Sixth National Report
Section I. Information on the targets being pursued at the national level
Objective 1 - Identify and monitor priority components of biodiversity in Belgium ()
In principle, the entire wealth of biodiversity should be subject to protection. It is however not feasible to concentrate efforts on all the elements of biodiversity. The Strategy will therefore focus the efforts where they are most needed, i.e. on components of biodiversity that are most at risk or could be subject to high risks in the near future. Priority components of biodiversity requiring the most urgent protective measures must be identified and their status monitored.
Priority components of biodiversity include (1) ecosystems and habitats that are unique, rare, in danger of disappearance, or that play a crucial role for priority species; (2) species that are rare, endangered, vulnerable, or that are endemic or live in specific habitats; (3) genomes and genes of particular social, scientific or economic importance; and (4) functional components of biodiversity that are essential for the provision of ecosystem services.
Adaptive management is concerned with the complex and dynamic nature of ecosystems and their uses and the absence of complete knowledge of their functioning. Because circumstances change and uncertainties are inherent in all managed uses of components of biodiversity, adaptive management is able to respond to uncertainties and it contains elements of “learning-by-doing” or research feedback. Monitoring is a key component of adaptive management.
Adequate monitoring, followed by regular reporting on status and trends of priority biodiversity components, is important. It allows adaptive management and decision-makers to develop adequate policy responses. It is also a prerequisite to communicate progress towards the 2020 targets to the public and stakeholders. Furthermore, it contributes to enhancing public awareness and participation. In order to avoid an additional reporting burden, the format of such reports should be streamlined in accordance with existing reporting obligations on biodiversity at European and CBD level.
A set of biodiversity indicators has already been adopted by the CBD to follow the implementation of the 2020 target (see box below). Several of these indicators have been tested and standardized at EU level by the European Environment Agency (set of EU headline biodiversity indicators, SEBI 2020 project) to monitor the state of biodiversity in Europe. The Member States are therefore asked to report annually to the EEA on these indicators.
Monitoring and reporting on the status of biodiversity in Belgium will need the development of suitable monitoring tools and indicators in line with the outcomes of the SEBI 2020 project (see also objective 7.3).
The stakeholders involved in the implementation of this objective are: the federal and regional authorities, the relevant sectors (agriculture, fishery, forestry), nature conservation agencies, universities, nature conservation NGOs, the Belgian Biodiversity Research Platform and any association working towards the same goal as the NBS.
Objective 1.1 - Define a common Belgian methodology for the identification and monitoring of priority components of biodiversity according to EU guidelines ()
So far, no methodology to identify priority elements of Belgian biodiversity is available at national level. The Regions manage biodiversity according to their own criteria and priorities. Nevertheless common standards can be developed and therefore it is useful to compare the monitoring methods of the different Regions. The methodology could consider conducting the identification of priority components of biodiversity on the basis of a bioregional approach deciding to choose components of biodiversity which are most at threat of disappearing, or species that are of particular importance for the functioning of vulnerable ecosystems, together with a number of flagship species for Belgium.
Objective 1.2 - Identify and monitor priority species, habitats, genetic and functional components of biodiversity ()
Once a common methodology to identify components of biodiversity that need urgent protective measures has been agreed, lists of priority habitats, species and genetic components will be drawn up. Threatened species and ecosystems should benefit from adequate long-term policy, and the restoration of degraded habitats should favour the protection of threatened and rare species as well as the re-establishment of species that had disappeared from our country. Particular attention will be paid to wetlands that are under serious threat.
From the species conservation point of view, the loss of local populations implies a loss of genetic diversity, which in turn may result in a loss of resilience to environmental change, i.e. the ability to offer resistance to, or recover from, natural and human-induced pressures.
Lists of most sensitive (threatened, vulnerable and rare) species and ecosystems which need particular attention (included in Natura 2000 at EU level) will be used and adapted to the Belgian context. It is also important to take the specificity of Belgian ecosystems/species into account and to identify the elements of biodiversity that are rare, particularly threatened with extinction, vulnerable or of particular importance (for ecosystem functioning; symbolic importance; cultural importance) at the Belgian level. Belgian regional and national red lists of threatened species already exist and could be used for this compilation of priority species. For the marine environment, a list of priority species and habitats has been developed in an international framework (OSPAR). National red lists and related synthetic indicators are very useful for example for reporting to the EU, OECD and IUCN and other organisations.
