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The Green Belt as a European Ecological Network strengths and gaps

The Green Belt as a European Ecological Network strengths and gaps


Kun Zhang REVIEW AND GAPS: EUROPEAN ECOLOGICAL NETWORKS IN THE PAST 40 YEARS What is the fundamental theory, and what are current research bottlenecks? (4) What are the gaps in practice? 2 CONCEPTS AND DEFINITIONS 2.1 Definitions A great many literatures exist that discusses ecological networks. One definition that is widely accepted and quoted is one proposed by Bennett: ‘Ecological network is regarded as a coherent system of natural and/or semi-natural landscape elements that is configured and managed with the objective of maintaining or restoring ecological functions as a means to conserve biodiversity while also providing appropriate opportunities for the sustainable use of natural resources’ [1]. Similar to this definition, Jongman defined ecological networks ‘as systems of nature reserves and their interconnections that make a fragmented natural system coherent, so as to support more biological diversity than in its non-connected form’ [2]. Whether single purpose [3] or multipurpose, in both instances of the definitions emphasize the need for a ‘system’ and for the network to have a ‘coherence’ that is based on ecological processes. Similarly, a definition from conservation biology simply and straightforward includes ‘a set of ecosystems of one type, linked into a spatially coherent system through flows of organisms, and interacting with the landscape matrix in which it is embedded’ [4]. 2.2 Concept of the structural model Despite slight variations that may be detected when comparing the visions that are expressed in these definitions, it can easily be recognized that there are very similar elements included in to any of the ecological networks. Thus, there is a very definite operational model. This is a structural model composed of (a) core areas, (b) ecological corridors, (c) buffer zones. Some models also refer to (d) restoration areas. By and large, this operational model not only allows for implementing aims related to save guarding biodiversity, but also allows fort a certain degree of human use and management of the landscape. 2.3 Related Concepts In addition to the ‘ecological network’ structural model other concepts exist, such as ecological corridor concepts, green infrastructure models, ecological infrastructure models, and also the concept of ‘greenways’. Being only slightly different from the basic ecological network, the so called ‘ecological corridors’ may be considered as being one component of the ecological network model. The ‘green infrastructure’ model focuses mainly on the so called ‘ecological services’. And the ‘greenway’ concept constitutes a connectivity framework in its own right, one that is based on linear landscape structures to be developed and managed for multipurpose use; these may, include nature conservation, aesthetic benefits, recreational and cultural purposes. The greenway is designed to be mainly a linear landscape. But obviously, the greenway discourses have certainly inspired the development of ecological corridors (the crucial element of any ecological network) in European nature conservation [5]. 106

Kun Zhang REVIEW AND GAPS: EUROPEAN ECOLOGICAL NETWORKS IN THE PAST 40 YEARS 3 THE HISTORY OF ECOLOGICAL NETWORKS: THREE PERIODS Historic predecessors to ecological networks include landscape axis and avenue designs in Europe (1700s-1930s), the early concepts of arranging for cities to have ‘green belts, and also the idea of the ‘Parkway’ in North America (1920s-1960s). Concepts to develop greenways and greenway network exist, among other places, in the United States (1960spresent). All of these efforts provide the background for modern designs for urban open space systems, and also for nature conservation and sustainable spatial planning. Based on these concepts and approaches, it took nearly 300 years for the modern idea of the ‘ecological network’ to be developed (1970s-present). Based on the theories and practices published in the relevant literature, the development of the ‘ecological network’ concept may be divided into three periods. The first period is the initial period of spontaneous initiatives. The second period is the development with a clear concept and specific organizations. The third period is the further implementation and extension of ecological networks. 3.1 The first period: singular and spontaneous initiatives (around 1970s-1980s) While exploring the beginning of the ecological network idea most of the literature points at five countries: Lithuania, Estonia, former Czechoslovakia, Demark and The Netherlands. Pioneers of thinking about ecological network are from these countries. Hence, during this period, ecological network efforts originated more or less spontaneously as singular events. Aims are varied and mainly focus on nature conservation at regional or national scales. Nature conservation is mainly concerned with crucial species and with habitats to be in their natural state. The concept of ecological networks has, during this time, not been generally accepted as a planning and management strategy. Early in the 1970s studies have been carried out that are based on the so called ‘island biography’ concept. On this basis, plans were made in Lithuania and Estonia to combat isolation effects that resulted from landscape fragmentation. In the beginning of the 1980s ecological network planning started in former Czechoslovakia. In the same period the concept of nature corridors was introduced as a relevant part of Danish regional plans and in 1984 the concept of ecological networks was worked out as a national plan [6]. At the European level, the Diploma Sites network(1965, the network of Biogenetic Reserves(1976)and EECONET had been discussed [3]. 3.2 The second period: clear concept and specific organizations (around 1990s-2000s) The end of the Cold War and establishing the European Community provides the political background during this period. Better academic exchange was now possible, such as about nature conservation in European countries. Projects were started that were based on transboundary cooperation and on international protection protocols (such as Natura 2000). It 107

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