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Meld. St. 14 (2015–2016)

Nature for life — Norway’s national biodiversity action plan (Chapter 4–9)

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7 Conservation of a representative selection of Norwegian nature

7.1 Introduction

Aichi target 11 is specifically about using area-based conservation measures for long-term conservation. Norway’s corresponding national target is that ‘a representative selection of Norwegian nature will be maintained for future generations’. Promoting the conservation of ‘the full range of variation of habitats and landscape types’ is specifically mentioned in section 33 of the Nature Diversity Act in a list of the objectives of establishing protected areas. Others include the conservation of endangered natural environments and major intact ecosystems. Long-term conservation measures can play a part in achieving several of the Aichi targets at the same time. This is also discussed in Chapter 6, where the protection of areas under the Nature Diversity Act is mentioned as an appropriate way of safeguarding threatened species and habitats. The Government will seek to achieve both national and international targets for long-term conservation through a combination of protection of areas under the Nature Diversity Act and relevant sectoral measures. In this context, relevant measures are long-term in nature and give effective protection against relevant pressures on geographically defined areas of biodiversity importance. Examples of sectoral measures are the scheme for setting aside key biotopes in forest that are not to be felled, prohibiting the use of certain types of fishing gear under the Marine Resources Act, and protecting river systems or parts of them against hydropower developments. If such measures are to fulfil their purpose, the areas involved must be managed in a way that maintains their conservation value in practice.

As is the case for measures to safeguard threatened species and habitats, it is important to target area-based conservation action so that species and habitats are given adequate protection without restricting other activities that are beneficial to society more than necessary. The procedural rules and requirements for environmental impact assessment in legislation for various sectors will ensure that the knowledge base is as good as possible and that biodiversity considerations and other public interests are weighed against each other before decisions are made. According to section 8 of the Nature Diversity Act: ‘Official decisions that affect biological, geological and landscape diversity shall, as far as is reasonable, be based on scientific knowledge of the population status of species, the range and ecological status of habitat types, and the impacts of environmental pressures. The knowledge required shall be in reasonable proportion to the nature of the case and the risk of damage to biological, geological and landscape diversity.’

7.2 Choice of long-term conservation measures

In Norway, the only long-term conservation measure, apart from the designation of priority species, that gives protection against environmental pressures across sectors is statutory protection of areas under the Nature Diversity Act (and previously the Nature Conservation Act) or the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act. Protected areas are established by the King in Council. The Storting (Norwegian parliament) has issued guidelines for the implementation of protection plans, for example in a 1992 white paper on the national park plan and through the annual budget proposals.

Sectoral measures include rules and schemes that give areas some form of protection against relevant environmental pressures, usually protection against a specific type of development or activity. In the Government’s view, such measures will often be sufficient if the development or activity in question constitutes the main threat to the area. However, they must provide effective, long-term protection against the development or activity in delimited areas of particular conservation value. Some sectoral types of protection apply to more than one type of development or activity. For example, the Protection Plan for Watercourses (see Chapter 7.3.2 on rivers and lakes) gives protection against both hydropower developments and other types of development. The Government’s proposals for the use of sector-specific measures are discussed below in the sections on each major ecosystem.

Considerable areas of Norway already have statutory protection. The Government therefore considers that no large-scale expansion of this form of conservation is needed. However, protection of forest on a voluntary basis will be expanded, and work on marine protected areas will continue. In the other major ecosystems, there is a limited need to supplement protected areas to include habitat types that are currently poorly represented (see more details in Chapter 7.3). The Government will consider whether the protected areas are likely to be resilient to future climate change. The Government will also evaluate whether the ecological network approach, as used for example in work under the Bern and Ramsar Conventions, is clearly enough reflected in Norway’s selection of protected areas and their ecological coherence. The Government concludes that the current protected areas need to be supplemented, but only to a limited extent, to correct weaknesses in the system, and it will be resource- and cost-effective to organise this at county level.

As a general rule, the Government will make use of protection on a voluntary basis when establishing protected areas on privately owned land. So far, this form of protection has only been used for forest.