Regional or maritime red lists are ad hoc constructed by specialists and Citizen Scientist groups on an irregular basis (about every 10 years for every group of species) as a side product of regional species atlases
Objective 2 - Investigate and monitor the effects of threatening processes and activities and their causes ()
The major processes that constitute a threat to, or are likely to have significant adverse impacts on, biodiversity are identified in part I.4. These processes and the activities impacting directly on biodiversity must be further investigated and their effects monitored through sampling and other techniques. Their causes must be identified and monitored on a regular basis (see also operational objective 7.3).
The stakeholders involved in the implementation of this objective are: the federal and regional authorities, nature conservation agencies, the Belgian Biodiversity Research Platform, universities, market actors (including business and import sectors, consumers and other members of civil society), and any association working towards the same goal as the NBS.
Objective 2.1 - Investigate and monitor the effects and causes of activities and processes, including new and emerging risks, that threaten components of biodiversity in Belgium ()
Identifying new and emerging risks as early as possible is a precondition for early action.
Much can be done to avert loss of biodiversity if adequate information on potential threats is available. It is necessary to further investigate the impact on biodiversity of human activities and of threats arising from natural causes, as well as relations between those processes and activities in order to take the most appropriate measures to minimise their impacts. Particular attention must be paid to the potential risks to biodiversity posed by the development and use of new technologies, their processes and products. For instance, attention should be paid to the potentially negative impacts of nanotechnologies on biodiversity, to the use of GMOs in agriculture, forestry and fishery - detailed in Objective 4 - as well as other GMOs developed as bioindicators or bioremediators, GM cattle, domestic animals, decorative plants, or GM microorganisms and viruses used as pest regulators in agriculture, etc.). Among their potential negative impacts: the spread of invasive alien species, the threat to non-target organisms by GMOs producing specific pesticides, unforeseen interactions with biodiversity, or the ecosystem disequilibrium caused by the large-scale diffusion of such organisms. The development of new, not yet marketed genetic transformation techniques, like synthetic biology, should be carefully accompanied by, a. o., thorough EIA procedures and the elaboration and implementation of adequate regulations by the community involved in biodiversity preservation. The biodiversity research community has a role to play in identifying emerging issues and delivering relevant biodiversity policy information.
When considering the various potential impacts of these emerging risks, attention should be paid not only to impacts on specific components of biodiversity but also to community structures and global ecosystem functions and services and to the links between biodiversity and health, in particular to risks to health.
Objective 2.2 - Investigate and monitor the effects of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services ()
As highlighted in Part I, some effects of climate change on biodiversity are already obvious. They are likely to increase further because of the projected rise in temperature. Climate change constitutes a direct threat to biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services as it disrupts ecological relations, unbalancing ecosystem functioning; it increases the impact of invasive alien species, causes disturbance to the lifecycle of some species and migration or disappearance of others, and can affect specific ecosystem services such as water regulation, nutrient cycling, food provision. Populations of Northern species tend to move northwards or disappear altogether (e.g. plant species), not having been able to adapt to climate change. Terrestrial ecosystems are mainly affected in terms of plant phenology and distribution of plant and animal species, with specialist species being most at risk.
Even if society substantially reduces its emissions of greenhouse gases over the coming decades, the climate system is projected to continue to change in centuries to come. We therefore have to prepare for and adapt to the consequences of some inevitable climate change, in addition to mitigation measures.
To prevent or limit severe damage to the environment, society and economies, adaptation strategies for affected systems must be developed at national, regional and local level. In 2010, Belgium adopted its national climate adaptation strategy. It has 3 objectives:
· to improve the coherence between existing adaptation activities in Belgium (assessing the impacts of climate change, vulnerability to climate change and adaptation measures already implemented);
· to improve communication at national, European and international levels;
· to initiate a process to develop a national action plan.
The Strategy summarizes the expected impacts of climate change in Belgium in several areas including biodiversity and gives an overview of the adaptation measures that have already been made in these areas as well as two cross-cutting areas: research and international cooperation. This strategy has initiated the process of developing a National Adaptation Plan. In this context, the different levels of government (Federal Government, Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels-Capital) have carried out studies in order to prepare future Federal/Regional adaptation plans that will provide the baseline for the national adaptation plan.
