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Conflicts in Nature

The aim of the EU's Natura 2000 network is to preserve biodiversity while maintaining the provision of ecosystem services - benefits provided by nature to society. However, conflicts arise between different interest groups over the management of Natura 2000 sites. The study we conducted analyzes the relationship between ecosystem services and different types of conflicts, which can help understand the barriers to effective management of biodiversity conservation. Maczka, K., Matczak, P., Jeran, A., Chmielewski, P. J., & Baker, S. (2021). Conflicts in ecosystem services management: Analysis of stakeholder participation in Natura 2000 in Poland. Environmental Science & Policy, 117, 16-24.

The Natura 2000 network is the world's largest protected area network, covering 18% of the European Union's land area and 8% of its marine territory. In addition to their biodiversity conservation value, these areas provide a wide range of ecosystem services essential to society's well-being, from provisioning (e.g., timber and food) to regulation (e.g., air purification and retention) to cultural services (e.g., recreation and aesthetic enjoyment). Natura 2000 is intended to provide a safe shelter for Europe's most valuable and endangered species and habitats.

However, the variety of services offered by Natura 2000 sites can lead to conflicts over how the sites are managed and in the interest of whom. Our study aims to understand these conflicts better.

Participation by various interest groups is common in biodiversity conservation management. It is an important part of the identification, designation, and management of Natura 2000 sites. Previous research indicates that avoiding conflicts requires public participation from the early stages of planning and that relying primarily on outside expertise is insufficient when developing and implementing conservation policies. However, using mechanisms that involve the public requires considerable effort, setting and adhering to organizational standards, adapting to local contexts, etc. In turn, choosing an appropriate and engaging method of communicating with the community can be difficult.

In our study, we analyzed the case of Poland, about 20% of whose area is covered by Natura 2000 sites. The analysis included reports of public consultations on the management of individual Natura 2000 sites, which took place between 2010 and 2015. The consultations included farmers, foresters, local entrepreneurs, Natura 2000 site managers, scientists, NGOs, and representatives of local governments (mainly municipalities).

The results of our research suggest that conflict over conservation planning is related to the differing viewpoints of different interest groups on the loss of access to particular types of ecosystem services. Disagreements over the value of conservation itself infrequently appeared, indicating a general consensus on the need for conservation planning. At the same time, conflicts over "relationships" often prevailed about cultural services, such as illegal barbecues in the forest or quad biking on protected dunes.

We think that the management of the Natura 2000 network should consider how the area's designation may affect ecosystem services. Negative experiences from the implementation of the Natura 2000 network in Poland in the early 2000s (e.g., lack of financial incentives, organizing consultations without real dialogue, but rather as a justification for decisions already made), however, do not facilitate this. Also important is the distrust of Polish society towards state institutions, inherited from the communist period.

Conflicts are an inevitable part of governance, including the natural environment. However, this is where dialogue with a society based on clearly defined and worth-emphasizing, respected standards can play a key role. Dialogue "forces" individual interest groups to learn about the interests of other groups or, colloquially speaking, "forces them to step outside their bubble." Understanding what drives conflict is also crucial. In this regard, the ecosystem services lens has proven particularly useful for identifying conflicts. Understanding the links between the type of conflict and the type of ecosystem services is important for identifying what conflicted groups care about and is an important step in building compromises.

After our article was published in open access, it attracted the interest of "Science for Environment Policy," a service run by the European Commission's Directorate-General for the Environment. It is a free service providing news about the latest environmental research, which independent scientific advisors select. The service reaches some 20,000 policymakers, scientists, and businesses across Europe to help develop effective evidence-based policy. The text summarizing our article appeared in this service in May 2021. "Stakeholder participation and conflict in Natura 2000 site management, Poland", link: