European “Capitals of Biodiversity” awarded: Four cities in Europe take the lead in biodiversity protection

Cities in France, Hungary, Slovakia and Spain have been awarded “Capitals of Biodiversity” – Over 200 local authorities competed in the competitions – Winners are small to medium sized municipalities

14 October 2010; Paris, Madrid, Bratislava, Siófok, Radolfzell:  Europe has four new capitals: Grande Synthe in France, Tata in Hungary, El Real Sitio de San Ildefonso in Spain and Želiezovce in Slovakia are now national “Capitals of Biodiversity”. Over 200 municipalities – from small villages such as the Spanish village Carrícola with 88 inhabitants up to European metropolises such as Barcelona and Paris – in all four countries presented their efforts, projects and measures to protect biodiversity on the local level. They demonstrated the amplitude of possibilities for local authorities to contribute to halt the loss of biodiversity in Europe. The four winners of the national competitions demonstrated the highest level of biodiversity preservation and can proudly carry the title “capital”. Their populations vary between 5.000 and 24.000, but their scale of commitment and the quality of their projects can set the standard for small villages and large cities alike. “The four European Capitals of Biodiversity show a very high standard of biodiversity protection” says Oliver Hillel, Programme Officer at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and member of the international advisory board of the project. “If many municipalities around the globe take their lead and show a similar dedication, we can finally achieve some significant progress in fighting the loss of biodiversity.” The French, Hungarian and Spanish Capitals of Biodiversity will present their strategies at the margins of the UN Biodiversity Conference in Nagoya (Japan) later this month.

The Capitals of Biodiversity 2010 were honoured for specific projects and strategies, but also for their overall performance in biodiversity protection in various fields of action.

The Slovak capital of biodiversity, Želiezovce, with 7,500 inhabitants belongs to the small towns on the multicultural territory in the South of Slovakia. The town won the competition due to its very proactive approach and they do nature and biodiversity protection with a zeal, which is apparent at first glance. Their wide variety of activities include birds and bats protection, invasive plants elimination and regular awareness raising and environmental education events.

El Real Sitio de San Ildefonso (Segovia, Spain) is a municipality of 5,700 inhabitants located 80 km north of Madrid. During 15 years it has been implementing a development model based on historical, environmental and cultural identities, favouring the coexistence between the environmental respect, the richness generation and the quality of life. They have executed projects for the recovery of wild species, the otter and the Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus) and the protection of productive species, La Granja bean and the autochthonous trout. Educational programs include Agenda 21 events for schools.

The Hungarian winner is the City of Tata. Tata is a baroque town with 24,000 inhabitants situated in the north central area of Hungary. The most significant treasure among Tata’s nine protected areas is the Ramsar site “Old Lake”, which is one of Europe’s most distinct resting places for migrating birds, especially wild geese. The major areas of biodiversity activities of the local authority include protection of water quality, increasing green areas and establishment of favourable environmental conditions. Some 12,000 trees were planted during the last four years.

As the last of the four capitals, the French Capital of Biodiversity will be awarded in a ceremony in Paris tonight. Grand Synthe has 22,000 inhabitants and is located in the North of France on the North Sea coast. Although it has been pressurised by the industries settled in its surroundings, the municipality has led an ambitious policy to preserve nature and restore biodiversity within the city. For a long time Grande Synthe has chosen to use alternative techniques to manage green spaces in a more ecological way.

About the project

The competitions reward villages, towns and cities for innovation, commitment and excellence in preserving the wealth of nature. Local authorities were judged in different size classes and thematic categories including municipal green spaces, planning instruments, protection of species and ecosystems, agriculture and forestry, water management, communication and environmental education. The competitions were accompanied by a series of workshops in each country and the release of printed brochures to present strategies and best-practice examples from the participating municipalities. The “German Capital of Biodiversity” will be announced in spring 2011 and a next round of the competitions will be carried out in 2011.

The competitions in the five countries are implemented by Natureparif (France), Lake Balaton Development Coordination Agency (Hungary), Fundación Biodiversidad (Spain), the Regional Environmental Center (Slovakia) and German Environmental Aid (Germany). IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and ICLEI–International Training Centre are international partners of the project. More organisations from other European countries are invited to join and establish competitions in their own countries.

The project is supported through LIFE, a programme of the EU. Since 1992, LIFE has co-financed some 2.750 projects, contributing approximately 1.35 billion to the protection of the environment.
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Robert Spreter, Head of dept. „Environmental Protection in Municipalities“, Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V., Fritz-Reichle-Ring 4, 78315 Radolfzell, Germany, Tel.: +49 (0)7732 9995 -30, Fax: +49 (0)7732 9995 -77, Mobil: +49 (0)151 55016959,