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Natura 2000 is a network of nature protection areas that was established EU-wide under the 1992 Habitats Directive. It was created in order to assure long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats. It is comprised of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) designated by Member States under the Habitats Directive, and also incorporates Special Protection Areas (SPAs) which were designate under the 1979 Birds Directive. The network is not a system of strict nature reserves where all human activities are excluded. In fact many parts of Natura 2000 areas are privately owned and the emphasis is on ensuring that future management is sustainable, both ecologically and economically, according to the sustainable development principles. Establishment of Natura 2000 areas is in line with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

The process of designation of the sites is being finalized, although the new potential sites are being appointed by different interests groups including communities and ecologists. Such sites could be found at the shadow lists of Natura 2000 sites. An example shadow list is available under:

Nowadays more attention is being drawn towards the management of the sites. Within six years after designation of the sites, Member States have to establish Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and adopt conservation measures involving appropriate management plans and other measures which correspond to the ecological requirements of the natural habitat types and the protected species of interest. Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated under the Birds Directive need to be managed in accordance with the ecological needs of habitats of birds. According to the EU nature directives the conservation objectives should be met while taking into account economic, social, cultural, regional and recreational requirements. It is up to the Member States to establish the most appropriate methods and instruments for the directives implementation and for achieving the conservation objectives of Natura 2000 sites.

European Commission with close collaboration with stakeholders has elaborated guidance documents with regard to the management of Natura 2000 sites, which are the following:

  • Guidance document on Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC (January 2007) – It includes: clarification of the concepts of: alternative solutions, imperative reasons of overriding public interest, compensatory measures, etc.
  • Guidance document on the Assessment of Plans and Projects significantly affecting Natura 2000 sites (November 2001)
  • Guidance document: Managing Natura 2000 sites: The provisions of Article 6 of the 'Habitats' Directive 92/43/EEC

European requirements in respect to Natura 2000 consultations are described extensively in the flowing guidelines documents: “Towards a reinforced culture of consultation and dialogue - General principles and minimum standards for consultation of interested parties by the Commission.” Brussels, 11.12.2002 COM(2002) 704 final, available on:

  • Green Paper on “European Transparency Initiative” [COM(2007) 127 final]
  • General principles and minimum standards for consultation of interested parties by the Commission [COM(2002)704], in application since 1 January 2003.
  • White Paper on European Governance, Brussels, 25.7.2001 [COM(2001) 428 final]
  • The Aarhus Convention is an international agreement intended to regulate access to information, the right to participate in decision procedures, and access to courts of law in all matters connected with the environment. More information on legal documents and guidelines for public participation can be found on: Polish laws and recommendation concerning public consultations with regard to Natura 2000 sites are collected in recently published by the Ministry of Environment in the guidelines document: NATURA 2000 i Społeczeństwo (2009).

At present the task for the Regional Office of Environmental Protection (Regionalna Dyrekcja Ochrony Środowiska – RDOŚ) is to develop action plans for Natura 2000 sites and conduct consultations of such plans. Various methods suitable for that and others purposes of public involvement are subsequently presented.


Public Participation (PP) means the chance of all those concerned and/or interested to present and/or stand up for their interests or concerns in the development of plans, programmes, policies, or legal instruments. The public is an open and unlimited circle of persons comprising all members and organisational forms of a society (Standards of Public Participation, 2008, pp.17). However, in practice information flow and consultations are limited to the closed circle of identified stakeholders (SHs). SHs are actors who have interest (stake) in the area. PP practices are strongly advised by the European Commission as well as national authorities in some countries and adequate funds are dedicated for this purpose. Identified objectives of PP are the following:

  • to promote the exchange of information and experiences,
  • to foster the comprehension for differing other opinions and the coordination of interests,
  • to enhance the quality and transparency of decisions,
  • to enhance the acceptance and traceability of decisions, also of those whose social benefits will become evident only in the long run,
  • to strengthen the identification of citizens and interest groups with decisions, but also with the areas they live in,
  • to strengthen people’s trust in politics and public administration and to provide broader bases of decision-making for political and administrative decision-makers,
  • to create a broad approach to opinion-forming,
  • to help avoid delays and extra costs in the implementation of the policies, plans, programmes, and legal instruments, thereby optimising the use of resources (Standards of Public Participation, 2008, pp.4).
It is not easy to create conditions in which such elaborative objectives can be realized. Therefore implementation involves preparations and careful planning as well as ensuring adequate preconditions. Those are well described by the following principles of public participation defined within Standards of Public Participation (2008):
  • Involvement: Politics and administration integrate the public in the development of their policies, plans, programmes, or legal instruments. This may lead to jointly supported solutions which can be implemented more smoothly.
  • Transparency and traceability: As the process of public participation is transparent, also its results are traceable. Transparency and traceability build confidence in politics and administration.
  • Joint responsibility: Public participation means for all participants to accept responsibility for the jointly performed work and its outcome. In this way both the quality of the outcome and people’s identification with it can be improved.
  • Room for manoeuvre: Public participation requires room for manoeuvre. At the outset of the process all participants are exactly informed about this scope. Participants are thus in a position to judge their scope for influence realistically.
  • Balance and equal opportunities: Within the clearly defined room for manoeuvre public participation processes aim at offering their participating groups equal opportunities and equal scope for influence. All target groups are addressed in a balanced way. The participation process is organized barrier-free.
  • Mutual respect: Public participation is a process of comprehensive involvement of the persons affected by or interested in decisions on policies, plans, programmes, and legal instruments. All participants are aware of their different roles in such a process. They deal with each other respectfully. This enhances the good cooperation of all participants.
  • Fairness: The concerns of participants are taken seriously. Participants meet each other in a climate of partnership. Argument and counter-argument are dealt with in fairness in public participation processes. A fair way of dealing with each other is the basis for fruitful cooperation.
  • Information: Taking into account the legal basis and possibilities the flow of information and the access to information is guaranteed for all those interested.
  • Clear language: In the process of public participation information and framework conditions are communicated and provided clearly and understandably. This facilitates mutual understanding and avoids potential time lags, disappointment or other difficulties in cooperation.
  • Deadlines: Public participation takes place at an early time. Prior to the decision there is sufficient time for information, consultation or cooperation. As a consequence, participants are on the one hand offered effective scope for influence. On the other hand, time lags and additional costs which might arise from subsequent changes if participation takes place too late, can be avoided.
  • Organisation: For processes of public participation at the beginning the way of organisation as well as the competences and contact persons within the administration are laid down in a binding form. This provides participants with the necessary clarity and promotes effective and efficient working.
  • Decision and feedback: The decision-makers take account of the results of the public participation process in decision-making. ‘Take account’ means that they deal with the results respectfully and include them as far as possible in the decision. The decision should be communicated in a way taking reference to the subject-matters of the public participation process. In this way politics and administration can express their appreciation of the participants’ contributions and build confidence.
  • Legal scope: Public participation takes place within the framework of the Federal Constitution and any other existing legal requirements. Where there is room for manoeuvre concerning the design of public participation, the Standards of Public Participation are to be applied.

