1. Policy Setting
In Austria, the states (Bundesländer) have legislative and executive powers with regard to spatial planning, nature protection and transport. Bundesländer are also responsible for the administration, implementation and enforcement of certain federal laws at the lower levels of government.
The Austrian Biodiversity Strategy 2020+ (BMLFUW, 2014) includes actions to strengthen biotope connectivity. Austria has specific targets for integrating biodiversity and ecosystem services in spatial planning, with measures such as incorporating ecological infrastructure in spatial planning, consideration of functional connectivity and the habitat network when establishing compensating areas, increase of grasslands in urban areas, the provision of features that promote biodiversity in newly established green areas, and the preservation of un-fragmented areas and migration corridors (European Commission, 2017).
The Lower Austrian Nature Protection Concept (“Naturschutzkonzept”) published in 2011 divides Lower Austria into several regions based on its natural landscapes and provides a basis for nature conservation in these regions. In 2015, the topic area “green infrastructure – wildlife corridors – habitat connectivity” has been added (Amt der NÖ Landesregierung, Abteilung Naturschutz, 2015).
2. Implementation of Green Infrastructure
- Cross-border spatial planning and habitat management measures in the Alps-Carpathians passage aimed at creating and preserving a coherent 120-km wide ecological corridor from the Alps to the Carpathians. The mountain ranges of the Alps and the Carpathians, which straddle the border of Austria and Slovakia, are the largest sources of biodiversity in Central Europe. The Alps-Carpathians Corridor between these mountains has historically been a major migration route for wildlife crossing the Danube and has been disrupted by economic development. The project brought together various institutions, NGOs, universities, as well as highway companies and regional and federal authorities from Austria and Slovakia to create a common cross-border platform facilitating the migration and genetic exchange of wild animal populations. The project also aimed to increase the recreational attractiveness of the region and improve the environmental awareness of the population (European Commission, 2007).
- Austria is part of the European Green Belt, an ecological network that stretches along the former ‘iron curtain’.
- LIFE Untere March-Auen - Restoration of the Lower Morava floodplains (10/2011 – 10/2019) – aims for the restoration of the Lower Morava Floodplains to near-natural river dynamics and new land-use practices (LIFE Project Database, n.d.).
- LIFE+ Traisen Project (2009-2016) - Restoration of the floodplain habitats of the Traisen river. The lower reaches of the river Traisen between Traismauer and Zwentendorf are to be replenished with a lively floodplains landscape (LIFE+, n.d.).
- LIFE Lech - Dynamic River System Lech (09/2016 – 12/2021) - The LIFE Lech project aims to conserve the natural dynamics of the Lech river system and surrounding riparian landscapes, along with its characteristic habitats and species (LIFE Project Database, n.d.).
- LIFE+ Wilderness Wetland Wachau (01/2015 – 12/2020) - The project aims to restore alluvial and riparian forests and to improve the conservation status of several species protected under the Habitat and Birds Directives. It also aims to restore alluvial forests in areas currently used as orchards and dominated by non-native tree species (LIFE Project Database, n.d.).
- Vienna aims to create a green and leisure network with a maximum mesh width of 500 m. The functions of the network include recreation and daily activities, city structuring, orientation and identity functions, ecosystem services (climate regulation, water regulation and air purification), habitat and connectivity function (Magistrat der Stadt Wien, 2015).
- Grünes Netz Graz is a green network within and around the city of Graz with multiple functions: ecological and climate and air quality regulating functions, green along roads, bike and walking routes, recreation and a safe and comfortable route to recreation areas, and aesthetic and identity functions (Stadt Graz, Stadtbaudirektion, 2006).
- In 2017, the two Interreg projects “Crossborder Habitat Network and Management – Connecting Natura AT-CZ (ConNat)” and “Alpine Carpathian River Corridor (ACRC)” have been submitted. The Interreg project ConNat focuses on re-establishing the traditional wildlife migration route from the Northern Limestone Alps to the Czech Republic. The Interreg project ACRC aims to improve the aquatic habitat connectivity of rivers of the Austrian-Slovak border region (e.g. Schwechat and Fischa) .
