Legal basis

A large number of laws at both international and regional level refer to the importance of ecological networks for the preservation of Alpine biodiversity. The Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD), Natura 2000 and the Alpine Convention in particular, have paved the way for a pan-Alpine ecological network. The framework established at a European level is gradually being extended to national and regional levels, with individual tools being developed to suit local needs and circumstances. With this in mind, an increasing number of European countries have passed national legislation to promote ecological connectivity in the landscape in recent years, which is a measure of the importance attached to the preservation of ecological networks for the long-term protection of biodiversity.


Alpine Convention

The Alpine Convention, a framework agreement for the protection and sustainable development of the Alpine region, was signed by the eight countries of the Alpine region - Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Principality of Monaco, Switzerland, the Principality of Liechtenstein - and the European Union.
Article 12 of the Alpine Convention’s Protocol “Conservation of nature and the countryside” calls for the establishment of “a network of existing national and transboundary protected areas, of biotopes and other protected elements or those to be protected.”
Accordingly, the transnational network of protected areas was integrated into the Alpine Conference’s multiannual programme (MAP) 2005 to 2010. One of the main areas of the Program is entitled “Nature, agriculture and forestry, cultural landscape;” one of the key issues it addresses is the conservation of landscapes, habitats and species. Biotope networks are also mentioned here as a way to achieve this aim. Further steps to promote cross-border networking of protected areas and establishing links with other ecologically significant facilities are also cited as a priority area for the future work of the Alpine Conference (MAP, 2.4.).
In 2007 the Alpine countries established the Ecological Network Platform. Through this group of experts, alpine countries are able to share, compare and revise crucial information on measures and methodologies. The platform, which brings together representatives of the Alpine countries, protected areas and Alpine institutions and experts, provides an important link between policy makers, the scientific community and practitioners. It also encourages more efficient cooperation with other sectors. Within the platform, experts are working on three key areas of concern: scientific support for the establishment of an ecological network, its project-oriented implementation, and communication and PR work.

Natura 2000

The main objective of Natura 2000 is to create a coherent European ecological network of habitats and characteristic species in the EU member states. Natura 2000 therefore aims to achieve a coherent and functional habitat and biotope network. The Habitats Directive calls on member states to maintain and where appropriate develop connecting features of the landscape with a view to improving the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network (Articles 3 and 10). This does not create any obligation to designate new protected areas but means that in addition to the Natura 2000 areas, the need for connecting elements must be considered in landscape planning.
The legal basis for Natura 2000 comes from Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Habitats Directive) and Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds (Birds Directive). The EU-wide network of protected areas is intended to help preserve the European natural heritage in all its diversity. Natura 2000 also aims to maintain or restore, at favourable conservation status, natural habitats and species of wild fauna and flora of Community interest, as listed in the Annexes of the two Directives. In order to ensure that they are representative, biogeographical regions based on the species’ distribution areas are defined as a frame of reference. The Alpine arc, together with other European mountain regions, forms the Alpine biogeographical region.
Another important aspect of Natura 2000 in relation to ecological connectivity is the obligation to maintain, on a permanent basis, favourable conservation status of the species and habitat types through appropriate protection and development measures. For all areas of Community interest, measures must be identified to maintain the natural habitat types and species defined in the Directive, and these measures must be specified in appropriate management plans. One criterion for judging conservation status is ecological connectivity. As a means of guaranteeing implementation, the provisions of both the Habitats Directive (Article 17) and the Birds Directive (Article 12) require member states to draw up a report at regular intervals for the European Commission on the implementation of the measures taken under the two Directives. The Habitats Directive specifies that a report on the status of the elements of the Natura 2000 network must be submitted every six years. To that end, member states are required to undertake surveillance of the conservation status of the natural habitats and species of Community interest (Article 11 of the Habitats Directive). This surveillance should also take place outside Natura 2000 areas, as its purpose is to monitor the conservation status of the natural habitats and species with particular regard to priority natural habitat types and priority species, regardless of territorial context.
With these legally binding provisions and objectives, a range of instruments to promote ecological connectivity has been made available in the context of Natura 2000. The planning and implementation of measures to improve ecological connectivity must therefore be viewed in close association with Natura 2000. Furthermore, management plans and reporting and monitoring obligations within the Natura 2000 framework can make a targeted contribution to biotope connectivity, and have therefore been included in this catalogue of measures.

