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In the last thirty years of the last millennium, with the spread of "environmental culture" and the gradual impoverishment of the planet's natural resources, we realised that we needed to protect the ecosystem in a more effective way. With this in mind the biggest global institutions have signed agreements to reduce the environmental impact deriving from human activities. One of the key issues of these agreements is the concept of biodiversity and the reasons behind the gradual reduction in the variety of animal and vegetable species. In 1992 all member states of the EC signed the Convention on Biological Diversity in Rio, recognising the in situ conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats as a priority to pursue, and setting themselves the goal of "anticipating, preventing and attacking the causes of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity at source because of its intrinsic value and because of its ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic value".
As tangible proof of the commitments undertaken, the EU issued two directives, Directive no. 409/79, adopted in April 1979, regarding the conservation of wild birds (the "Birds Directive") and Council Directive no. 43/92, adopted in May 1992, regarding the conservation of natural habitats and wild flora and fauna ("Habitats Directive").
These two Directives constitute the legislative basis for the protection and conservation of habitats and wild species in Europe. Another of the key initiatives adopted was the creation of a consistent ecological network of protected areas in the European Union, known as NATURA 2000. The protected natural areas are portions of land or water areas where alterations generated by mankind are very limited or absent. These areas are subject to special projection and management regimes, as they are intended for the conservation of the biological diversity, cultural heritage and natural resources.

In the province of Ferrara, the two largest water collection plants (Pontelagoscuro and Stellata, on the Po river) are located within the Special Protection Area called "Fiume Po da Stellata a Mesola e Cavo napoleonico". In the province of Ravenna, the Marina di Ravenna treatment plant is located within the EU Conservation Area "Piallassa Piombone", while the Ravenna city treatment plant disposes of the wastewater treated within the SPA "Piallassa Baiona". At these two plants, in order to protect biodiversity, Hera carries out acute toxicity tests. In the period 2005-2011, these tests demonstrated that the water disposed of was not toxic in any way.

Hera's waste disposal plants, which are being upgraded and newly built, are subject to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure. For plants located near protected areas (generally within 5 km distance and when specific conditions exist that may result in even a limited impact), Hera performs a Incidence Assessment, which is a sort of evaluation of specific environmental impact for the peculiarities and natural abundance in the protected areas. The Councillor for Cultural Heritage, the Parks Department and the Region of Emilia-Romagna analyse these assessments, prescribing mitigation measures aimed at containing any impact and protecting the biodiversity of the indigenous plant and animal species (i.e. planting of species of trees and bushes, adoption of measures to avoid attracting animals which are excessively sythropic or opportunistically trophic).
In 2011, impact evaluations were carried out on SCI and/or SPA as part of a project to develop a sludge treatment plant in Cervia (Ravenna), projects to expand the landfills at Voltana di Lugo (Ravenna) and Baricella (Bologna), and the "Landfill mining" project involving the development of a new landfill for hazardous waste in Ravenna. In all cases, the outcome of the evaluations demonstrated a "low impact" on the Sites of Community Interest and Special Protection Areas closest to the intervention areas.
This evaluations analyse the possible interference of the planned work on the environment and, in particular, the specific biotic (flora, fauna and ecosystems) and abiotic components (air, soil, subsoil, surface water and underground water) in the protected area; also examined are aspects related to ecological connections, i.e. the presence of waterways, rows of trees, hedges etc., that make it possible to install ecological networks between the most natural ecosystems and the plant department subject to the work.
The projects to expand/develop landfills or other waste treatment plants contain a specific section dedicated to environmental renovation, renaturalisation and the visual mitigation of the areas surrounding the intervention location, which describe the specific actions aimed at creating and strengthening ecological networks in a manner consistent with existing networks.