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Integrating nature conservation and farming in Natura 2000 sites: how can Rural Development measures make this happen?

A workshop held on the Isles of North Uist and Benbecula 27th-30th June 2006

The workshop was bilingual English & Spanish, so some parts of the page will have both languages, some only English.


  • European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism
  • SAC
  • Scottish Crofting Foundation


  • WISL Leader+
  • Scottish Natural Heritage
  • Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
  • Western Isles Enterprise
  • European Commission (DG Environment)


By the start of 2007 every EU Member State will need to have in place both a Rural Development Strategy document and Rural Development Plans for the delivery of policy objectives set out in the Strategy. The Member State level plans and RDP(s) will have to reflect the priorities set out by the Commission in its overall Strategy Guidelines. This requires that the second ‘axis’ of these strategies and plans should ‘contribute to the implementation of the agricultural… Natura 2000 network’ of sites designated under the Birds and Habitats and Species Directives.

‘Implementation’ of Natura in this context means not the designation of sites, but the need to ensure the ‘favourable conservation status’ of habitats and species listed in these Directives in general both within and outwith these sites. This is a requirement of the legislation and most Member States have chosen to approach this task, at least in the case of designated sites, through some kind of management planning process.

Many of the semi-natural areas designated under the Birds and Habitats Directives were created and maintained by farming practices, it follows that the fate of a large proportion of these sites is heavily influenced by current agricultural trends. The huge changes in agricultural policies which are occurring at present, many of which will certainly impact on the profitability of farming in these areas, should therefore command the urgent attention of agencies responsible for maintaining their positive conservation status.

2006 is therefore a time of both opportunity and challenge. On the one hand, agriculture and environmental authorities will have to co-operate to identify the needs of Natura sites in RDPs. Natura sites have their own measure under the new EAFRD (although not the separate funding instrument many would have wished), allowing targeting of support in line with the objectives identified.

On the other, CAP and other changes may put the future of farming systems which benefit Natura sites in doubt. Planners need to respond quickly to amend their perceptions of needs, threats and opportunities in the light of the changing situation, and to incorporate this is any support delivered through RDPs. Measures in RDPs other than those designed specifically for delivering Natura may directly threaten Natura 2000 sites or fail to support them. 2006 may represent the last real opportunity to look at these issues holistically before 2012.

Aims of the seminar

It was in this context that this workshop was conceived. It addressed Natura 2000 sites where farming is a significant and positive influence on the features of Community interest. It aimed to ask a number of questions:

  1. for these sites, how well defined is ‘favourable conservation status’?
  2. how well understood are the ecological interactions by which farming promotes favourable conservation status (e.g. how much and what type of change is acceptable)?
  3. how well is this understanding transmitted to others by the competent authority? In particular, how well are they understood by those responsible for the relevant RDP?
  4. how vulnerable are the positive aspects of the agricultural system to changes in CAP support (and other administrative arrangements) and to social trends?
  5. how well understood are these socio-economic interactions by the competent authority for Natura?
  6. how and how well are support measures, whether delivered through the First Pillar, the RDP, Structural Funds, State Aids or other instruments such as Life, integrated to address both socio-economic realities and environmental objectives

To do this, it brought together, in an area with a high concentration of farming-dependent Natura 2000 sites, ecologists, policy makers, local policy administrators, NGOs and farmers from other Natura farmland areas of Europe share experiences and good practice and to discuss potential problems, particularly in relation to the preparation and assessment of RDPs, at this crucial juncture.

Participants and focal regions

The participant list is appended, the attendees falling into 4 groups, representing

  1. the Uists (location of the seminar, UK): extensive cattle and sheep rearing on natural pastures with extensive arable cropping and hay meadows; Natura interest includes a range of semi-natural vegetation, notably machair and a range of species including Corncrake (Crex crex) and extremely high densities of breeding waders
  2. W Mayo, Ireland: cattle & sheep on natural pastures and meadows; Natura interest similar to above
  3. Sheep-managed Natura areas of Spain, including La Serena and mountains and pseudo-steppes of the Ebro basin; Natura interest includes range of grassland and scrub types and a wide variety of species
  4. ‘the rest of Europe’, ranging from Germany to Sweden to Bulgaria.

In each of these areas the approach to Natura management and its integration into wider policy is very different.

Venue and organisation

The workshop consisted of indoor sessions and 2 field trips (see attached programme). The trips were to Torlum/Lionacleit and to Balranald, while the indoor sessions were in An Caladh in Benbecula’s former East Camp.

The field trips were arranged by Colin MacPhail of SAC and assistance for preparation of the event was given freely by SNH, RSPB, CnES and Ena MacDonald, for all of which the organisers are very grateful. Ena also organised a cultural evening on the last night, which was much appreciated by all concerned. Accommodation and evening meals were provided in Lochmaddy.


Tues 27/6  
During day Arrival & registration
1900 Supper
Wed 28/6 What are the issues?
Chair: Gwyn Jones, EFNCP
0845 Welcome – Ena MacDonald, Scottish Crofting Foundation
0900-0945 Introduction to seminar: why this subject and why now? – Guy Beaufoy & Gwyn Jones, EFNCP
1000-1015 Introduction to the first field trip
1015-1300 Field trip 1 – High Nature Value farming on the Uist machairs Natura sites
1300-1400 Dinner
1400 Introduction to the HNV farming of the Mayo machairs Natura sites – Irish team
1430 Introduction to the HNV farming in Spanish steppelands and Natura 2000 sites in Navarra – Spanish team
1515 Introduction to Workshop 1
1530 Workshop 1
  • what is the situation of habitats and species in the Natura 2000 sites being discussed?
  • do they have a Favourable Conservation Status?
  • how can farming contribute to achieving (and maintaining) this objective?
1700-1800 Report back and general discussion
1930 Supper
Thu 29/6 Do RDPs adequately address the challenges facing Natura-designated farmland?
0830- 1200 Field trip 2 – Rural development measures and the Uist machairs
1200- 1300 Dinner
1300- 1315 Introduction to workshop 2
1315- 1430 Workshop 2
  • what Rural Development measures currently exist in the regions and Natura 2000 sites being discussed?
  • are any new measures or approaches proposed for 2007-13?
  • to what extent do existing and proposed measures address the issues identified in Workshop 1?
  • how could the measures be improved in order to contribute effectively to achieving the goal of Favourable Conservation Status’ in Natura 2000 sites?
1430- 1630 Brief summary from each group
  • What are the main things that need to be improved for Natura/RDP integration to work properly?
  • Why does it already work well in some areas?
  • How can the voice of marginal areas be strengthened?
  • What is the timetable for future action?
1730 Finish
1930 Supper
Evening Local entertainment
Fri 30/6 Depart


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