|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.).
|4. Sustainable production and consumption
|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.
|5. Habitat loss halved or reduced
|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 repre
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.
|11. Protected areas increased and improved
|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
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).
|11. Protected areas increased and improved
|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.
|14. Ecosystems and essential services safeguarded
|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.
|12. Extinction prevented
|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).
|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.
As far as GMOs are concerned, the scrupulous respect of EU regulations relating to GMO evaluations, authorisations and the development of good risk management procedures, monitoring and urgency plans, the development of adequate coexistence rules, should help minimise or prevent the potential threatening impacts in Belgium and in Europe. At the international level, Belgium’s strong involvement in the Cartagena Protocol and other related forums should help minimise potential negative impacts of GMOs on world biodiversity.
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.
|8. Pollution reduced
|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.
The threat caused by IAS to biodiversity in Belgium is addressed in the NBS via operational objective 3.7 but also via other operational objectives (2.3, 5.7, 7, 8.3) dealing with internal and external trade and whose implementation is guided by ten principles, including the precautionary approach and the polluter pays principle (see part III of the NBS).
This target is in line with article 8h of the CBD (1992) supplemented by Aichi Target 9 (2010) as well as with the EU Biodiversity Strategy Target 5 (2011). At international level, the CBD has developed guiding principles in order to help Parties to prevent the introduction of IAS, to detect early new introduced IAS and to undertake mitigation measures for established IAS (CBD Decision VI/23).
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 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:
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.
|9. Invasive alien species prevented and controlled
|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:
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.
|5. Habitat loss halved or reduced