How Protected Areas can contribute to the new EU Nature Restoration targets

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On June 22, 2022, the European Commission proposed a new Nature Restoration Law, an essential part of the EU Green Deal and Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.

The EU Nature Restoration law

The Commission set multiple targets to restore degraded ecosystems such as wetlands, rivers, forests, grasslands, marine ecosystems, and the species they host. This proposal combines both general and specific objectives, ensuring long-term nature recovery and specific implementation measures.

By 2030, these measures should extend to at least 20% of the land and water areas in the EU, and by 2050, they should apply to all ecosystems that require restoration.

Today, for the first time ever, we are proposing a law that would require all Member States to restore nature. We need to repair the 80% of our nature that’s in bad shape, and bring nature back to our cities, towns, forests, agricultural land, seas, lakes, and rivers – the nature that our citizens want and need.

Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, statement from press release of the new proposal.

Why do we need this?

Unfortunately, 81% of habitats in Europe are in a bad state despite the Birds and Habitats Directives having restoration goals. A review of the Biodiversity Strategy for 2020 highlighted the voluntary nature of these goals as the core problem and suggested a legally binding tool: The EU Nature Restoration Law

This is the first new environmental legislation since 2015 and will be relevant for areas inside and outside Natura 2000 protected areas, for urban green spaces and for agricultural landscapes. Once the regulation is approved, the work can start immediately and the law can be enforced without having to wait for national laws to be laid down first (as would be the case for a Directive).

Read the full proposal here or check out the EU Factsheet here.

What are the key targets?

  • restore habitats and species protected by the EU nature legislation
  • reverse the decline of pollinators by 2030
  • no net loss of green urban spaces by 2030 and a minimum of 10% tree canopy cover in European cities
  • improved biodiversity on farmlands
  • restore drained peatlands
  • healthier forests with improved biodiversity
  • at least 25.000 km of free-flowing rivers by 2030
  • restore seagrasses and sea floors

What are the next steps?

The very next step is that it needs to be approved by the Council and the EU Parliament. Only then is it adopted.

Each Member State is required to submit a National Restoration Plan to the Commission two years after the adoption and then monitor their progress. The first EU report has already been set for June 2031.

You can find more information on timelines and the implementation process here.

How can Protected Areas contribute?

The first step in halting and reversing biodiversity loss is to stop any downward trends. The second step is to restore what was lost. Protected Areas are already doing this! They will be examples of the gold standard of a “good ecological status” for many habitat types.

Protected Areas are also leading the way with restoration efforts and can share their journey, best practices and expertise. This was what the 11 experts from across Europe who gathered for the EUROPARC 2022 Siggen Seminar discussed earlier this year.

Read more about it here or check out the outcomes presentation here.

Additionally, creating new Protected Areas is a tool for restoration. Once destructive activities are restricted, an ecosystem can recover by itself. This passive restoration through Protected Areas will be a key tool for the restoration of marine areas.

What happens when areas are restored?

The EU Nature Restoration Law should feed into other strategies on sustainable development, renewable energy and conservation. Once an area is restored, or sometime as it is being restored, it can be used for one or more of the following:

  • a new Protected Area to achieve the goal of 30% of land and sea protected by 2030
  • new wind and solar energy projects to reduce reliance on fossil fuels
  • sustainable agriculture (e.g. a rewetted peatland can be used to grow cranberries)

Estimates say that for every 1€ invested in nature restoration, we receive 8€ of benefits. These will be not just ecosystem services like clean air and water but also opportunities for local communities such as new jobs in sustainable businesses or nature protection.

EUROPARC will continue to follow the process of the nature restoration law – so watch this space. Once it is adopted, it is important the during the creation of the National Restoration Plan, policy makers consult with Protected Areas and profit off the wealth of experience they have to offer. It is during this time, that nature conservation professionals and Protected Area managers will need to emphasise how essential nature restoration is to climate change adaptation, biodiversity and human health, and how important it is to bring the whole community onboard for successful implementation.

Interested in nature restoration?
Check out our knowledge hub here.