There are various intensity levels of public participation (fig. 1) involving considerable different scope of actors. Each intensity level requires adequate PP measures.

Figure 1: Levels of public participation
Source: (Standards of Public Participation, 2008, pp.17)

Standardized procedures of participatory process within the circle of strategic management are presented at the Figure 2 below. Procedures that are assigned to the implementation step are suitable for information of a wide range of actors. They can be also effectively used for the consultations within a more limited circle of SHs. More specific requirements for consultations are described in the recommendations part below.


Figure 2: standardized procedures of participatory process within the circle of strategic management (click on the map to see details)


Detailed recommendations for participatory consultation process in the form of checklist questions are outline below (based on Standards of Public Participation, 2008)

1. Announcement of the consultation process:

  • Did you think of announcing the consultation process to your selected target groups in time to allow sufficient preparation?
  • Did you contact the interested organised public actively for that purpose, e.g. by email or by mail?

2. Compiling the consultation material for participants 

  • Did you put a short, generally comprehensible summary of the topic and the participation process in front of the consultation material which allows the public to decide whether they will participate or not?
  • Did you mention the subject-matter and the objectives of the consultation process?
  • Did you describe the decisions already taken (unchangeable facts) and the topics of the consultation in a comprehensible manner to clarify where there is room for manoeuvre?
  • Did you explain the background and the cause of the consultation? Did you explain why there is need for action concerning the development of the policies, plans, programmes, and legal instruments? Did you provide background information on your topic?
  • Did you explain which impacts the policies, plans, programmes, and legal instruments could have and what would happen if they were not prepared?
  • Did you list the persons, agencies and organisations consulted? Did you state the reasons of your choice? Did you ask for suggestions as to who else might be consulted on the topic?
  • Did you – if your topic is suited for doing so – ask participants concrete questions on your draft or topic which you would like to have answered in any case?
  • Did you define the data which those consulted are to provide in any case (e.g. name, organisation etc.)? Did you point out that clear reasons of the comments are to be given and, if possible, concrete alternatives are to be offered?
  • Did you define whether the comments can be delivered by mail, by email, via an internet page, by fax, by phone, or also personally?
  • Did you give the name of at least one contact which is technically familiar with the draft or topic?
  • Did you mention the person or the agency where the comments have to be delivered?
  • Did you set clear deadlines appropriate for the topic for the delivery of comments? The period allowed for comments always has to be adjusted to the content and the type of public participation. In most cases 6 to 12 weeks are appropriate. Did you extend the period for comments by two weeks in the event that it falls in one of the main vacation periods? If you have to shorten the period for comments, did you explain this in a comprehensible way?
  • Did you explain how the process would continue after the consultation round and where you would make the comments delivered and the report on the consultation process (cf. C 24) publicly accessible?

3. Invitation to deliver comments 

  • Did you invite all target groups on an equal footing to deliver comments?
  • Did you actively contact the interested organised public in this context?

4. Assistance during the consultation round

  • Can the contact person mentioned be easily reached during the consultation period?
  • Has the respondent been sufficiently informed on the topic? Has he/she taken part in the participation process and does he/she have all relevant documents on the topic?

5. Acknowledgement of receipt for each comment

  • Did you acknowledge receipt of each comment within one week?

6. Publication of the comments received 

  • Did you make the comments you received publicly accessible right after the end of the consultation period, provided they are not to be treated confidentially?

7. Screening and taking into account of the comments 

  • Did you screen all comments verifiably and completely?
  • Did you take into account the core statements of the comments? ‘Take into account’ means that you review the different arguments brought forward in the consultation from the technical point of view, if necessary discuss them with the participants, evaluate them in a traceable way, and then let them become part of the considerations on the drafting of your policy, your plan, your programme, or your legal instrument.

8. Information on the decision 

  • Did you prepare a report to document the consultation process?
  • Did you summarise the comments received in this report and did you mention where they can be accessed?
  • Did you describe at least briefly and explain clearly which arguments were accepted and which were not?
  • Did you coordinate this report and the further procedure (e.g. publication) with the political decision-maker?
  • Did you publish the report on the consultation process as quickly as possible after the decision had been taken?

The Austrian Ministry of the Environment provided a very interesting web-based tool-kid presenting different sorts techniques well suited for the chosen need, available at:

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