Where appropriate, protection on a voluntary basis should also be tried out in other ecosystems than forest. The Government also considers it important to seek political agreement at local level on the implementation of protection processes.

Important areas that are publicly owned should be safeguarded by statutory protection, and steps will be taken to ensure that relevant stakeholders have satisfactory opportunities for participation in the protection processes.

The national park plan proposed the establishment of 40 new protected areas and the expansion of 14 existing areas. All but four of the proposals have been implemented. Two of the proposals that have not been implemented are in Finnmark county (to establish Muvrrešáhpi national park and Goahteluoppal protected landscape, and expand Øvre Anarjohka national park), one is in Nordland (Tysfjord/Hellemobotn national park) and the fourth is in Troms (Treriksrøysa national park). There has been a great deal of local opposition to these proposals, especially in Finnmark and Nordland. The Government does not wish to proceed with these proposals unless political agreement on the establishment of the protected areas can be achieved locally, in the municipalities that would be affected. The proposed Treriksrøysa national park was intended to form part of a continuous protected area in Norway, Sweden and Finland, but this has not so far been a priority for Sweden or Finland. In the Government’s view, it is not appropriate to proceed with this proposal either, unless the municipality itself wishes to do so and trilateral cooperation on the process can be organised.

Figure 7.1 Bog asphodel in flower in Rago national park in Nordland. Norway has safeguarded a representative selection of its dramatic mountain scenery by implementing the national park plan.

Figure 7.1 Bog asphodel in flower in Rago national park in Nordland. Norway has safeguarded a representative selection of its dramatic mountain scenery by implementing the national park plan.

Source Photo: Kjersti Gram Andersen

In some cases, individuals, organisations or municipalities propose the establishment of national parks under the Nature Diversity Act. The Government considers such initiatives to be very constructive. However, if the Government is to proceed with such proposals, there must be political consensus on this in the municipalities involved, they must meet the scientific criteria for establishing protected areas, and protecting any such area must be consistent with the budgetary priorities for protection of areas.

Both individuals and a range of public interests are affected by the establishment of protected areas. Good, inclusive administrative procedures are of crucial importance in ensuring that stakeholders, including landowners, municipalities, interest groups and sectoral authorities, feel that protection decisions are legitimate. Sections 41 to 43 of the Nature Diversity Act describe the procedures to be followed, and these were further elaborated in 2015 in a circular from the Ministry of Climate and Environment. During the administrative process, the conservation value of the area that is to be protected must be clearly identified, together with the other interests that must be taken into consideration.

A sense of local ownership and identity, the principle that decisions should be taken at the lowest possible administrative level, and a combination of local knowledge and scientific knowledge are a good basis for sound management of protected areas. Administrative authority for the national parks and other large protected areas in mainland Norway has been delegated to management bodies consisting of politicians from the municipalities and counties involved, and representatives appointed by the Sámediggi (Sami parliament) in areas where there are Sami interests. Landowners and other stakeholders can take part in the management of these areas through membership in advisory committees appointed by the management bodies. Administrative authority for the smaller protected areas, mainly nature reserves, smaller protected landscapes and habitat management areas, is delegated to the relevant municipalities if they wish to assume this responsibility. In Svalbard, the Governor is responsible for inspection and enforcement in the protected areas and for taking any steps considered necessary to achieve the purpose of the protection. The Governor is also responsible for drawing up management plans through processes involving the participation of local stakeholders and the Longyearbyen Local Administration. Management plans are approved by the Norwegian Environment Agency in consultation with the Directorate for Cultural Heritage.

Norway’s protected areas support valuable biodiversity, and with a long-term management approach that is line with the purpose of protection, they can provide an important basis for local, nature-based value creation. The national parks and large protected landscapes in particular provide a basis for the development of nature-based tourism. Local management of these areas makes it possible for a municipality to coordinate the management of protected areas with land-use management in the rest of the municipality, and to facilitate nature-based tourism in and around the protected areas.

