems MS shall take the requisite measures to establish a system of strict protection for the animal species listed in Annex IV (a) in their natural range prohibiting capture or killing, disturbance destruction, and deterioration of breeding sites (art. 12.1)
Establish strict protection of plants MS shall take the requisite measures to establish a system of strict protection for the plant species listed in Annex IV (b) […] (art. 13.1)
Avoid habitat deterioration MS shall take appropriate steps to avoid, in SAC’s, the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as disturbances of species for which those sites have been designated, in so far as such a disturbance could be significant (art. 6.2). Projects or plans with a likely significant effect shall be subject to an appropriate assessment (art. 6.3). Compensatory measures can be required (art 6.4)
Manage important wildlife features MS shall endeavor in their land-use planning and development policies to encourage the management of features of the landscape which are of major importance for wild fauna and flora (art.10)

The average score from all participants for all requirements of the HD was low (M=0.4), suggesting that experts believe the directive contributes minimally to the FAIRWAY objective, including the protection of drinking water resources against pesticides and nitrates from agricultural practices. Figure 2.8 demonstrates that respondents perceive all requirements and objectives of the HD to be neutral (0) or enabling (+1) to the protection of drinking water resources. In addition, the respondent scores showed little variability. The requirements to ensure biodiversity (Art. 2.1 HD), to maintain favourable conservation status (Art. 2.2 HD), to establish a network of special areas (Art.3.1 HD), and to designate special areas (Art. 3.2 HD) have been scored 0 or +1 by 100% of the respondents.

D61 fig208
Figure 2.8

The requirements to establish systems of strict protection (Art. 12.1 and 13.1 HD), avoid habitat deterioration (Art. 6 HD), and manage important wildlife features (Art. 10 HD) are also scored either 0 or +1 by 90% of the respondents. Interestingly, the remaining 10% of the respondents perceived these requirements as constraining (-1).

Responses to open-ended survey items give some explanation about the overall low scores, and variability between scores for different requirements. Comments suggest that the requirements and objectives of the HD are perceived to be of some relevance to the protection of drinking water resources because conservation areas are less prone to the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Thus, requirements to protect conservation areas should contribute to the prevention of damages to plant and habitat species, and ensure a low risk of pollution by nitrates and pesticides. Furthermore, groundwater protection areas for drinking water sometimes coincide with habitat conservation areas. The conservation areas could for instance impose a restriction on other activities or functions in the area, such as agriculture in general or the abstraction of groundwater. Several respondents highlighted the positive connection between nature, biodiversity and drinking water quality, suggesting that measures to improve biodiversity and habitats are likely to have positive effects on drinking water resources in these areas as well.

In contrast to these positive contributions, other respondents argued that the designation of areas as conservation sites may in practice result in little difference to drinking water quality if water resources are already polluted. This could suggest that there is some uncertainty with regard to the relationship between habitats and the protection of drinking water resources against nitrates and pesticides pollution. However, similar to the GWD, these comments may be related to knowledge about biophysical processes. For example, restoring habitats often involves revegetation, which can create a buffer for pollutants and prevent agricultural runoff from entering waterways and decreasing water quality. However, this interaction is much less direct and transparent than more positively scored requirements related to other directives. Similar to other directives, respondents also expressed concern about effective implementation. One respondent argued that the flexibility of the requirements may also potentially result in implementation that produces negative effects on drinking water resources. However, these potential negative interactions need to be investigated further.

Overall, respondent opinions suggest that, while the requirements of the HD could positively contribute to the FAIRWAY objective by influencing the use of pesticides and fertilizers/manures, the interaction depends very much on effective implementation.


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