European Water Framework Directive

The European Union has set uniform environmental goals for the protection of ground water and surface water in all EU member states through the Water Framework Directive (WFD, Directive 2000/60/EC) in force since December 2000. To achieve these goals, the Water Framework Directive has adopted a broad, integrated, cross-border approach, which puts the sustainable protection of resources and the preservation of the ecological viability of bodies of water at the centre. The principal objective of the WFD is for rivers, lakes, coastal waters and ground water to achieve good ecological status by the year 2027.
With this in mind, the directive pays particular attention to the ecological function of bodies of water as a habitat for different plants and animals. The targets for improving the condition of bodies of water also encompass dependent terrestrial ecosystems and their interconnection. In addition to this, priority will be given to the restoration of ecological continuity for aquatic organisms and the transport of sediment in naturally occurring flowing water systems (Article 4 and Annex V). For example, migratory fish species, such as trout, can only reach their natural habitats in the upper reaches of a body of water if this continuity is provided. The isolation of individual sections of flowing water, e.g. through weirs, hydroelectric plants, reservoirs or piped stretches of water, can also cause problems for invertebrates.
With its legally binding standards and objectives the WFD provides concrete tools for the creation of a pan-Alpine ecological network, since with the adoption of the WFD member states have made a commitment to restoring the ecological continuity of all free flowing water, as far as possible. The implementation of the WFD requires specific measures to improve the structures of bodies of water and their continuity e.g. the construction of fish ladders or fish by-pass channels at hydroelectric plants and weirs or the dismantling of pipe work and falls.

National Legislation

Austria: Guideline on Game Protection
The Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) has initiated a revision of the Guideline on Game Protection (RVS 3.01), which stipulates that in transport planning, specific road planning and environmental impact assessments the ecological aspects relating to game as detailed in the Guideline must be taken into account. This Guideline sets out minimum wildlife/ecological standards for wildlife passages on roads. The Österreichische Autobahnen und Schnellstrassen GmbH (Austrian Motorway and Expressway Company) was involved in the development of the Guideline (cf. SCHWARZEL et al. 2000).
Wildlife/ecological spatial planning (German acronym: WÖRP) is an instrument developed in 1983 by the Forschungsinstitut für Wildtierkunde und Ökologie (Research Institute for Wildlife Ecology) in Vienna. It provides a fundamental wildlife/ecological concept that is used in a number of Austrian states, as well as the canton of Graubünden in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The aim of this concept is the long-term incorporation of species of wildlife into the cultural landscape. This will be achieved by harmonising the creation of biotope networks with studies on game stocks and the carrying capacity of biotopes. WÖRP includes large-scale spatial planning (nationwide basic planning) related to the spatial distribution of wildlife populations and detailed regional planning.
Red Lists of endangered types of biotope were drawn up for Austria, with the Federal Environment Agency as lead agency.

