First Meeting of the Expert Group on Estuaries

First Meeting of the Expert Group on Estuaries


First meeting of the Expert Group on Estuaries

Brussels, 24 January 2007

DG Environment, Room C, 10:00 - 17:00 HRS


Francois Kremer of unit B2 of DG Environment (DG ENV) opened the meeting with a short introduction:

The establishment of Natura 2000 under the Habitats Directive for the Annex I habitat type 'Estuaries' has proven to be highly controversial in many Member States. There are especially concerns among port authorities, who fear that such designations will impose unreasonable restrictions in relation to their activities and to infrastructure development. On the other hand, important work is ongoing in Member States in relation to the assessment of the conservation status of estuarine habitats and species, the setting of conservation objectives and the establishment of integrated management approaches.

There seems, however, to be the need to further clarify on integrated management, reconciling protection requirements and socio-economic objectives in Natura 2000 estuaries.

In creating the expert group on estuaries the Commission would like toenhance the exchange of information on best practice and management techniques in relation to the management of Natura 2000 estuaries and in the same time find out if there is a need to further develop EU guidance in this field.

2.Short presentation of the Paralia and New!Delta projects

Frank Neumann from the institute for infrastructure, environment and innovation in Brussels presented the PARALIA and the NEW!DELTA projects. Both projects target integrated management of Natura 2000 sites. The presentation will be made available on a public CIRCA-site, which will be created asap.

Information on the PARALIA project is available under:

Information on the NEW!DELTA project is available under:

3.Discussion of the key tasks as listed in the terms of reference

  1. The EU legislative and policy context relevant to the conservation of estuaries, the management of ports, flood protection and recreation activities (EU nature legislation but also Water framework Directive, Marine Strategy,flood management, etc + relevant maritime transport and safety legislation and etc), and the socio-economic context in which estuarine management takes place.

Concerning relevant EU legislation several compilations are already available, e.g. in the Water Framework Directive (WFD) policy paper[1] or the brochure "Nature and biodiversity cases – ruling of the European court of justice"[2].

In the field of implementation lots of uncertainties remain and the wish was expressed to further clarify how to apply Community law(which does not typically take into account the particular characteristics of estuaries) and to better explain the links and overlapping that may exist between different legislations and/or policies, and in which situation would prevail which legislation. In addition, on the spot it is not only Community legislation but also the national law, which needs to be applied. Theexchange of experience and good practice examples is therefore the most appropriate means for further support of implementation.Improved evaluation of jurisprudence in relation to estuaries development would also contribute to a better understanding and implementation of EU environmental legislation in estuaries.

A further point relates to the potential overlap of various existing and future plans in estuaries (e.g. Natura 2000 management plans, WFD river basin management plans, Integrated coastal zone management plans (ICZM) and possibly new marine strategies). Ensuring co-ordination and consistency between these plans will become increasingly important.

Most attention was drawn however, to further communicate and present the approach of integrated management. Estuaries are dynamic systems with over average of different policies and different players. Therefore integrated management is the only option to achieve a win-win situation for all concerned parties. The policy approach of integrated estuary management needs urgently to be further communicated.

It was highlighted by ESPO that other policy priorities (eg. transport) should be taken intoaccount as early as possible. In the current situation, transport policy priorities are onlyconsidered when a plan or project proposal has to go through an Article 6(4) procedure. A proactive approach towards the Directives would however requirethat other policies are integrated into spatial planning mechanisms as soon as possible.

  1. An overview of different types of estuaries in the EU (biological characteristics, complexity and variability – including details in relation to ecology, hydrology and geomorphology) . …including relations to marine systems[3]

The morphology and the biology of estuaries throughout Europe differ fundamentally. Before being able to create an integrated management it is important to prior understand the driving forces of the estuary and identify crucial parameters. A compilation of the existing knowledge particularly from the "integrated management" point of view might be helpful as a basis for further development in the individual estuaries.

It was further highlighted that even if already much knowledge is available, there are still large gaps of knowledge that should be addressed in future. Research findings should be better related to the legislative process and the management of estuaries.

If the Commission would decide to further work in this field Mr Morris offered his support.

  1. Scientific considerations in selection and delimitation of NATURA 2000 estuaries (largely based on existing interpretation note and overview of the network)

The existing interpretation note does sufficiently clarify scientific considerations in selection and delimitation of Natura 2000 sites hosting the habitat type "estuaries". However, it is from the legal point of view an unsatisfactory situation as the note has not finally been adopted by the Habitats Committee. As further consequence the note is only known by Member States and so there are remaining uncertainties for stakeholders. This was considered as communication deficit which should be addressed.

