New proposals for bringing back nature in Europe mark a historic moment in ecosystem restoration efforts
Proposal for Nature Restoration Law
On June 22 2022, the European Commission adopted a momentous set of legislative proposals aiming to restore damaged ecosystems – from agricultural land and seas, to forests and urban environments. The proposal for a Nature Restoration Law comes as a response to the deep and prolonged degradation of ecosystems that has been documented in reports by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) as well as in recent studies about the inefficacy of EU efforts to stop ecosystem degradation between 2011 and 2020.
The Nature Restoration Law, which aims to restore 80% European habitats by 2050, is an unprecedented legislation that explicitly targets the restoration of Europe’s nature across a variety of ecosystems. The difference with previous directives is that under the proposal for a Nature Restoration Law, Member States agree to legally binding targets for nature restoration in different ecosystems and to devise specific national restoration plans. The Nature Restoration Law proposal is a response to the EU Biodiversity and the Farm to Fork strategies.
Forestry is a sector that is closely dependent on the healthy state of ecosystems. In terms of benefits, forests in good natural conditions can provide timber and food, capture and store carbon, stabilise the soil, purify air and water, and reduce the impact of natural disasters such as wildfires and pest diseases. This importance is reflected in the presence of forestry as a separate Article in the new legislative proposal.
Article 10 of the proposal for the Nature Restoration Law titled "Restoration of forest ecosystems'' outlines the importance of forestry as an ecosystem in the process of enhancing biodiversity across European habitats. Article 10 sets out the following obligations for Member States:
put in place the restoration measures necessary to enhance biodiversity of forest ecosystems;
achieve an increasing trend at national level of each of the following indicators in forest ecosystems by 2030 and every year thereafter until satisfactory levels are identified:
share of forests with uneven-aged structure;
common forest bird index;
stock of organic carbon.
New rules for high-diversity landscape features
Regulation (52) specifies high-diversity landscape features on agricultural land include buffer strips, rotational or non-rotational fallow land, hedgerows, individual or groups of trees, tree rows, field margins, patches, ditches, streams, small wetlands, terraces, cairns, stonewalls, small ponds and cultural features. These features provide space for wild plants and animals, including pollinators, and prevent soil erosion and depletion, filter air and water, support climate change mitigation and adaptation, and agricultural productivity of pollination-dependent crops.
The role of trees, or forests, in restoring biodiversity is integral. Productive trees that are found on arable land and part of agroforestry systems can be considered as high biodiversity landscape features given they are not artificially fertilised or receiving a pesticide treatment. Setting out a legislative requirement for high-diversity landscape features, among which are trees or forests, is needed so as to enable the achievement of one of the other key commitments of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 – to cover at least 10% of agricultural area with high-diversity landscape features.
The proposals will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council, in line with the ordinary legislative procedure. After adoption, the impact on the ground is expected to be gradual: nature restoration measures are to be in place by 2030, while the pesticides targets should be reached by 2030.
The HOMED project is excited to welcome legislative proposals, which firmly acknowledge the urgent need to preserve the health of forests, which are currently facing many threats. As the proposal for a Nature Restoration Law itself states, one of these major and growing threats are invasive alien species. In order to reduce the tremendous economic losses caused by these invasions and help to maintain the critical ecosystem services provided by EU forests, the HOMED project has been dedicated to developing a full panel of scientific knowledge and practical solutions for the management of invasive alien species threatening European forests. Therefore, HOMED is happy to see that the new legislative proposal sets out to complement the current efforts in this fight and give impetus to the implementation of vital laws such as the Invasive Alien Species Regulation.
Find out more about the new legislative proposals here.