An emerging conservation approach: Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures

The OECM framework provides ample opportunity to promote biodiversity conservation in the EU, can complement existing protected areas across landscapes and seascapes and contribute to achieving ambitious conservation targets. Nevertheless, the concept is still new, especially in the EU, and their role needs to be carefully evaluated.

As today, the EU celebrates the Natura 2000 network and its more than 27,800 sites across EU land and seas, it is also important to look at how these fit into a wider landscape and seascape approach to the maintenance of biodiversity and other ecosystem services.

Increasing the amount of land and marine areas managed in ways that conserve nature is a fundamental response to today’s rapid decline in biodiversity. The new EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, a core component of the European Green Deal, commits to protect at least 30% of the EU’s land and sea by 2030. This is fully in line with proposals for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. As part of this ambitious target, the strategy includes contributions from other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs).

The OECM framework is a novel conservation approach which recognises areas that achieve the long term in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside designated protected areas.

The concept was introduced under Target 11 of the Aichi biodiversity targets for 2020 under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and OECMs are centrally located within the area-based conservation target of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework targets, currently under negotiation. An official definition was adopted in 2018: “A geographically defined area other than a Protected Area, which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in-situ conservation of biodiversity, with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio–economic, and other locally relevant values.”

This includes areas where:

  • biodiversity protection is not an objective but is achieved as by-product of other objectives (ancillary conservation),
  • biodiversity is a secondary objective (secondary conservation), or
  • biodiversity protection is a primary objective, but governing authorities cannot or do not wish to report the site as a protected area (primary conservation).

In effect, this will in time represent a second network of conserved areas, closely linked with but separate from Natura 2000 and other protected areas, building a robust, continent-wide framework for area-based conservation.

Whether an area falls into one of the OECM categories and can be recognised as an OECM needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis and assessed at the site level (an IUCN methodology is currently being developed). OECMs can address some of the shortfalls of protected areas and can complement existing networks. This helps the mainstreaming of biodiversity conservation in areas under different uses and is likely to play a particular role in helping to maintain connectivity between protected areas.

The EU already has a large protected area network, with Natura 2000 covering 18% of the EU territory on land and 8% in the marine realm. However, the effectiveness of the Natura 2000 network still leaves a lot to be desired, and many scientists believe that 30% is too low to ensure secure maintenance of biodiversity and other ecosystem services. The Natura 2000 network on its own is not enough to protect the species and habitats listed in the Habitats Directive as most have populations and areas of habitat outside Natura 2000 site boundaries and the management effectiveness of the Network can still be improved.

As today, the EU celebrates Natura 2000 and its more than 27 800 sites across EU land and season, it is also important to look at other, additional contributions that are, and can in the future, deliver effective biodiversity conservation. OECMs are a means by which to bring new or existing areas important for biodiversity into conservation planning and support EU targets for biodiversity.

The OECM concept is still relatively unknown in EU policy and there is an urgent need to provide insight to guide EU Member States about which areas to prioritize and report as OECMs in National Strategies and Action Plans under the CBD and in implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.

Our think piece (see below) explores OECMs as an emerging conservation approach and discusses their potential in the EU context. 

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