National Audit Office: The efforts of the Ministry of the Environment in setting up and protecting the Natura 2000 network are inadequate

Toomas Mattson | 6/4/2008 | 12:00 AM

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TALLINN, 4 June 2008 - The National Audit Office (NAO) finds that Estonia has set up the Natura 2000 network and protects the corresponding areas in a manner which does not ensure the favourable condition of valuable forest habitats throughout the country, and therefore the Natura 2000 network needs to be improved. However, it is possible that insufficient analysis has led to the inclusion of locations in the Natura network which really don't require this type of rigorous protection regime, and this may have given rise to undue restrictions on economic activity and extra burden on land owners and the government.

The NAO audit demonstrated that the Natura 2000 network was set up without bearing in mind its purpose of preserving the favourable condition of habitats throughout their range. Primarily, old protected areas were included in the network without paying enough attention to determining valuable habitats outside the protected areas.

The audit showed that the information of the Ministry of the Environment concerning the location of forest habitats is in accurate to a material extent. The analysis commissioned by the NAO revealed that Ministry’s data on "Western taiga" were accurate in only half the cases. Plus, the NAO detected considerable deficiencies in the records concerning other types of forest habitats. The NAO analysis covered habitats which form 59 % of the area of forest habitats in the Natura network.

According to the Director of Audit, Tarmo Olgo, who managed the audit, the superficial setup of the Natura network has led to the exclusion of several habitats which require protection and to the inclusion of locations with low nature value. Since economic activities are more or less limited on Natura areas and the government grants support to compensate for this, the rigorous protection of forests with low nature value is often unjustified, because, on the one hand, the use of the land by its owners is limited, and on the other, it entails undue expenditure for the government. At the same time, unprotected valuable forest habitats can be cut down in an uncontrolled manner and thus such values might cease to exist in the near future.

The management of protection of Natura habitats poses a problem. Regardless of the reproach made in the 1999 audit by the NAO which concerned the failure to prepare management plans, the Ministry of the Environment has not made any improvements and a large share of protected and special conservation areas still lack management plans. Furthermore, the activities in forest habitats are planned without assessing their impact on the habitat, which could result in sanctioning activities which compromise the habitats.

The Minister of the Environment agreed with most of the NAO’s recommendations and recognised that, according to the report which the Ministry of the Environment submitted to the European Commission, the condition of 80 % of valuable forest habitats in Estonia is not favourable. However, the Minister disagreed with the audit conclusions.

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The NAO audited the activities of the Ministry of the Environment in 2000-2007 as regards the setting up of the Natura 2000 network and the management of the protection of these areas. Also, the audit examined whether the government has an overview of the financial commitments assumed with the setting up of the Natura 2000 network. The NAO focused on forest habitats, because economic activities could extensively and irreversibly damage these within a short period of time.

The EU has launched the setting up of a network of protected areas known as “Natura 2000”, which, among other things, serves the purpose of preserving the favourable conservation condition of natural habitats of European importance throughout their natural distribution area. Upon accession to the EU, Estonia, like the other Member States, assumed this responsibility.

Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager of National Audit Office
Telephone: 6400 777
Mob: 51 34900
E-mail: [email protected]

  • Posted: 6/4/2008 12:00 AM
  • Last Update: 9/15/2015 10:00 AM
  • Last Review: 9/15/2015 10:00 AM

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