3. Mainstreaming Green Infrastructure
The EU Natura 2000 network is at the core of the EU's Green Infrastructure. Austria has an exceptionally diversified landscape, climate and hence biodiversity. In Austria, the Alpine, the Continental and the Pannonian biogeographic regions converge. Agriculture and forestry areas account for about 80% of the country’s territory. By early 2016, 15.1 % of the Austrian national territory was covered by Natura 2000 (EU average 18.1 %), with Birds Directive Special Protection Areas (SPAs) covering 10.9 % (EU average 12.3 %) and Habitats Directive Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) covering 12.1% (EU average 13.8 %). However, there are substantial variations amongst the 9 Austrian regions in the share of land covered by Natura 2000, two of the regions only having coverages around 6%. Due to the absence of a federal legislation transposing the EU Nature directives, each of the nine Länder has a different legal basis for implementing the EU Nature directives. Major threats to biodiversity include agricultural intensification and land abandonment, increased sealing of land caused by housing and infrastructure development with the related loss and fragmentation of habitats; afforestation and dead wood removal; pollution, hydrological modifications, invasive alien species and climate change. Against that background, the Austrian Biodiversity Strategy 2020 includes actions to e.g. strengthen biotope connectivity, consideration of functional connectivity and the habitat network when establishing compensating areas, increase of grasslands in urban areas, the provision of features that promote biodiversity in newly established green areas, and the preservation of un-fragmented areas and migration corridors. Most activities are executed at the local or federal province level (European Commission, 2017).
3.2 Urban policy
Green areas are seen as important for (high density) urban areas for recreation and ecological compensation. Compensation measures for large infrastructure projects need to be coordinated and create added value (ÖROK, 2015). The Biodiversity Strategy includes targets for the increase of grasslands in urban areas, abandoned buildings and the provision of features that promote biodiversity in newly established green areas (BMLFUW, 2014).
3.3 Spatial Planning
Spatial planning policy in Austria seems to be mainly concerned with minimising the use of natural land. Space needs to be secured for agriculture, cooling areas, flood retention areas, recreation and nature conservation areas. The Austrian Spatial Development Concept 2011 does not mention multifunctional use of land or the application of GI (ÖROK, 2011). The Biodiversity Strategy does formulate specific targets for integrating biodiversity and ecosystem services in spatial planning with measures such as incorporating ecological infrastructure, consideration of functional connectivity and the habitat network when establishing compensation areas and the preservation of un-fragmented areas and migration corridors (BMLFUW, 2014).
Forest management, protection, and wood production are regulated through the Forestry Act of 1975, which is implemented at the sub-national level through the different Nature Protection Acts of the nine Austrian provinces. Amended in 2002, the Forestry Act now includes a general commitment to use forests sustainably, in accordance with the Ministerial Conference of the Protection of Forests in Europe. In 2003, the Federal Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment, and Water Management initiated the Austrian Forest Dialogue, which involved a diverse group of forestry stakeholders from the public and private sectors as well as civil society. As a result, the Austrian Forest Programme was launched in 2007. It consists of seven thematic areas, which reflect the different ecosystem services of forests and its part of green infrastructure: the contribution of forests to climate mitigation and adaptation, health and sustainability of the forests, productivity and economic aspects of the forests, biodiversity, protection against disasters and extreme weather events, social and economic aspects of the forest and international responsibility for sustainable forestry. Among the policy goals of the Austrian Forest Programme are the increased use of wood as a renewable raw material, expansion of forest areas in regions with low forest cover, and the stabilization of forest ecosystems (BMLFUW, 2007). A large part of Austrian forests (approximately 20%) is classified as protection forests for which the objective is to safeguard the benefits they provide to human well-being, especially their protection function (e.g. natural hazards control), their value for recreation and tourism and general socio-economic functions. Protection of these forests and their ecosystem services remains a priority within forestry policy.
3.4 Transport Infrastructure
Since 2007, it is mandatory to establish a wildlife corridor every third kilometre when a newly developed road or railway poses a barrier for wildlife (Büro für Wildökologie und Forstwirtschaft, 2015).
3.5 Water/Flood Management and Disaster Risk Reduction
For the prevention of floods, the Austrian Conference on Spatial Planning (ÖROK) mentions zoning as the most important measure: to preserve flood plains or flood retention areas in the long term (keeping spaces free). Also, areas at risk of falling rocks, rockslides and mudslides need to be kept free of buildings (ÖROK, 2011).