Concerning navigation channels was noted that these have to be included in the designation of estuaries. This was decided due to the ecological and morphological complexity of estuarine Natura 2000 sites, and doesn't necessarily presume the ecological value of navigation channels.

  1. Assessment of the conservation status of estuarine habitats and species.
  1. Setting conservation objectives for Natura 2000 estuaries.

Tasks 4 and 5 have been discussed together.

Because of the complexity and dynamics of estuarine sites assessing conservation status and setting conservation objectives can not be done in the same way as it is handled in terrestrial sites. A methodology is needed, which starts with exploring the basic factors which keep the estuarine ecosystem functioning (morphology, tidal amplitude,…) and ends up with setting the objectives for the estuarine site as such. In the framework of such a systematic approach the assessment of the conservation status of individual habitat types and species might be considered, as well as their "individual" conservation objectives. General criteria/indicators of ecosystem health in estuaries might be needed for monitoring. It should further be clarified in how far conservation objectives meet legislative objectives and how management plans relate to such objectives.

Developing a kind of strategic overview or "framework management plan" could be very useful, for example in providing guidance on common principles. As some examples for setting objectives in estuarine sites exist already (UK for marine sites, BE for the Schelde river) any work being done in this area should built thereon. However, any such system needs to be sufficiently flexible to be able to adapt to changes (e.g. climate change and related changes of water level or socio-economic changes).

During the discussion 2 difficultieshave been spotted. Firstly, it might cause huge difficulties for any management development if the sites have been designated to small. In particular, some borders of SAC or SPA might prove inadequate as the estuary evolves. And secondly, stakeholders and NGOs might not accept the set up conservation objectives of an integrated management plan if it is not sufficiently communicated.

  1. Establishing integrated management approaches estuarine NATURA 2000 sites and the role of different authorities in this process.

In discussing this point it appeared that no "real" integrated management plan seems to be available yet for estuarine sites. There are ongoing pilot projects, some plans addressing individual ongoing activities (like e.g. dredging) and more general plans, which could as well be applied in estuaries. With the additional preparation of WFD river basin management plans, the possibilities of marine strategies, etc., there is clearly a need to further improve co-ordination and consistency in this area.

There was overall agreement that a systematic approach is necessary and that all stakeholders need to be actively involved to get the overall acceptance and make the plan workable.

However, it might not always be realistic to achieve workable plans, which tackle all aspects. Specific reference was made to the binding element of management plans. Some stakeholders (e.g. farmers or fishermen) might block a common approach. In such cases it could be considered to exclude areas from the management (e.g. agriculturally used river banks) in the overall goal to get an agreed and workable integrated plan. Management plans should be flexible and adjustable in order to take account of information resulting from monitoring activities.

In relation to setting conservation objectives it was also mentioned that if this will be very time consuming it might further delay the set up of management plans.

The difficulty to make stakeholders accountable on what was agreed in a management plan was also noted. More generally, the link between management plans and regulations need to be developed.

  1. Addressing plans and projects that may affect estuarine NATURA 2000 sites, including appropriate assessments, alternatives, overriding public interest, mitigation and compensation. …right of continuance (ongoing activities)

Some guidance is already available, for the Habitats Directive[4]and for the Water Framework Directive[5],which has some similar requirements but also important differences.

However, due to the complexity of estuarine habitats and their dynamics uncertainty still exists – in particular concerning appropriate assessments.In particular when going through the Article 6(3) assessment more attentionshould be provided on how to deal with ‘uncertainties’. Should in these cases always bereferred to the precautionary principle?

Further 'legal' guidance was considered as having the risk to be too inflexible,whereas examples of best practice were considered as option for further guidance on implementation. Germanymentioned the case"construction of the container terminal IV in Bremerhaven" as a best practice example.

Further was discussed that implementation on the spot might be difficult, if several European provisions have to be applied in parallel in one estuary, and all of them are e.g. obliging to do assessments (Habitats-/Birds Directive, WFD, EIA Directive etc.). The rationalisation of methods for addressing different relevant legislations (e.g. water, nature, …) in one single authorisation procedure and methods for better addressing the uncertainty as to the ecological effects complex projects were considered as being useful.

  1. The particular requirements regarding maintenance (and capital) dredging, what is required of port authorities and how this may be integrated with management plans

This task was considered to be a sub point to the integrated management discussion and has not been further discussed.

