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Nationally designated protected areas

Indicator Assessmentexpired Created 10 Sep 2009 Published 21 May 2010 Last modified 11 Sep 2015, 12:21 PM
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Indicator codes: SEBI 007

Key messages

The total area of nationally designated protected areas in Europe (2) has increased over time. The total area of nationally designated sites in 39 European countries was around 1 million square kilometres in 2007. In EECCA countries, the total area of nationally designated sites is at least 1.8 million square kilometres (for 30 % of sites no size information is available).

This quantitative information needs to be complemented by a qualitative assessment of the effectiveness as a tool for conserving biodiversity, including good management practices, and representativeness of the network of designated areas.

(2) A 'Nationally Designated Area' is an area designated by a national instrument based on national legislation. If a country has included in its legislation the sites designated under the EU Birds and Habitats Directive, the Natura 2000 sites of this country are included in the total area.

What is the progress with the national designation of protected areas as a tool for biodiversity conservation?

Growth of nationally designated protected areas in 39 European countries

Note: How to read the graph: in 2007, the total number of sites for 39 European countries in the Common Database on Designated Areas (CDDA) was 76 876, with a combined surface of 994 550 km2

Data source:

CDDA (Common Database on Designated Areas) version 7, 2007.

Downloads and more info

Countries have national legislation that enables them to establish various types of protected areas. For nationally designated protected areas, the total area protected in Europe continues to increase.

On one hand it is difficult to know exactly how far these areas contribute to halting biodiversity loss without any specific information on site management and quality. On the other hand, other indicators can show how much pressure on biodiversity outside those areas increases as a result of growing urbanisation and transport infrastructures for instance. Therefore, the expansion of protected areas and their role in protecting biodiversity have to be considered and assessed within the wider environment.

In 39 countries, on average 16 % of the terrestrial area has been designated as a national protected area.

The growth in nationally designated areas has been exponential but has levelled off in recent years. A precise assessment of trends over time is much more difficult to make for EECCA countries because of gaps in the data. These countries contain around 18 000 sites covering in total 1.8 million km2 (source: World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) December 2007 for EECCA countries (except Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan)). However, for more than two-thirds of the sites no designation date is known and for a third no size information is known.



Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

The indicator illustrates the rate of growth in the number and total area of nationally protected areas over time. The indicator can be disaggregated by IUCN category, biogeographic region and country.


Area (km2) of nationally designated protected areas



Policy context and targets

Context description

Establishment of protected areas is a direct response to concerns over biodiversity loss, so an indicator in protected area coverage is a valuable indication of commitment to conserving biodiversity and reducing loss at a range of levels.

Comprehensive data on officially designated protected areas are regularly compiled.
The data include information on all nationally designated sites, ranging from national parks to forest reserves and from strict nature reserves to resource reserves. When reporting on protected areas, countries have been asked to cluster the different designation-types according to three main categories: Category A: Designation types used with the intention to protect fauna, flora, habitats and landscapes (the latter as far as relevant for fauna, flora and for habitat protection). Category B: Statutes under sectoral, particularly forestry, legislative and administrative acts providing an adequate protection relevant for fauna, flora and habitat conservation. Category C: Private statute providing durable protection for fauna, flora or habitats.

It is important to note for this indicator, and for any other indicators based on the Common Database on Designated Areas (, that information on national protection is based not on protected areas sensu stricto but on designated areas, and that a number of included sites may not meet internationally adopted definitions of protected areas (see IUCN 2008 Guidelines for applying Area Management Categories at and the CBD at

For forest protected areas, the final report of the COST E27 project contains quantitative comparisons of national data according the different definitions of forest protection categories (IUCN, MCPFE and EEA) (Frank et al. 2007).

Relation of the indicator to the focal area

This indicator demonstrates the change over time in one form of protection afforded to components of biodiversity.


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified


Methodology for indicator calculation

Information is collected from national authorities according to a shared agreement between EEA and UNEP-WCMC. EEA is responsible for data collection from EEA member and collaborating countries (38), while UNEP-WCMC is responsible for collection of data from other European countries (15). Methodology and process are defined in

Currently, the cumulative area of nationally designated areas over time in European countries for the period XXXX-YYYY is calculated in km2 by adding the absolute surface areas reported by countries. This leads to double counting in cases where some protected areas are included in a bigger one (for example two small nature reserves in a big national park). In the future, the calculation of the surface area should be done using the following next steps:

  • Spatial data on sites with known designation year and boundaries processed in GIS systems using an equal area projection (not yet available for all sites).
  • Data on sites with no boundary data available, but with location data (latitude/longitude), are recorded in the CDDA Proportional polygons (circles with the area equal to officially designated protected area size and centered at a known site location) are generated in an equal area projection using GIS.
  • Sample formula applied (syntaxes may vary depending of the GIS applied):Circle.
    Make([X-coord]@[Y-coord], (([Area_km2] * 1000/(Number.GetPi))^0.5)).as polygon. Both sets of polygons (based on actual boundary data and proportional circles) are overlaid to produce a single coverage statistic.
  • Sites area totals are to be estimated yearly with overlapping areas analysed in a manner to ensure that they are counted only once.

Methodology for gap filling

No methodology for gap filling has been specified. Probably this info has been added together with indicator calculation.

Methodology references


Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty


The indicator does not describe the quality of management or whether the areas are protected from incompatible uses. The indicator needs to be complemented by information on management effectiveness or funding, or other elements that would indicate the potential of the designated area in protecting biodiversity.

The spatial data and designation date data sets are not complete. A logistical problem is that information is generally held by a range of different institutions, both governmental and non-governmental and simultaneous delivery of information on year, size, boundary or at least approximate (latitude/longitude) location of protected areas requires constant efforts for information flow (currently maintained by the EEA through its ETC/BD).


Initially, eight possible indicators were proposed under the Headline Indicator:

1. Trends in national establishment of protected areas

2. Trends in proposals for protected sites under the EU Habitats Directive

3. Trends in nomination of wetlands of international importance (Ramsar sites)

4. Coverage of Important Bird Areas by protected areas

5. EU Habitats Directive: sufficiency of Member State proposals for protected sites

6. Indicator on infra-structural support for designated areas in Europe

7. Status of species and habitats in protected sites under the EU Habitats Directive

8. Indicator on private protected areas in Europe

Eventually, two indicators are being proposed (Nationally designated protected areas and Sites designated sites under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives (a combination of 2 and 5 above)). The other indicators proposed were either not ready (e.g. 6 and 8), not nationally recognised (e.g. 4) or are being covered under other headline indicators (e.g. 7).

Data sources

Generic metadata


Biodiversity Biodiversity (Primary topic)

protected areas | biodiversity
DPSIR: Response
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • SEBI 007
Temporal coverage:
Geographic coverage:
Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, EFTA4, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia (FYR), Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Katarzyna Biala


EEA Management Plan

2010 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100