Regional studies have led to the development of regional climate projections and to provide information on sectoral vulnerability to future climate conditions.
The Flemish Region has published in 2013 the regional plan for adaptation to climate change (Het Vlaams Klimaatbeleidsplan 2013-2020). The Walloon Region adopted in 2007 the Walloon Plan ‘Air-Climate’. Brussels-Capital Region approved in September 2013 the proposal of pre-project for the regional plan air-climate-energy.
Objective 2.3 - Investigate the potential impact on biodiversity of the internal trade (legal and illegal) of live animals and plants at a Belgian level and potentially adapt relevant regulations, including market regulation when appropriate ()
Sending out the right market signals, particularly to final consumers, for biodiversity conservation is crucial. While the potential impact on global biodiversity of international trade with Belgium is covered under objectives 5.6 and 5.7, it appeared necessary to also consider, in a holistic way, the potential impact of the internal trade (legal and illegal) of live animals and plants on biodiversity. Animal welfare and public/animal health issues should be taken into account in this context. Relevant regulations, including market regulation, as well as consumer behaviour should be adapted where necessary. This can be done for example by implementing CITES Regulation or other relevant EU legislation.
In considering the internal trade of species, particular attention will be devoted to the numerous exotic species deliberately introduced into Belgium (import of ornamental plants, pets, species for breeding, fishing, hunting, used as biological controls or for biomass production, etc.).
Objective 3 - Maintain or restore biodiversity and ecosystem services in Belgium to a favourable conservation status ()
Healthy ecosystems are needed if we want to halt the loss of biodiversity and benefit from the many valuable services they provide. Despite the initiatives already put in place, habitats in Belgium are becoming increasingly fragmented and degraded. This affects biodiversity directly and indirectly as it makes the ecosystems vulnerable to other threats, such as biological invasions. It also undermines the many services that healthy ecosystems provide to society, such as clean water and protection against flooding and erosion.
In 2010, the Parties to the CBD agreed to make concerted efforts to achieve Aichi Target 9 (the introduction and establishment of invasive alien species is prevented), Target 11 (17 % of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 % of coastal and marine areas have been conserved), Target 14 (ecosystems and essential services have been safeguarded) and Target 15 (ecosystems are restored and their resilience has been enhanced). These global targets are reflected in EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 under target 1 (implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives), target 2 (maintenance and restoration of ecosystems and their services) and target 5 (combating invasive alien species). It is therefore important to adapt the NBS accordingly.
Nature conservation activities across Belgium, in, among others, marine areas as well as rural and urbanised areas, need to be strengthened through optimal protection, management and restoration measures. The measures to be taken will depend greatly on the priority components of biodiversity selected in Objective 1 and on threatening processes and activities identified in Objective 2. Measures could be, for instance, the extension of a forest or grassland in a specific area, restoration of a degraded habitat of particular importance (e.g. wetlands) or establishment of a protected area.
The measures will have to be taken in cooperation with the different stakeholders in order to define ways that both conserve biodiversity and meet other stakeholders’ interests. In this context, the application of the ecosystem approach and the implementation of the programme of work on Protected Areas (CBD Decision VII/28), as appropriate, will be of particular relevance.
The concept of favourable conservation status* (see box below) provides an objective concept that will be scientifically defined for the purpose of Objective 1, together with the identification of appropriate indicators to allow for the monitoring of the status of the priority components of biodiversity.
Concept of favourable conservation status (EU Habitats and Birds Directive)
The conservation status of a natural habitat is “favourable” when (i) its natural range and areas it covers within that range are stable or increasing, and (ii) the specific structure and functions which are necessary for its long-term maintenance exist and are likely to continue to exist for the foreseeable future, and the conservation status of its typical species is favourable as defined below.
The conservation status of a species is “favourable” when (i) population dynamics data on the species concerned indicate that it is maintaining itself on a long-term basis as a viable component of its natural habitats, (ii) the natural range of the species is neither being reduced nor is likely to be reduced for the foreseeable future, and (iii) there is, and will probably continue to be, a sufficiently large habitat to maintain its population on a long-term basis.
