Sometimes there is opposition from the business society to creating protected areas since they consider that these areas diminish or make it impossible to develop economically. This is not necessarily true when it comes to Natura 2000 sites. However, it is necessary to take into account all aspects before starting an economic activity in an area of the Natura 2000 network and the impacts that this activity may have on the species and habitats subject to the protection.
Although Natura 2000 sites will not be official until the Republic of Serbia is part of the European Union, it is good to consider the proposed sites when planning a business, especially if it means interfering with the existing nature.
Based on experiences in the EU member states, sustainability needs of the ecological network should be assessed before any larger development projects. If this assessment is positive, even if it is in a Natura 2000 site, the intervention is allowed. This is because Natura 2000 supports the principles of sustainable development, and is not intended to stop development activities but to set standards, so that they can be carried out while preserving biodiversity. However, if the impact assessment shows a significant negative impact of the investment, in principle, it cannot be carried out unless the following situation occurs:
- social and economic requirements justify the investment,
- there are no alternative solutions,
- environmental compensation is paid.
This means that interference in Natura 2000 will not be possible unless there is no alternative, and the investment is absolutely necessary for social needs. In this case, it is necessary to make compensation so that the balance in nature can be restored. Even if the alternatives are technically difficult or expensive, that by itself is not a reason enough for the investor to be able to go ahead with the investment. Natura 2000 does not establish a ban as in other forms of nature protection, such as national parks, but it is mainly based on limiting actions that can significantly worsen the condition of natural habitats and habitats of plants and animals, as well as the negative impact on species for which protection has been designated in a Natura 2000 site.
The investor must address the aspects of Natura 2000 from the concept stage while looking for the location, which must be less harmful to the environment. This especially refers to infrastructure like roads, railways and power lines etc., which have direct impacts depending on their layout. The choice of a particular route is determined by several factors, such as obstacles, the current state of development, and the principles of nature and landscape protection. When it comes to Natura 2000, the implementation of such investments is only possible provided that:
- there is an overriding public interest,
- there is no reasonable alternative to the chosen investment variant,
- the investor provides ecological compensation.
Before applying for a license, the investor must demonstrate that he took into account all possible variants of the project and identified all the places where they could damage the environment. This information should be included in the environmental impact assessment report prepared for the investment, which the competent authorities will evaluate. This procedure must be carried out with the participation/involvement of interested citizens.
Many lines of business can be carried out in an area of the Natura 2000 network; the most common are those related to agrotourism, ecotourism, bird tourism. Certain well-managed activities do not have significant impacts and can be very profitable not only for the company itself but for other business sectors in the environment, such as restaurants and hotels. There is demonstrated experience in several areas of the Natura 2000 network in different member states to create their own brands of products from a protected area, with quality guarantees, designation of origin or sustainable production certificates that provide an extra value of the products in the market.