This document provides sector specific guidance on the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives in estuaries and coastal zones. The guidance has benefitted from discussions held in the context of a specific working group with representatives from Member States, stakeholder organisations and environmental NGOs.
Its development followed a request of the ports and maritime services sector. Ports, especially in Western Europe, are often situated in or near estuaries. These are dynamic and highly productive ecosystems and in many cases designated Natura 2000 sites. Estuaries provide the necessary shelter and suitable conditions for maritime access to ports.
Ports fulfil a strategic role in the development and realisation of global trade and they periodically need to expand. Previously not subject to many environmental requirements, the application and interpretation of environmental legislation, including the EU nature directives, has presented new challenges to the sector which, in recent years, has sometimes resulted in delays in port development projects.
Ports play an essential role in economic development and seek legal certainty as a prerequisite for new development projects. The European Port’s policy, as formulated by the European Commission, has recommended reviewing legal constraints that may hinder development projects (‘fast track procedure’). The present guidance document provides a number of recommendations and elements of good practice to enhance port development and management in or near Natura 2000 sites.
Some key recommendations are:
• The design of plans or projects should always be based on mutually beneficial strategies with a view to achieving dual goals of both Natura 2000 conservation objectives and socio-economic objectives, according to the ‘working with nature’ concept.
• Damage prevention or avoidance measures should always be preferred to compensation measures.
• Pre-assessments to evaluate the potential for impact of a plan or project on Natura 2000 sites should always be foreseen. This is necessary in order to decide whether a plan or project is likely to have significant effects on a Natura 2000 site and whether an ‘appropriate assessment’ in the sense of Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive is required.
• Thorough and timely stakeholder consultation is always recommended in order to prevent the raising of objections during the project permitting process.
• Maintenance of ports and navigational access should be dealt with in the context of integrated management plans for the entire waterway or the affected Natura 2000 site. Capital dredging operations should be designed as a part of sustainable dredging and sediment management schemes.
• In case of any remaining minor scientific uncertainty with regard to the effects of a plan or project or the related mitigation or compensatory measures, the measures should include a pre-defined and validated scheme to monitor the actual impacts and a framework to adapt the mitigation and compensation measures to the actual impacts.