The Sustainable Use of Regional Funds for Nature (SURF – Nature) project is a partnership of 14 authorities and public bodies (or bodies under public law) working together to optimise regional policies and practices with regard to promotion and preservation of natural heritage, biodiversity, and nature conservation through improving opportunities for and the impacts of financing these measures from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). For the first time in the history of the ERDF, the current regulation specifically refers to the option for financing natural heritage, biodiversity and nature conservation (including NATURA 2000). This is consistent with an EC decision that investments in the Natura 2000 network of protected sites should be integrated into existing EC funds. As a result, nearly €4 billion in EU co-financing is available across the Member States for nature protection.
To best take advantage of the funds available, managing authorities and entities responsible for nature conservation need to improve their awareness of the availability of funding, and their capacity to identify, develop, and implement the necessary investment projects. In addition, authorities need to see the concrete benefits of using the funds for nature protection, and understand how to integrate these benefits into overall development planning for future funding cycles. Despite diversity across Europe, regions face similar issues when they seek financing for nature protection and promotion, particularly in the context of EU-funded programmes. Cooperation between regions and other relevant partners therefore has tremendous potential to transfer good practices, and to stimulate the development of mutually beneficial new ideas and methods.
To tackle these issues, the SURF-Nature partnership will carry out a series of activities aimed at the identification, analysis and dissemination of experience and good practice with using ERDF funds for nature conservation. Partners will analyse existing ERDF funding programmes (OPs) to identify how nature conservation is integrated into the process. A data base of 60 good practice investment projects will be created. The partnership will conduct a series of interregional workshops on specific funding themes and a series of training sessions within partner regions. Based on the results, partners will produce guidance documents covering specific funding themes, investment project development, and the next generation of funding programmes. Project outputs and results will be disseminated through the project website, quarterly newsletters, contacts with other initiatives, and two European conferences.
SURF nature is a project funded through the Interreg IVc programme within the European Regional Development Fund of the European Union (ERDF). By end of Jan 2010 the project received its final approval and will run until Dec 2012. The overall objective of the project is to enhance regional policies for promotion and preservation of biodiversity and nature through improving opportunities for and the impacts of financing these measures from the ERDF. For that reason different local, regional and national authorities came together and built up a partnership of 14 partners from 10 different European countries. The partnership is lead by the Environment Agency Austria, the coordination is in the hand of WWF Germany. Regular newsletters inform about activities and news. The website www.surf-nature.eu provides lots of details about project and partners and offers already results from the project activities. Furthermore a project flyer has been produced and is available in 12 languages now.
One big milestone was the analysis of Operational (OPs) Programmes of ERDF funding. Based on a standardised analysis guideline (matrix), all partners analysed 46 OPs in total, reviewing the ERDF objectives of “Convergence”, “Regional Competitiveness + Employment” and “Territorial Cooperation” in order to identify measures and funding for nature conservation and biodiversity. The overall analysis shows that nearly all OPs recognize the importance of biodiversity in the planning documents. However difficulties occur during implementation. Most competiveness programmes don`t include the category of expenditure 51 which is linked to biodiversity whereas the sectoral environmental OPs under convergence as well as the majority of programmes under territorial cooperation objective have clear allocations for this category. In terms of absorption only the transnational and cross border OPs show positive developments with over 30% of funds used under code 51 in 7 out of 10 analysed programmes.
Thematic booklets deepen expertise from the analysis on five key biodiversity related funding themes "green infrastructure", "sustainable tourism",, "environmental education", "forest biodiversty" and "natura 2000 management". 4 of them have been finalised and partly translated into other partner languages. Building on this analytycal work partners collected good practice examples, a first set of 22 examples is available and will constitute the basis for an online database.
Promotion of the projects started with the launch conference in June 2010 hosted by the Office of the Marshal of the Warminsko Mazurskie Voivodeship in Olsztyn/ Poland . The 3 day event was held back to back with the ENCORE network of the regions and its 9th Environmental Conference of the regions of Europe.The conference had its focus on the presentation of SURF-Nature and its content in order to raise awareness on opportunities of ERDF funding for nature conservation.
Meanwhile a series of 9 interregional workshops in partner regions has been successfully completed. During the workshops partners as well as stakeholders from the regions had the opportunity to discuss and exchange on ERDF funding for the five funding themes. During field visits partners learned more about the regional approaches and good practice. First recommendations for the funding period 2014-2020 adressed to ERDF managers and regulators as well as project success criteria have been developed and disseminated to stakeholders. Press releases and articles have been disseminated and already 8 newsletter with information on EU, national and project level have been published. Further preparation for improvements in regional approaches are underway with the project trainings that have been organized so far in 3 regions (Wales, Olomouc and Warmia). To involve European regions the project realised a special dissemination event in Brussels.