Protected areas, ecological networks and green infrastructure in Belgium
Protected areas in Belgium represent many different types of ecosystems: forests, wetlands, pastures, calcareous grasslands, heath lands, caves, marine areas, etc. Their sizes range from a few ares to thousands of hectares. Protected areas include: nature reserves (public and private), Natura 2000 sites, forest reserves,
forest protection areas, caves, natural parks, Ramsar and other wetlands of biological interest, protected dunes and zones of high biological value. Different protection statuses have sometimes been attributed to the same site. For example, a nature reserve can also be a Natura 2000 site.
The ecological network is a coherent ecological structure of areas in which nature conservation policy is the main objective to be developed. The objective is to create a coherent and functional network of ecosystems that are (inter)nationally important and should be preserved in a sustainable way. It aims to merge the fragmented nature and forest reserves into larger and interconnected units of nature. It is composed of core areas of natural interest (protected or not) connected by buffer and corridor zones as small biotopes and natural linear features in the landscape (hedgerows, ditches, field margins, footpaths, small streams, narrow valleys, etc.). Zones under other effective area-based conservation measures are part of this network, such as some Agri-Environment Measures, late mowing of road banks, sustainable forestry management measures.
The green infrastructure encompasses the ecological networks but it also takes into account areas providing specific ecosystem goods and services. Its added value comes from broader investments in natural capital with a view to 'greening' existing infrastructure and strengthening the functionality of ecosystems that provide goods and services as well as mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, and enhancing the quality of life (health, tourism, conserving historic and cultural heritage). It addresses the spatial structure of natural and semi-natural areas but also other artificial and environmental features (such as “green roofs” or trails) which enable citizens to benefit from its multiple services. The underlying principle of Green Infrastructure is that the same area of land can frequently offer multiple benefits if its ecosystems are in a healthy state. Green Infrastructure investments are generally characterized by a high level of return over time, provide job opportunities, and can be a cost-effective alternative or be complementary to 'grey' infrastructure and intensive land use change.
The stakeholders involved in the implementation of this objective are: land use planning departments, nature conservation agencies, managers, the federal and regional authorities (including the provinces and municipalities), various sectors (including the horticultural sector, agriculture, aquaculture, forestry, fisheries, the pet industry, hunting, mobility, tourism, public health, research), professional federations involved in the sectors concerned, teachers in the academic system including in the field of horticultural qualifications, consumers, environmental NGOs, land owners, the general public and any association working towards the same goal as the NBS .
Objective 3.1 - At least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through the development of effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and are integrated into the wider landscapes ()
The aim of this operational objective is to enhance existing terrestrial  networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures over the three Regions and to promote interconnectivity between them and with neighbouring countries. The target of 17 % was chosen to align with international commitments (Aichi target 11 and EU Target 1- see Appendix 4: concordance table of SNB objectives with Aichi and EU targets). The objective is based on the concept of ecological network and will include the ecological requirements of the priority components of biodiversity in order to ensure their maintenance or rehabilitation in a favourable conservation status. As small landscape elements play a key role in ensuring connectivity between networks, their conservation and/or rehabilitation will be promoted.
In accordance with Objectives 1 and 2, the integrated management of protected areas should apply the ecosystem approach. The network of protected areas should also be integrated into its socio-economic context and wider environment to enable adequate buffering of external influences on the network elements. Measures taken in the framework of Objectives 4 and 5 should particularly take into account the network of protected areas.
The Natura 2000 network currently covers up to 12.77 % of the Belgian terrestrial territory with an ecologically representative system of protected areas. Additionally to this network, other surfaces are effectively conserved through other conservation measures such as some Agri-Environment Measures, late mowing of road banks, sustainable forest management measures.
This is why the target of 17 % of effectively managed protected areas at land and other areas of particular importance to biodiversity is deemed to be an ambitious yet realistic target for Belgium. Besides the importance of extending the network of protected areas on paper, its effective management is crucial and has to be ensured. Attention will be paid to implementing coherent transboundary and transregional conservation measures within Natura 2000. For the time being, only a limited number of sites at land are effectively managed and it is vital that appropriate management plans are adopted and implemented as a matter of urgency.