The ecological status of protected areas must be maintained or improved to comply with the purpose of the protection decisions. Until now, routines for monitoring whether the ecological status of protected areas is being maintained (or improved in line with the purpose of protection) have not always been adequate. A system is therefore being developed for monitoring and reporting on specified ecological or landscape qualities of protected areas and trends in these qualities. This system will be a sound basis for effective and appropriate management of protected areas.

The Government will give priority to sound management of the existing protected areas. There are requirements to draw up operational and in some cases strategic management plans for many of the protected areas. These will specify what needs to be done to maintain conservation value, make arrangements for access and use, etc. This will provide predictability for all stakeholders. The Government would like to emphasise that all management plans must comply with the framework set by the regulations establishing the protected area in question and the provisions of the Nature Diversity Act. The Government considers it important that management plans take the implications of climate change for efforts to maintain the conservation value of protected areas properly into account. This is particularly important in Svalbard, where the climate is changing very rapidly. In mainland Norway, the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate plays an important role in maintaining the conservation value of protected areas, both through its inspection and enforcement activities and through its other functions – habitat management, providing advice and information, facilitating public access and monitoring ecological status.

Private conservation agreements can also play an important part in safeguarding Norwegian nature. However, they may not provide long-term protection, and can only give protection against pressures and impacts that the private landowner can influence.

To safeguard a representative selection of Norwegian nature for future generations, the Government will:

  • Improve the management regime for existing protected areas, among other things by making it more efficient and more clearly targeted, in order to maintain the conservation value of protected areas and ensure that they become more resilient to climate change and more intensive use.

  • Protect habitats and ecosystems that are currently underrepresented under the Nature Diversity Act.

  • Consider adjustments to the boundaries of protected areas and if appropriate the expansion of protected areas to improve ecological networks and resilience to climate change.

  • Test protection on a voluntary basis in ecosystems other than forest.

  • Make use of and if necessary further develop other area-based conservation measures so that they provide effective, long-term protection against relevant environmental pressures.

7.3 Protection of areas in each of Norway’s major ecosystems

7.3.1 Marine and coastal waters

Marine protected areas may be established in Norway’s territorial waters, extending up to 12 nautical miles beyond the baseline. The Government’s policy is to continue cross-sectoral marine protection under section 39 of the Nature Diversity Act to ensure that a selection of representative, distinctive and threatened underwater habitats along the coast and in territorial waters is safeguarded for future generations. The objective is for these areas, together with areas that are safeguarded under other legislation, to form a network of marine protected areas that will safeguard ecosystems, habitats and species.

Marine areas may also be included when protected areas on land, such as national parks and nature reserves, are established. Within such areas, all activity that may reduce conservation value is regulated in accordance with the purpose of the protection. Activities that are not contrary to the purpose of protection will still be permitted. Marine protected areas can serve several purposes at once. In addition to protecting areas that are of importance for biodiversity against environmental pressures, they can be important reference areas for research and monitoring.

In addition to the areas that have been given cross-sectoral protection, there are many areas that are protected against various types of fishing activities under the fisheries legislation. For example, a number of areas are protected against the use of fishing gear and techniques that can damage coral reefs, see Chapter 6.5. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries will in consultation with the Ministry of Climate and Environment review whether these measures are sufficient to protect a representative selection of habitats against relevant fisheries activities. The two ministries will among other things consider safeguarding a more representative selection of coral habitats either under section 66 of the Regulations relating to sea-water fisheries or under section 19 of the Marine Resources Act. The ministries will also assess the ecological coherence of marine protected areas.

7.3.2 Rivers and lakes

About 15 % of Norway’s total area of freshwater is now protected or proposed for protection under the Nature Diversity Act. Nevertheless, a number of habitats are poorly represented in protected areas. These include oxbow lakes and other features of meandering rivers, large sand and gravel banks, the spray zone near waterfalls (especially outside Eastern Norway) and lakes and ponds that are naturally free of fish. Most of these are habitats for a range of threatened species. The Government will therefore consider some supplementary protection of areas in rivers and lakes. Protection processes that make the selection of protected areas more representative and that at the same time safeguard threatened species will be given priority. The Government will also give priority to statutory protection of valuable areas that are already protected against hydropower developments through the Protection Plan for Watercourses. The Government will consider options for protection of lakes and rivers on a voluntary basis.