4. Financing Green Infrastructure
Many projects and initiatives which aim at improving habitat connectivity and green infrastructure are funded within the LIFE-Nature and Interreg programmes. The Austrian Agri-environmental Programme supports the conservation of landscape elements.
5. Challenges and Opportunities for GI Development
5.1 Best practice/points of excellence
In recent years Austria has been very successful in obtaining LIFE-Nature funding, in particular for Alpine river-restoration projects. For example, in Lower Austria, since 1995 a total of 23 LIFE-Nature projects have been implemented.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management (BMFLUW), without protection forests, an additional € 600 million would need to be invested in technical solutions every year to achieve the same level of protection against natural hazards such as avalanches, rock slides. In the regional state of Tirol, the value of the protective function of those forests was estimated at € 100,000 per ha (BMFLUW, 2011).
6. Knowledge Base
- MAES-related activities in Austria have focused on the development of biodiversity indicators. Other activities so far were undertaken by the Environment Agency Austria, such as a national wide mapping of ecosystems based on the EUNIS classification (105 classes from level 2 to 4) with a spatial resolution of 10 x 10 metres. Mapping and assessment of a set of ecosystem services on a regional level was conducted within the project MUFLAN for two case studies in Römerland Carnuntum and Oststeirisches Kernland (BISE, 2015). Further activities for mapping of ecosystem services have started recently with the definition of indicators for an Austrian wide mapping. Depending on the specific ecosystem service, the availability of data and methods for the assessment, the ecosystem services will be mapped at the appropriate spatial resolution (Umweltbundesamt, unpublished).
- An exploration of the status quo of ecological networks in Austria and its neighbouring countries, an analysis of the role of ecological compensation areas in ecological networks and of habitat defragmentation were carried out. Steps towards ecological connectivity and habitat defragmentation were developed. A prototypical web portal established within this project provides existing basic data and further information on the issues of ecological networks and habitat connectivity for all stakeholders and interested parties (www.lebensraumvernetzung.at). The project was a contribution to the implementation of the Austrian Biodiversity Strategy 2020+ (Umweltbundesamt, 2016).
- Within the ETC-project Alps-Carpathians Corridor, the traditional ecological corridor from the Alps to the Carpathians has been modelled. Based on the findings, an Action Plan for the re-establishment of this wildlife corridor has been developed and initial measures have been implemented.
7. Further Resources and Publications
8. List of Consulted References
BISE (2015). MAES-related developments in Austria. Accessed 4 April 2017.
BMLFUW (2007). The Austria Forest Programme.
BMLFUW (2014). Biodiversitäts-strategie Österreich 2020+.
Büro für Wildökologie und Forstwirtschaft (2015). Grüne Infrastruktur: Lebensraumvernetzung. Status Quo und Umsetzungsmöglichkeiten. Winterausgabe Natur und Land, 101. JG. -Heft 4.
European Commission (2007). Innovative Alps-Carpathians Corridor re-establishes a major migration route for wild animals. Accessed 4 April 2017.
European Commission (2013). Green Infrastructure (GI) – Enhancing Europe’s Natural Capital. COM(2013) 249 final.
European Commission (2017). The EU Environmental Implementation Review Country Report – AUSTRIA.
LIFE+ (n.d.). LIFE+ Projekt TRAISEN. Accessed 4 April 2017,
LIFE Project Database (n.d.). Lech - Dynamic River System Lech. Accessed 5 December 2016.
LIFE Project Database (n.d.). LIFE+ Wilderness Wachau - LIFE+ Wilderness Wetland Wachau. Accessed 5 December 2016.
LIFE Project Database (n.d.). Untere March-Auen - Restoration of the Lower Morava floodplains. Accessed 5 December 2016.
Magistrat der Stadt Wien (2015). Fachkonzept Grün- und Freiraum.
ÖROK (2011). Austrian Spatial Development Concept. ÖREK 2011.
Stadt Graz, Stadtbaudirektion (2006). Grünes Netz Graz.
Umweltbundesamt (2016). Lebensraumvernetzung Österreich, Grundlagen-Aktionsfelder-Zusammenarbeit. Im Auftrag des BMLFUW, Wien.
Umweltbundesamt (unpublished) Kartographische Darstellung ausgewählter Ökosystemleistungen. Interne Arbeitsunterlagen.