For a large number of wild species, crop species and varieties and domestic animal breeds, the establishment of a system of protected areas alone is not sufficient. Existing measures taken to protect wildlife outside protected areas will be enhanced in several ecosystems (for example, urban, freshwater, humid, rocky/caved, marine, coastal, forest and agricultural ecosystems) and integrated into land use planning. Such measures can include buffer zones playing the role of a transition, the ecological management of railway sides and road- and riversides, ecological management of parks and green areas in urban areas, municipal nature development plans, hosting wild fauna in attics and belfries, etc. Several documents produced by the Regions can be used as guidance for implementing this strategic objective (for example, Codes for Good Nature Practices, Codes for Good Agriculture Practices, Vademecum for nature-oriented management of road verges and river borders, Management standards to favour biodiversity in woods under a forest regime, etc.) .
It is also crucial to promote the protection of biodiversity in private domains and in green areas surrounding companies (see “Nature and Companies: Operating instructions, “Qualité et développement durable des zones d’activité économique: Le cahier des charges urbanistique et environnemental”). Furthermore, partnerships with the private sector should be developed.
The quality of nature in urban and peri-urban areas (cities and municipalities) is of particular importance not only for biodiversity but also for the quality of life and human health. The quality of nature can be enhanced by integrated planning and harmonious management of urban and peri-urban green areas (for example Vademecum for harmonised park management of the Flemish Region).
Objective 3.2 - At least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through the development of effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and are integrated into the wider seascapes ()
The Belgian part of the North Sea is a sensitive ecosystem and is one of the most densely used marine areas in the world with important pressures from sea-based activities (e.g. fishing, coastal defence, sand and gravel extraction, shipping, off-shore energy, tourism) and land-based activities (agriculture, urbanization, harbours, industry).
Addressing the pressures resulting from these activities within a complex state structure is an important overarching management issue. The implementation of the management plans for the Marine Protected areas in the Belgian Part of the North Sea adopted in January 2018 as well as the Good Environmental Status objectives (to be reached by 2020) reviewed in 2018 and related measures as part of the EU-Marine Strategy Framework Directive [2008/56/EC] (MSFD) will contribute to this challenge.
Coastal and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are an important means of safeguarding the ocean’s rich diversity of life. They may support local economies by providing a refuge from fishing pressure for commercial fish stocks. If properly located and managed, MPAs may act as refuge habitats and lead to reduction in fishing mortality and bycatch.
The establishment of ecologically significant MPAs in the Belgian marine zone, complemented by the Natura 2000 network (35.85% of the area of the Belgian Part of the North Sea), has been an important step. The existing MPA’s are taken up in the Marine Spatial Plan adopted in 2014. This Royal Decree forbids a number of human activities in the Natura 2000 areas (e.g. industrial activities).
Additionally, a programme of measures for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive was adopted in March 2016. This programme of measures addresses all relevant pressures and (socio-) economic sectors to allow the recovery of degraded habitats and populations to achieve the Good Environmental Status (GES) and/or Favourable State of Conservation (FSC) by 2020. This programme of measures stimulates the transition from human activities (including fishery) with adverse effects on species and habitats to human activities that allow the achievement of the GES or FSC.
Objective 3.3 - Ecosystems, their resilience and their services are maintained and enhanced by establishing, inter alia, a green infrastructure and restoring at least 15 % of degraded ecosystems. ()
Protected areas are necessary but not sufficient to rehabilitate biodiversity to a favourable conservation status across the country and to maintain the provision of ecosystem services. Reaching the 2020 target implies, inter alia, the development of a green infrastructure with a focus on representativeness and management effectiveness at land and at sea, the restoration of degraded areas and ultimately the compensation of new degradations if not avoidable (see operational objective 3.8).
The Green infrastructure (GI) is defined as a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features designed and managed to provide a wide range of ecosystem services. It incorporates green spaces (or blue if it concerns aquatic ecosystems) and other physical features in terrestrial (including coastal) and marine areas. On land, GI is present in rural and urban settings (EU Commission, May 2013). More information on GI is provided in the box in objective 3.