France: National ecological network ‘Trame verte et bleue”
In France, the green and blue network ‘Trame verte et bleue‘ is one of the great national projects that issued from the ‘Grenelle de l’Environnement‘ environmental debates held in October 2007. The objective of these debates was to make long-term decisions on the environment and sustainable development, and in particular with regard to restoring biodiversity. The ‘Trame verte et bleue‘ is a spatial planning tool for ecological recovery throughout France. It is the outcome of joint efforts of the government, regional and local authorities and a large number of actors from science, voluntary associations, etc.
Through this project, the concept of ecological continuity is introduced in French law. The concept will be realized over a number of years as part of a package of measures for biodiversity protection incorporated or defined more precisely in the law Grenelle II, now being drafted. Under this law, the French government is required to define national guidelines. Each region is expected to develop its own plan for ecological connectivity, based on these guidelines, before the end of 2012. The municipalities in their turn must take the regional plan into account in their own planning documents.
At the regional level, some régions develop initiatives for ecological networks. The most advanced projects are the ones of Nord-Pas de Calais and Alsace. But also the régions Rhône-Alpes, Ile-de-France and Basse-Normandie started to take actions.
Since 1996, the Isère department, which includes several important protected areas, has been working on the development of an ecological network. In 2001, a map of the departments ecological network (REDI) was produced. Since then, numerous activities have been undertaken to implement this ecological network (game bridge and tunnels, sped limits, public relations work, integration in planning processes).
The French federation of regional nature parks has developed a method for implementing ecological networks within the regional nature parks. Parks like Oise-Pays de France, Scarpe-Escaut, Pilat, Caps et marais d'Opale, Haut Languedoc and Lorraine currently test this method.
Futhermore, the nine parks in the Massif Central. want to identify the ecological continuums at the level of the massif to assure a connection between the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Germany: Federal Nature Conservation Act
Since the amendment of the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) came into force in March 2002, each of Germany’s states is required by law to establish an interstate network of interlinked biotopes on at least 10 % of its total area. The aim of this network, as described in Article 3 of the Act, is to protect native species and their habitats and to conserve or restore functioning ecological interrelationships. To do this, a three-stage procedure is needed to determine which areas are already contributing to the network of biotopes, ascertain the need for further suitable areas and identify suitable areas for development. In the process, it has to be taken into account that ecological interrelationships occur in extremely different spatial/geographical dimensions. For the network of interlinked biotopes required by Article 3 of the Act, the international and regional levels are significant. All areas, including those with protected status, will only be counted as being part of the network of biotopes if they are suitable for achieving the goal set out in Article 3 (2) of the Act. This means that scientific criteria for selecting suitable areas must be developed. Recommendations on this were developed by a panel of experts representing the central government and the states (BURKHARDT et al. 2004). In applying these criteria, a research project took stock of the areas that are of national significance for an ecological network (FUCHS et al. 2007). The areas of so-called ”green belt” along the former inner-German border form an important part of the national ecological network.

BayernNetz Natur and Bavaria’s biodiversity strategy
The creation of a Land-wide network of interlinked biotopes has been enshrined in Bavaria’s Nature Conservation Act since 1998. It is to be implemented first and foremost as part of largescale nature conservation projects. Precious habitats for rare species of plants and wildlife are to be created, and nurtured in several hundred BayernNetz Natur [Bavarian Nature Network] projects. BayernNetz Natur projects are characterised by the close co-operation between those involved (who include farmers, local authorities, associations, communities, etc.). The overriding principle is the voluntary nature of all the measures and the co-operative approach. BayernNetz Natur projects are financed through various subsidies drawn from Land, federal and EU funds. Foundations and sponsoring agreements provide additional financing options. One of the four key objectives of the Bavarian Biodiversity Strategy is to make migration barriers such as roads or dams and weirs passable from an ecological viewpoint. The current biotopes of more than 100 km2, which are not dissected by public roads and are characterised by low traffic density, represent a high ecological value which should be preserved. In addition roads and railway tracks as well as weirs and other structures spanning across rivers need to be made even more ecologically penetrable than before. Bavaria’s biodiversity strategy is to be implemented in co-ordination with the Land’s other departments and by involving those concerned, first and foremost the land users and land owners.

Italy: Ecological agriculture
In Italy, agricultural development programmes are defined at regional level. Each province draws up a plan for rural development, stating the goals of its contractual measures. The agrienvironmental programmes are jointly financed by the central government and the regions. Apart from purely agricultural programmes, there are also programmes targeting the cultural landscape, in which measures for landscape conservation and development are proposed. Schemes to preserve the traditional cultural landscape, particularly in mountain regions, include conservation of important historical landscape features such as dry stonewalls and hedgerows, along with other measures such as project-based payments for traditional fences and irrigation canals. Landscape conservation payments are used to conserve individual features of the cultural landscape. Landscape conservation payments are available for the conservation of particularly valuable habitats (land-related payments). The various regions develop landscape models, inventories and plans to provide guidance for individual measures and support programmes. The landscape conservation payments compensate, for example, for extra work involved in using traditional farming methods and for lower yields.

By its incorporation into the Worldwide International Instruments and the Pan-European Instruments systems, Liechtenstein has been now fundamentally integrated into international and cross-border cooperation. For Liechtenstein, as a country with a very small land area, foreignpolicy objectives are as a general principle always closely coordinated with its neighbouring states, the Austrian state of Vorarlberg, and the Swiss cantons of St. Gallen and Graubünden. Thus, even if it was not always explicitly stipulated by particular legislation or other national instruments, cross-border collaboration on matters concerning nature and the environment has always been important to us. This collaboration on nature and landscape conservation exists, for example, on matters of freshwater ecology, forest reserves, wetlands, management of wild ungulate species, species of large predators, invasive species, wildlife passages and many other areas.
2008 will see the implementation of the “development strategy for nature and agriculture” (Entwicklungskonzept Natur und Landschaft), for which extensive base data has been acquired in recent years. This strategy will involve implementing rehabilitation and networking projects in Liechtenstein in close cooperation with agriculture. Transregional corridors will also be set up jointly with the Swiss canton of St. Gallen and the Austrian province of Vorarlberg.

