Can green infrastructure help conserve biodiversity?

Green infrastructure is promoted by the European Commission as a key instrument for ecosystem conservation in the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020. It refers to the network of natural and semi-natural areas, designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services (i.e. benefits provided by ecosystems that contribute to human wellbeing). While the potential of green infrastructure to support ecosystem conservation is widely recognised, its implementation is still under discussion at EU national and local levels. In particular, the ability of green infrastructure to deliver benefits to the conservation of species and habitats outside protected areas remains unclear.

A recent Environment and Planning article, led by Anna Salomaa from the University of Helsinki and co-authored by IEEP’s Marianne Kettunen, explores nature conservation practitioners’ views on the added value of green infrastructure, including opportunities and risks related to its implementation. It builds on a survey of Finnish nature conservation experts, exploring their perceptions on the development of green infrastructure within the existing policy framework.

The article concludes that the contribution of EU green infrastructure policy to biodiversity conservation depends on how green infrastructure will be implemented in practice. The results of the survey indicate that improving implementation of existing nature conservation instruments, in particular, protected areas, needs to play an integral part of the implementation. However, strengthening the role of ecology in existing land-use planning systems is required to successfully deploy existing land-use planning instruments for green infrastructure.

While placing ecosystem services at the heart of green infrastructure can improve nature conservation integration into other policy sectors, it can also result in steering focus away from conservation needs with no direct benefits to human wellbeing. Consequently, the current definition and deployment of green infrastructure raise concerns on its ability to contribute to biodiversity conservation. These concerns must be addressed by ensuring EU green infrastructure policy is underpinned by a solid scientific basis with biodiversity being prerequisite for the delivery of ecosystem services.

For more information on IEEP's work on green infrastructure contact Marianne Kettunen (mkettunen@ieep.eu) and Graham Tucker (gtucker@ieep.eu).