As small landscape elements play a key role in ensuring connectivity of a green infrastructure network, their conservation and/or rehabilitation will be promoted. The management of the green infrastructure should apply the ecosystem approach and be integrated into its socio-economic context. Indeed, it is necessary to step up efforts to integrate biodiversity into the development and implementation of other policies, taking into account the objectives of all policies concerned, in particular those national and EU policies on natural resources management, such as agriculture, food security, forestry, fisheries, and energy, as well as spatial planning, transport, tourism, trade, and development. Measures taken within the framework of Objectives 4 (sustainable use) and 5 (sectoral integration of biodiversity) of the NBS should particularly take these green infrastructure elements into account.
Building a green infrastructure can help overcome many of these challenges. It can reconnect fragmented natural areas and improve their functional connectivity and resilience within the wider countryside. Connectivity, restoration and conservation measures need to be mainstreamed throughout the entire territory and not limited to specific areas, to contribute to an ecologically coherent green infrastructure for the benefit of all, people as well as nature. Furthermore, the restoration of degraded ecosystems can contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Belgium currently works with the European Commission on the common understanding and operationalisation of the terms "restoration" and "degradation" and the nature of the 15 % target. The baseline (reference point) against which the 15 % restoration target is to be assessed is the EU 2010 Biodiversity Baseline Study produced by the EEA and supplemented by additional information to be generated through the MAES work programme. At the core of the concept is the idea that restoration should be regarded as a process rather than as a binary (restored vs. degraded) description of the state of play. If restoration is regarded as a process then this allows for the possibility of identifying different stages in the process. It also means that all significant efforts to improve the abiotic and biotic condition of a site can, in principle, be counted as a contribution to restoration even if the site is not fully restored to its "original/natural state". The approach also has the advantage that significant efforts to improve the ecological condition of a site that has been completely transformed (e.g. intensively farmed land) can also be taken into account.
In order to ensure resilience, evolving factors such as climate change will be taken into account when restoring ecosystems. Attention must be paid to the slow changing processes. Climate change or deposition of nitrogen, for instance, can have an irreversible effect on the “natural” population, the “natural” range of the species and on the “sufficiently large” area, which are factors that determine whether a species or habitat has a favourable conservation status (see box, Objective 3). Applying an adaptive management process is a good way of getting management to take such processes into account.
Objective 3.4 - Develop and implement action plans so as to ensure the maintenance or rehabilitation of our most threatened species to a favourable conservation status. ()
The maintenance of biodiversity in a favourable conservation status implies maintaining a sufficient quantity, quality, and connectivity of habitats for terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species, with a focus on priority species as to be defined by Objective 1. The rehabilitation of species and restoration of ecosystems is done mostly by recreating habitats that resemble the target communities in terms of composition of plant, animal and microbial communities, ecosystem function and stability.
The Strategy will capitalise on both new and existing conservation and restoration efforts, by the development and implementation of specific action plans for species, habitats or local areas (for instance protected areas) as appropriate.
Objective 3.5 - Adopt an integrated strategy for ex situ conservation of biodiversity together with measures for its implementation. ()
Belgium houses extensive ex situ collections of endangered varieties, breeds and species originating both from within the country and worldwide. They are preserved in seed banks, gene banks, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens and collections of museums and various research institutes. Belgium also takes part in several international initiatives aiming to cooperate in the area of ex situ conservation (i.e. Belgian Coordinated Collections of Micro-organisms, the International Association of Zoos, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation).
The development of an integrated strategy will provide a framework to facilitate harmony between existing initiatives aimed at ex situ conservation, to identify gaps where new initiatives are required, and to promote mobilisation of the necessary resources. Among other things, research and management capability of ex situ conservation facilities should be enhanced. In developing such a strategy, the guidance of various international commitments initiatives should be taken into consideration (CBD Art. 9, the targets for 2020 of the consolidated update of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation in CBD Decision X/17, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, etc.).
Objective 3.6 - Take measures to minimise the impact of the identified processes and activities threatening biodiversity and ecosystem services. ()
Measures should be taken to reduce the impact of processes and activities threatening biodiversity and ecosystem services as identified by and monitored according to Objective 2, including at least habitat destruction and degradation, pollution, overexploitation, the spread of invasive alien species, the spread of some GMOs, and climate change. For example, air, soil and water pollution and water eutrophication and acidification can be reduced by the integration of biodiversity concerns into all relevant environmental policies (for example, product policy, water management policies). Land use planning should seek to limit land conversion (whether for urban, industrial, agricultural, transport or tourism purposes), which induces the drainage of wet ecosystems and the destruction, degradation and fragmentation of habitats.