Through the Protection Plan for Watercourses, 389 river systems or parts of river systems are protected against hydropower developments. They include a wide variety of river systems and types of rivers, and the plan plays an important part in the conservation of a representative selection of Norway’s rivers and lakes. The conservation value of these rivers must also be taken into account in development projects in other sectors. This is required by the Water Resources Act and Norway’s national policy guidelines for protected river systems. Nevertheless, some developments do take place in protected river systems that reduce their conservation value. The Government will seek to ensure that the conservation value of protected river systems is maintained, or restored if developments have had negative impacts that prove to have reduced their conservation value. The conservation value of protected river systems is to be safeguarded through application of existing legislation, especially the Planning and Building Act and the Water Resources Act. The Government will also assess whether parts of the protected river systems need to be further safeguarded by protecting areas under the Nature Diversity Act.

7.3.3 Wetlands

County conservation plans for wetlands have resulted in the establishment of more than 600 nature reserves. Overall, a good proportion of the area of peatland has been protected, particularly in the mountains, but the areas included are not very representative in geographical terms, particularly in the southern parts of the country and along the coast. Wetlands other than peatland in the southern half of Norway are underrepresented. The Government will consider supplementing protected wetland areas, particularly in the lowlands and coastal areas. Areas adjoining existing Ramsar sites will be given priority. The Government will consider the county wetland conservation plan for Finnmark as part of the county-level supplementary protection of areas. The Government notes that wetlands have particularly important climate-related functions. Peatlands are a major carbon sink. Open alluvial systems, inland deltas and peatlands regulate water flow and provide protection against erosion and natural hazards. They can therefore play a part in climate change adaptation and help to reduce damage to vital infrastructure. The Government will attach importance to this when considering supplementary protection of areas under the Nature Diversity Act.

7.3.4 Forest

The Government will continue its long-term forest conservation work, mainly in the form of protection under the Nature Diversity Act for publicly owned forest and protection on a voluntary basis for privately owned areas, in both cases following the provisions of the Nature Diversity Act concerning compensation. Through cooperation between the environmental authorities and the forest owners’ organisations, the Government will establish good procedures for rapid evaluation of forest areas of high conservation value for protection on a voluntary basis if their value is threatened by the construction of forest roads, logging or other forestry activities. Examples of such areas are forest where a high proportion of the area is set aside as key biotopes that are not to be felled, and large continuous forest areas containing species and habitats found in areas with little infrastructure development.

Relatively little of the large forest areas in low-lying parts of Eastern Norway has been protected. It will be important to establish new nature reserves in this region, including larger protected areas, and it will also be necessary to protect forest where important environmental qualities can be developed in the long term.

Various measures can be used in forest as a way of achieving Aichi target 11 on area-based, long-term conservation. Conservation measures under other legislation and in other sectors can be used for this purpose in addition to the establishment of nature reserves and national parks in forest under the Nature Diversity Act, which provides protection against a number of environmental pressures. However, other area-based conservation measures must provide effective, long-term protection of areas that support valuable biodiversity.

Key biotopes in forest are delimited areas that are considered to be important for the conservation of biodiversity. Requirements to carry out inventories of key biotopes and safeguard them are included in the voluntary forest certification schemes used in Norway, PEFC and FSC, and in the forestry legislation. For example, section 5 of the regulations on sustainable forestry requires forest owners to ensure that the value of important habitats and key biotopes is safeguarded in accordance with the guidelines in the Norwegian PEFC standard. By 2015, about 70 000 areas covering a total area of about 750 square kilometres had been identified as key biotopes through environmental inventories. This corresponds to almost 1 % of the total area of productive forest. Since environmental inventories have not yet been carried out for all forest properties, the proportion of productive forest set aside as key biotopes is expected to increase.

