Focusing on ecological connectivity of land uses
In 2011, the European Commission adopted an ambitious new strategy to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020. The strategy is in line with two commitments already made by the EU in March 2010, namely, the 2020 headline target and the 2050 vision, as well as EU’s global commitments made in Nagoya in October 2010. This strategy is aimed at reversing biodiversity loss and speeding up the EU's transition towards a resource efficient and green economy. It is an integral part of the Europe 2020 Strategy, and in particular the resource efficient Europe flagship initiative.
Target 2 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 states that: By 2020, ecosystems and their services are maintained and enhanced by establishing green infrastructure and restoring at least 15 % of degraded ecosystems. To that effect, in May 2013 the European Commission has adopted a Green Infrastructure Strategy in the form of a Communication from the Commission: ‘Green Infrastructure – Enhancing Europe’s Natural Capital’. This document outlines the strategy to maintain and enhance Europe’s ecosystems and their services and is in line with the Commission’s efforts towards their mapping and assessment (MAES), and restoring of degraded ecosystems.
Green infrastructure (also referred to as GI) is viewed as being one of the main tools to tackle threats to biodiversity resulting from habitat fragmentation, land-use change and loss of habitats. It is now being taken forward by the European Commission as a broad and far-reaching concept, which has the potential to become a very influential policy instrument. Defining what ‘green infrastructure’ means is quite difficult, however, the last published working definition was:
"Green Infrastructure is a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services. It incorporates green spaces (or blue if aquatic ecosystems are concerned) and other physical features in terrestrial (including coastal) and marine areas. On land, GI is present in rural and urban settings."
With a programme dedicated to promoting the implementation of green infrastructure and its various components, ECNC is well placed to play an important role in developing science–policy links: to do this, we continue to explore best practices and actual delivery mechanisms, as part of working multifunctional landscapes, in which green infrastructure is a key element.
Green infrastructure incorporates a coherent ecological network at its core. As such, it is prudent to take into account and build further on work already conducted on implementing ecological networks at various geographical levels. Below the level of ecological corridors that cross within and between countries, this includes the green and blue veining that makes up the mosaic of traditionally managed multifunctional landscapes; also, as defined above, networks of natural areas remain at the heart of green infrastructure. Furthermore, green infrastructure also relies on existing policy instruments - such as the Natura 2000 Directives – which offer the potential for strengthening ecological networks to be exploited to their full potential in their implementation. ECNC has over 20 years of success in supporting the establishment of regional, national and international cross-boundary ecological network initiatives.
Perhaps the step that green infrastructure can take beyond what has already been achieved (with ecological networks) is to provide further context to inform important decisions that are required in relation to the planning and management of the wider countryside outside of designated areas. A key feature within green infrastructure is that biodiversity’s needs, its uses and its management, are integrated within different sectors: at the same time, fuller consideration is given to issues such as ecosystem services, climate change adaptation and ways to increase ecological resilience.
Green infrastructure can provide significant environmental, economic and social benefits, mainly by encouraging partnerships. Crucial means to achieve this include: through the active involvement of relevant stakeholders and resource holders ‘on the ground’; by promoting integrated spatial planning within identified multi-functional zones; and, by incorporating habitat restoration measures and other connectivity elements into various land-use plans and policies.