Particular attention should be paid to an integrated control (including trade control) of chemicals, pesticides, GMOs and alien species released into the environment. As an example, control and reduction of pollution-inducing eutrophication should be promoted. Another step could be made by implementing an integrated water management, including the North Sea coasts (cf. Directive 2000/60/EC in the field of water policy; Gland convention on rivers), and an integrated coastal zone management (EU Recommendation 2002/413/EC on ICZM), etc.
Objective 3.7 - Invasive alien species (IAS) and pathways are identified and prioritized, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment. ()
Biological invasions are the second most important cause of the extinction of species worldwide (and in Belgium) after the loss of natural habitats. Organisms can be introduced beyond their natural range, either intentionally or unintentionally. Those include disease-causing viruses, bacteria, fungi, algae, mosses, ferns, flowering plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. When invasive, they can cause environmental damage and can have a detrimental impact on health, the economy and safety.
IAS have an adverse impact on indigenous species and can have a profound negative effect on the functioning of ecosystems.
At economic level, they can among others negatively affect crop yields, obstruct waterways, and generate public health problems (they can be vectors for parasites and diseases or produce allergenic substances and toxins). Often, they result in significant management costs in order to restrict their development, to limit their damage or to restore the ecosystems.
In order to establish rules to prevent, minimise and mitigate the adverse effects of invasive alien species (IAS), the EU Regulation 1143/2014 entered into force on 1 January 2015. The Regulation stipulates a series of measures that apply to any organism listed on the list of invasive alien species of Union Concern.
At the European level, the actual implementation of the Regulation is performed through two main bodies:
- The EU Scientific Forum on IAS, made up of representatives of the scientific community appointed by the Member States, which provides advice on any scientific question related to the application of the Regulation, and in particular, on whether additional species for inclusion on the list of EU concern and their associated risk assessments are robust and fit for purpose.
- The EU Committee on IAS, composed of representatives of all Member States, discusses the compliance of the proposed species with the criteria for listing. Any update of the Union list is subject to the positive opinion of the IAS Committee.
The implementation of the EU Regulation on IAS is based on a close cooperation between all the Member States. Concretely, the species included on the list of EU concern are subject to restrictions and measures set out in the Regulation. These include restrictions on keeping, importing, selling, breeding and growing. Member States are required to take action on pathways of unintentional introduction, take measures for early detection and rapid eradication of these species, and to manage species.
In Belgium, the implementation of the Regulation involves the competences of the Federal State and the Regions. Therefore, in order to implement this Regulation in Belgium, a Cooperation Agreement has been drafted and is under the process of being endorsed between the federated entities. The Cooperation Agreement creates three official national structures:
- The Scientific Council on IAS, composed of scientific experts providing advice to the National Committee on IAS.
- The National Committee on IAS, composed of decision-makers who develop and adopt Belgium's position on the Union List and its updating (Belgium's position is then shared with other Member States within the EU Committee on IAS).
- The National Scientific Secretariat on IAS, supporting the Scientific Council in answering questions of the National Committee on IAS.
According to article 13 of the EU IAS Regulation, all member states are required to identify and prioritize pathways of unintentional introduction of alien invasive species of Union concern. Priority pathways of unintentional introduction for the 49 invasive alien species of Union Concern listed to date, were identified at the scale of Belgium. Based on this exercise, a set of action plans are under development in order to address the priority pathway identified. Belgium will establish and implement these action plans for its territory and as far as possible coordinated at the appropriated regional/federal level.