There are certain habitats, such as recently burned areas and successional stages of broad-leaved forest, that are naturally important for threatened species for a limited period of time only. To maintain the diversity of such habitats and the species associated with them, new localities will need to be established regularly. The voluntary certification schemes include guidelines for changing and replacing key biotopes, with requirements for documentation. Experience so far indicates that in general, a long-term approach is being taken to conservation of key biotopes and their value for biodiversity.

In the Government’s view, key biotopes in forest should count towards Norway’s achievement of Aichi target 11 on representative, long-term conservation in forest ecosystems. As a basis for Norway’s future reporting on progress towards this target, the Ministry of Climate and Environment will in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and after dialogue with PEFC on technical matters such as data quality, clarify the criteria for and the scope of key biotopes that can be included in these reports.

Forest conservation is long-term work and must therefore be continued after 2020. The Government will expand the scope of voluntary forest protection. An evaluation of forest conservation will be carried out with a view to identifying measures that can contribute to the conservation of a representative selection of Norwegian forest ecosystems and valuable biodiversity.

The Government’s aim is to ensure that area-based forest conservation incorporates the areas that are most important for critically endangered species and habitats, in addition to a representative selection of forest ecosystems, see Chapter 6 on threatened species and habitats. This requires a good overview of where the forest areas of highest conservation value are to be found. As a basis for effective forest conservation, the Government therefore intends to initiate habitat mapping of all old-growth forest that may be of conservation value. Habitat mapping in regions and forest types that are underrepresented at present will be given priority in the years ahead.

7.3.5 Cultural landscapes

Only a relatively small proportion of most of the habitat types in cultural landscapes that are important for biodiversity has statutory protection. In addition, conservation of a representative selection of cultural landscapes requires their active use or management. To ensure the conservation of a more representative selection of cultural landscapes, the Government will consider protection of some areas under the Nature Diversity Act, combined with measures such as habitat management for certain sites where there are rare habitat types or that are of very high quality. Furthermore, the Government will improve the management of semi-natural habitats within existing protected landscapes in order to maintain their conservation value. The Government will consider the use of voluntary agreements on the use and conservation of valuable cultural landscapes as a supplement, but emphasises that such agreements can only be applied to the way landowners use the areas involved, and that they do not ensure long-term conservation in the event of changes in ownership.

7.3.6 Mountains

About 35 % of the area of Norway above 900 metres above sea level is protected under the Nature Diversity Act, and roughly 75 % of the total area of Norway’s national parks is in the mountains. This is the result of the implementation of the 1992 national park plan. The proposals in the national park plan have been implemented, with the exception of a few areas in the northernmost counties, mainly Finnmark (see Chapter 7.2). For Norway as a whole, a representative selection of mountain ecosystems has now been protected. In the Government’s view, there is therefore no need to expand the area of mountain ecosystems in order to make the selection more representative (but see Chapter 6 for a discussion of the conservation of threatened species and ecosystems). The Government will seek to ensure that the conservation value of existing protected areas in the mountains is maintained or if necessary restored. The preparation of management plans is an important tool in this context.

7.3.7 Polar ecosystems

Protected areas in Svalbard and Jan Mayen cover most of the land areas and territorial waters of the islands. In Svalbard, the protected areas were supplemented and expanded in the period 2002–2006, on the basis of a geographical analysis of the protected areas and their representativeness. The Government considers that the major ecosystems in Svalbard and on Jan Mayen are all adequately represented. However, the knowledge base is not good enough for us to determine whether the protected areas are ecologically representative of all Svalbard’s nature. The main task now is to ensure that the protected areas in Svalbard and Jan Mayen are managed in accordance with the purpose of protection, so that all habitats are properly safeguarded. The Government considers the management plans for the protected area to be the most important tool in this context. The Government’s proposals for long-term conservation measures under the fisheries management regime are discussed in the sections on marine and coastal waters.

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