press release, 17. June 2024

"Great success for nature conservation and sustainable land use"

EU Environment Council gives the green light to the Nature Restoration Law

The controversial European Nature Restoration Law (NRL) has surprisingly cleared the final hurdle and was adopted by the EU Environment Council on 17 June. Prof Dr Josef Settele, agricultural biologist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and member of the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU), explains how the regulation will improve nature conservation and sustainable land use and why restoration is so important.

Prof. Dr. Josef Settele Photo: André Künzelmann / UFZ
Prof. Dr. Josef Settele
Photo: André Künzelmann / UFZ

Why is this a special day for nature conservation and sustainable land use?

Following the approval of the EU Environment Council, the EU Nature Restoration Law will now come into force. It should lead to the long-term and sustainable recovery of biodiverse and resilient ecosystems in the terrestrial and marine areas of the EU. This is a great success for nature conservation and sustainable land (and sea) use because we are finally moving in the direction of considering entire landscapes and coming much closer to integrating land use, climate protection, and biodiversity conservation. The new regulation now needs to be swiftly implemented in Germany. In their statement published in April, the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) and the Scientific Advisory Boards for Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (WBBGR) and Forest Policy (WBW) provide guidance and recommendations on how this can be achieved in view of existing and future land use conflicts.

In your opinion, what are the main improvements that the EU regulation will bring for the protection of ecosystems and species? 

The objectives and content of the regulation partly overlap with existing plans, strategies, programmes, and legal requirements (UFZ press release on the publication by Hering et al. 2023). The national restoration plan and the national law recommended here offer the opportunity to interlink these different processes, avoid contradictions in content, minimise bureaucracy, and ensure dynamic networking between the relevant stakeholders. The implementation of this plan could be ensured by a long-term action programme for natural climate protection. Major improvements to the ordinance include protecting the landscape as a whole, taking into account sustainable land use. This should guarantee that ecosystems continue to function for our own generation as well as for generations to come. These improvements include the protection of pollinators, the conservation of grassland insects, and the fulfilment of a stronger climate protection function by the ecosystems.

The core objectives of the EU regulation were weakened by the trialogue. Which changes were the most painful?  

One weakening is that measures can be suspended if agricultural yields are threatened. This is based on the traditional understanding that agricultural production using intensive inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides is the only way to achieve success. What we really need is to fundamentally scrutinise our economic activities - a core element of transformative change. Nevertheless, some things were also improved in the course of the trialogue. This is what happened with the Article 10, which is about pollinators - presumably because almost everyone can appreciate pollinators (i.e. bees) and wants them to do better.

Why is the restoration of ecosystems so important in the first place? Which ecosystems and areas are suitable for this?

Restoration is important for restoring habitats to favourable conservation status and ensuring that ecosystems are permanently available as a natural basis for human life. In order to achieve this, restoration must be integrated into land use. In principle, almost all areas can be considered for this, especially if the term "restoration" (as well as "renaturation", which is more commonly used in Germany) is understood in a broad sense so that also more nature-friendly forms of management are included. It is therefore about strictly protected areas such as old forests as well as the open agricultural landscape, which needs to be structurally enriched and made more permeable for plants and animals through networks of habitats.

How can restoration goals be defined and the success of measures evaluated? 

We want these goals to be understood in a broad sense so that they are also in line with the NRL. They therefore include more environmentally-friendly forms of cultivation. To evaluate success, three indicators are proposed for the agricultural landscape; at least two of these should show a positive trend by 2030. These indicators are structurally rich agricultural landscapes, increased carbon sequestration in mineral arable soils, and the indicator of grassland butterflies, which has been co-developed over the past few years by the Butterfly Monitoring Germany (Tagfalter-Monitoring Deutschland; TMD) with the involvement of the UFZ in the frame of eBMS. Along with birds, this is one of the few biodiversity indicators for animals available throughout Europe.

In the past, it was more important to practise nature conservation by protecting the land. Is this approach still up to date? 

In principle, this is still appropriate. It just depends on what is meant by protection. To a large extent in our Central European cultural landscape, high diversity habitats can only be maintained through extensive management. That’s because without extensive grazing and mowing in the low mountain ranges, many open landscapes, which are often valuable from a nature conservation perspective, would become overgrown. Protection through use would be a more appropriate term here.

Further information:
The complete statement of the three expert councils - SRU, WBBGR, WBW (2024): Renaturation: Protect biodiversity, and manage land sustainably. Statement. SRU. Berlin: 87 p. - is available at the following URL:

Further information

Prof. Dr. Josef Settele
Head of the UFZ Department of Conservation Biology & Social-Ecological Systems

UFZ press office

Susanne Hufe
Phone: +49 341 235-1630

In the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), scientists conduct research into the causes and consequences of far-reaching environmental changes. Their areas of study cover water resources, ecosystems of the future, environmental technologies and biotechnologies, the effects of chemicals in the environment, modelling and social-scientific issues. The UFZ employs more than 1,100 staff at its sites in Leipzig, Halle and Magdeburg. It is funded by the Federal Government, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.

The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major challenges facing society, science and the economy with top scientific achievements in six research fields: Energy; Earth and Environment; Health; Key Technologies; Matter; and Aeronautics, Space and Transport. With some 39,000 employees in 19 research centres, the Helmholtz Association is Germany’s largest scientific organisation.
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