Slovenia: Programme to develop Slovenia’s forests
Forests are of particular significance in Slovenia. With forest covering 56.4 % of its land surface, Slovenia ranks third in Europe in terms of proportion of forested land. That proportion is increasing as agricultural land is abandoned. Slovenia’s forestry policy is based on principles of sustainability, near-natural and multi-function forest management.
The “Programme to develop Slovenia’s forests” of 1996 contains the key facts on Slovenian forests and their role in conserving biodiversity. The fact that the forests have a high degree of conservation, cover a significant proportion of the country’s land surface and are home to many of Europe’s endangered species gives them special importance in any Alpine network. Ecologically important habitats and wetlands in the forests and forest reserves enjoy special protection status.
The development programme envisages involving the forestry agency, as well as the hunting authority and hunting associations in aspects of spatial planning, in particular infrastructure plans, to ensure that habitats for game are preserved.

Switzerland: Ordinance on Ecological Quality and Guideline on dimensions
for wildlife passages
One of the conditions that farmers in Switzerland have to meet to be eligible for direct payments is that they establish ecological compensation areas (ECAs) on at least 7 per cent of their agricultural production land. Ecological compensation areas are species-rich, extensively farmed meadows and pastures, straw fields and hedgerows, along with other semi-natural habitats. Currently, ECAs account for around 10% of agricultural production land in Switzerland. Since 2001, the Ordinance on Ecological Quality (ÖQV) has provided outcome-oriented incentives aimed not only at promoting biological quality, but also at linking up ecological compensation areas. The aim of this is to use target or reference species typical for the region to connect remaining populations that have become isolated. In the case of meadows, quality evaluation is carried out on the basis of indicator plants. For other types of habitat, additional criteria are also used; for example, for hedges they include structure, minimum width, origins of species, management. The cantons are obliged to participate financially. The allowances for link-up and quality measures are cumulative. In a short space of time, the market incentives provided by the Ordinance have – particularly in mountain regions – brought about extensive network and biological enhancement of species-rich meadows and pastureland that had become endangered by intensive farming and abandonment of pastures.

In 2001, the Swiss Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (UVEK) issued a guideline on dimensions for wildlife passages stipulating that passages along wildlife corridors with nationwide significance should be 45 +/- 5 metres wide. In the process of developing this stipulation, the Federal Highways Agency (ASTRA) and the Federal Environment Agency (BAFU) agreed to take remedial action to improve the situation for wildlife along the Swiss network of motorways and major roads. This concept includes plans to establish around 50 wildlife passages over the next few decades to increase the passability of the road network by native wild mammals. The conflict points in needed of remedial action were roughly defined in the “corridor report” (SRU 326). The detailed planning – in particular the exact siting and design of the structures and their surroundings – will take place within the framework of concepts developed by the cantons. Relevant documents – either the overall strategy for the whole canton or simply relating to those corridors which are part of the above list – are already available in six cantons and are in the planning stage in others. Moreover, detailed planning for the construction of wildlife passages has started for three sites. Information from the “corridor report” – supplemented to some extent by that provided by the national ecological network, or REN, (SRU 373), including details on the location of each of the wildlife corridors and specific degree of risk – was also incorporated into the structure plans of 17 cantons, thus increasing the level of protection afforded to these important connecting axes.
Documents can be ordered at The report on wildlife corridors is available in German and French under the following reference numbers: SRU-326-D/SRU-326-F; the REN report under: SRU-373-D/SRU-373-F; maps: SRU-373-TD.
by intensive farming and abandonment of pastures.

Read also...

More information on legal basis you can find in:

BfNSkriptenCOVER.jpgImplementing a Pan-Alpine Ecological Network. A Compilation of Major Approaches, Tools and Activities. BfN Skripten 273. September 2010.





Hintergrb_OekoNetzw_de1.jpgRelevant instruments in the field of Ecological networks in the Alpine region. A background report. Updated 2010