Additionally, member states are required to take a decision on the management options. For this purpose, Belgium performed a manageability assessment in 2018. The project relies on experts to score the feasibility of management strategies for Union List species using an adaptation of the Non-Native Risk Management scheme (NNRM) of Booy et al. (2017) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10530-017-1451-z/fulltext.html. Species that are believed to be unable to establish in Belgium are excluded from the exercise. The NNRM uses semi-quantitative response and confidence scores to assess seven key criteria linked with management feasibility of an invasive species: Effectiveness, Practicality, Cost, Impact, Acceptability, Window of opportunity and Likelihood of re-invasion. The approach was slightly adapted to fit the needs and practice in Belgium. The undertaking of this assessment was agreed upon and formalized by the Belgian IAS scientific council & IAS committee and aims to: 1) Support the EU Regulation implementation in Belgium; 2) Provide a sound evidence base for decisions on IAS management through a transparent, repeatable process; 3) Provide an evidence base for derogations on the rapid response obligation ( Art 18 ); 4) Provide a means of structured decision making for IAS management through a participatory approach of the Belgian expert community on IAS. The outcome of the present manageability assessment therefore provides support to the decision-making process but is not in any way a management recommendation.
The Commission will also be considering how to better integrate additional biodiversity concerns into the new Plant and Animal Health Regimes.
As a Party to the Bern Convention (Council of Europe), Belgium should implement the specific Bern recommendations on IAS issues including article 11, 2 b) which states that each Party should take measures to strictly control the introduction of non-native species. In order to implement this provision, the Standing Committee adopted a Pan-European Strategy on Invasive Alien Species which inter alia recommends drawing up and implementing national strategies on IAS taking into account the above-mentioned pan-European strategy (Recommendation No. 99/2003).
Tackling the IAS issue in an integrated way is a particular challenge in Belgium due to its complex institutional framework resulting in a division and fragmentation of competences on issues dealing with different aspects of IAS (e.g. environment, health and agriculture). In order to address this problem and meet the various commitments regarding alien species under treaties to which Belgium is a Party, concrete steps must be urgently taken and coordinated action plans developed when necessary by and between all the competent authorities.
The TrIAS project is currently undertaken It is aimed at dynamically, from year to year, track the progression of alien species, identify emerging species, assess their current and future risk and timely inform policy in a seamless data- driven workflow. One that is built on open science and open data infrastructures. By using international biodiversity standards and facilities, TrIAS ensures interoperability, repeatability and sustainability. This makes the process adaptable to future requirements in an evolving IAS policy landscape both locally and internationally.
Objective 3.8 - Define the framework and the conditions to ensure no net loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. ()
The compensation principle is included in the ten guiding principles for implementation of the NBS (see Part III). Whereas compensation for deteriorated habitats is a legal requirement of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives in the case of damage to Natura 2000, there is no explicit EU requirement for compensation of unavoidable residual impacts on species, habitats and ecosystem services that are not covered by Natura 2000, which leads to net losses. Environmental Liability Directive does not cover damage to protected species, habitats and related services when it has been authorized by a plan or a license in accordance to EU or national nature conservation law. Further action should therefore be taken to promote a wider no net loss approach to biodiversity and ecosystem services when damage is caused by an authorized plan or project (EU Biodiversity Strategy, Action 7).
Belgium will closely follow the work of the Commission (under the EU Common Implementation Framework) to clearly define the principle of “no net loss”, its range, ensuring that sufficient safeguards are put in place to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services whilst avoiding any drift/abuse, and make proposals for its implementation in the country. In order to ensure real equivalence between ecosystems and services, Belgium will review and take the literature recommendations into account when defining the guidelines for the implementation of the “no net loss” principle in the country.
According to Born et al. (2012), compensation or offset mechanisms should among others respect the following principles:
- principle of ecological equivalence: compensation measures and offset mechanisms should ensure the re-creation or the restoration of ecosystems similar in size, composition, structure and functioning to the deteriorated ecosystems;
- principle of ecological continuity: the compensation measures should be located as close as possible to the damaged site and should also be implemented and effective before the damage is caused;
- principle of additionality: should be excluded as compensation those measures that do not provide a significant improvement in the status of biodiversity after the occurrence of the damage, in order to ensure that this damage is effectively repaired. The restoration should be based on the best available scientific knowledge.
In any case, according to the principle of preventive action (see Part III), the damage and its compensation should be authorized only if no other reasonable alternative can be found to reach the objectives of the damaging plan or project, and after having applied the appropriate mitigation measures. The authorities should therefore select the measures to be taken according to the following hierarchy: in priority, avoidance measures, then mitigation measures (minimization), and finally, as a last resort, necessary compensation measures.