The GEODE project in Francewas mentioned as an example of good practices in this field.

  1. Monitoring and surveillance of estuarine NATURA 2000 sites.
    - Identification of relevant specific indicators

Following the integrated approach, indicators for the application of all relevant legal provisions need to be identified!

A lot of data are already available. The challenge is however, to identify the relevant indicators. This is only possible on the basis of a modellingprocess where morphological and biological factors need to be taken into account.

Monitoring was considered to be very costly;however, compared to other expenses for management measures this is relative. In addition, only on the basis of good monitoring it is possible to develop (cost-) efficient management schemes.

Ways should be found to make better use of the already available know how on evaluating basic hydrological and morphological factors in estuaries.

A best practice example for a monitoring scheme of estuarine sites would be for example the scheme applied to the Schelde estuary.

  1. Research needs and scientific cooperation
    - Research on identification and evaluation of ecosystem services

From the scientific point of view certainty can hardly ever be achieved. Therefore a lot of research areas could be listed e.g.

  • Ecosystem services of estuaries,
  • Identifying uncertainties for the elaboration of management plans and
  • Sediment management.

There were however doubts, if for the development of integrated management in estuaries research needs are a main problem or if it is rather the policy line, which needed to be clarified.

The need to find ways for better valorising and communicating relevant findings from research on estuarine ecosystem functioning and management was stressed.

  1. Communication

Communication has been mentioned several times as a central point and needs certainly further attention.

Communication between stakeholders, communication between stakeholders and Member States administrations and communication towards the broad public are crucial to avoid difficulties in the planning and management of estuaries. Methods to promote partnerships and better communicate examples of good practice need to be further developed.

The NEW!DELTA project addressed this in creating networking. Further networking initiatives could be supportive.

Communication platforms were mentioned as a useful instrument to enhance communication. Also more information on positive feedback from the Commission on how/why issues were resolved in a certain way and on particular management or development experiences/projects would be useful.

4.Summary of the discussion and further steps

Summaries of the discussion have been drawn for each of the 11 points. They are compiled in the minutes of the meeting and will be circulated to the participants for comments.

The final minutes and results of the meeting will be communicated to the members of the Habitats Committee.

As a first consequence of the meeting a public CIRCA group will be set up, where information concerning estuaries can be shared. The web-address will be circulated as soon as available.

DG ENV will consider further steps, as well as the involvement of the group, based on the results of the meeting and inform the participants respectively.

Brussels, 19March 2007

ANNEXList of Participants

Expert Group on Estuaries: Participants of meeting on 24 January 2007

Mr. Pasi Laihonen

Baltic Sea research unit, Finnish Environment Institute

Mr Roger Morris

Natural England

Mr. Reinhard Schmidt-Moser

Ministerium für Landwirtschaft, Umwelt und ländliche Räume des Landes SHH

24106 Kiel

Mr.Heinz Glindemann

HPA Hamburg Port Authority

20457 Hamburg

Mrs.Inka Gnittke

i. A. Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit

53175 Bonn

Mrs. Inga Belasova

Nature Protection Department

Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Latvia

Mrs Hélène Montelly

Ministère de l'écologie,

Direction de la nature et des paysages

Mrs Els Martens

Agency for nature and forests

Flanders, Belgium

Mrs Lieven Nachtergale

Agency for nature and forests

Flanders, Belgium

Prof. Patrick Meire

University of Antwerp

Mr. Frank Neumann

Paralia nature

Mrs. Fien de Raedemacker

New!Delta project

Frits Backer
EEB - European Environmental Bureau

Mr. Peter Symens


Mrs. Jan Brooke

Task Group of European navigation associations

Mr. Roel Hoenders

European Sea Ports Organisation ,ESPO

Mr. Toon Tessier

Mr Eric Mink

European Dredging Association

Mr. Peter Barham

Associated British Ports

Mr François Xicluna

Port Autonome de Rouen

Ms. Marieke van Nood

DG ENV – D.2

Mr José Fernandez Garcia


Mr Julio de la Cueva Aleu


Mr Martin Fernandez Diez-Picazo


Mr Francois Kremer, Ms Astrid Kaemena

DG ENV – B.2

Mr Patrick Murphy (partly)

DG ENV – B.2


[1]Available on the public CIRCA site on the WFD:

[2]Available from EU Bookshop:

[3]The italic text refer to comments from Member States to the terms of reference.