The peregrine falcon is among the species that are well protected in Norway. This bird was previously in decline, but the population has been on the rise in Norway over the past decade or two. Photo: Bård Bredesen,

Norway helps preserve European biodiversity

The Norwegian Environment Agency has nominated 85 protected areas as new candidates for the Emerald Network, a pan-European network for nature conservation. The network aims at protecting endangered species and ecosystems in Europe. Norway shares a responsibility for preserving Europe’s natural heritage.

The Emerald Network: protecting the ecology

The Bern Convention protects European species of wild plants and animals and their natural habitats.

The founding of the Emerald Network is one of the convention’s instruments for achieving this goal.

Norway is responsible for designating areas for the protection of around 130 species and 50 ecosystems. In addition, we are allowed to suggest further species and ecosystems to be added to the ecological network.

The process of founding the network began in 2007. Since then, many academic communities and experts have provided advice on which species and ecosystems Norway should nominate for the network.

The EU as well as 51 individual European countries have signed the Bern Convention. In the EU, this ecological network has been founded under the name of Natura 2000. The Habitats Directive and the Bird Directive set the framework for establishing this network in all EU countries.

The Emerald Network covers areas from Russia west for the Ural Mountains, all of Europe, and Northern Africa.

According to the plan, Norway’s contribution to the network shall be determined when the signatories to the Bern Convention meet in 2016.

When the network has been established, a set of obligations will follow. The designated Emerald areas must be protected and managed so the given species and ecosystems survive in the long term.

Every sixth year, the countries that have a network must report to the Bern Convention, in order to demonstrate that the network works as intended.

“Nature does not recognize national borders,” says Ellen Hambro, the director general of the Norwegian Environment Agency.

“Many species and ecosystems need protection across large regions straddling several countries in order to survive. When managing nature, we must therefore keep in mind that we must also preserve European biodiversity.”

A species or ecosystem might be endangered in a certain country but not in others. A network of areas ensures better protection for the various species and ecosystems.

This is the very reason for founding the European network for the protection of species and nature, the Emerald Network. Norway is obligated through the Bern Convention to participate in this network.

Extensive work

On behalf of the Ministry of Climate and Environment, the Norwegian Environment Agency carried out extensive work over several years to see how our protection of species and ecosystems is part of a broader European perspective.

In 2013 the ministry nominated 633 areas as candidates to the Emerald Network, all of which are protected areas.

The Norwegian Environment Agency is now suggesting that a further 85 protected areas be added to the list.

Academic communities assist in the review

The Norwegian Environment Agency has received expert advice from Norwegian academic communities, such as the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) and the NTNU University Museum, the consultancy firms Ecofact and Biofokus, and the Norwegian Ornithological Society.

These experts have helped evaluate Norwegian protected areas in light of the criteria established by the Emerald Network.

“This major review has been highly useful and helped us look at Norwegian conservation efforts with European glasses,” Hambro explains. “For example, we have become more aware of which species we bear a particular responsibility for in a European context.”

Examples of species that Norway is particularly responsible for protecting through the Emerald Network include birds such as the gyrfalcon, the Steller’s eider, the Eurasian dotterel, and the bar-tailed godwit, mammals such as the harbour seal and the porpoise, and flowers such as the arctic wood-rush and the narrowfruit braya.

Protection of mountains and wetlands ensures many species

It is only protected areas that have been assessed as candidates for the network. Norway protects large swaths of mountain area, and as a result many species that live in the mountains receive good protection.

The protection of wetlands also concerns many species that are to be protected by the Emerald Network. Birds such as the red- and black-throated loons, the golden eagle, the merlin, the gyrfalcon, the peregrine falcon, the Eurasian dotterel, and the European golden plover are well protected in Norway.

Plant examples include the narrowfruit braya, the draba cacuminum (a species of whitlow-grass), the arctic wood-rush, and the Scandinavian primrose, while protected mammals include the beaver.

As of today, 121 of the 136 the species have been evaluated. Considering the areas that now have been proposed for inclusion in the Emerald Network, the Norwegian Environment Agency believes that 60 species will receive good protection under the criteria that apply for the Emerald Network. It is in particular among mammals, birds, and plants that we will be most successful in achieving this goal. Figure: Norwegian Environment Agency.

External factors

Conditions of life change over time for both species and ecosystems.

Encroachment, harvesting, pollution, and climate change are the primary factors.

It is therefore necessary to regularly review whether the network provides adequate protection for the species and ecosystems in question.

An example of how habitats can change for certain species includes the migratory bird the smew, which now winters ever farther north, probably because of climate change. The consequence is that smews spend less time in those areas that have previously been established to protect this species in Europe.

Much work remains for ecosystems

In regard to preserving ecosystems, it has not yet been determined which areas should be nominated for the Emerald Network. One reason is that Norway and the EU countries use different classification systems.

The list of ecosystems that are important to preserve at the European level includes 50 ecosystems that are potential candidates in Norway. These are special ecosystems that are found in mountains, forests, swamps, freshwater systems, beaches, and oceans.

The further process

The Norwegian Environment Agency recommends that the Ministry of Climate and Environment informs the Bern Convention of the new candidate areas and of the further process leading up to the scheduled decision for the network in 2016.

The Norwegian Environment Agency will evaluate all remaining species for which such evaluations are lacking, and also clarify how the work on selecting the ecosystems for the network is to be carried out.

“The founding of the Emerald Network will not guarantee the long-term survival of species and ecosystems,” Ellen Hambro concludes. “We must take into account the changing conditions when we are to preserve biodiversity for the future. A common European approach to such work entails that the management of nature will be more focused, both in Norway and in Europe.”