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Nationally designated protected areas (SEBI 007) - Assessment published Feb 2015

Indicator Assessment Created 17 Feb 2015 Published 19 Feb 2015 Last modified 19 Feb 2015, 05:43 PM
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Generic metadata


Biodiversity Biodiversity (Primary topic)

designated areas | protected areas | soer2015 cross-country comparisons | soer2015 | cdda | biodiversity | natura 2000
DPSIR: Response
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • SEBI 007
Temporal coverage:
1838, 1859, 1895, 1899-2014
Geographic coverage:
Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo (UNSCR 1244/99), Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, United Kingdom

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

Key messages

The total area of nationally-designated protected areas in Europe[1] has increased over time and amounted to over 1,1 million square kilometres in 39 European countries in 2014. With more than 95 000 sites, Europe still has more protected areas than any other region in the world.

The total area of nationally designated protected areas currently covers about 21% of terrestrial territory and inland waters, although further expansion of the marine network is required to meet targets.

[1] A “Nationally designated area” is an area designated by a national designation instrument based on national legislation. If a country has included the sites designated under the EU Birds and Habitats directive in its legislation, the Natura 2000 sites of this country are included in the figure.


Growth of the nationally designated protected areas and site number

Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Protected areas by IUCN category

Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Complementarity between European designations (Natura 2000 and Emerald networks) and national designations by share of terrestrial area

Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Key assessment

As shown in figure 1, the growth in nationally designated areas in 39 EEA countries has been exponential, even if it has been levelling off in recent years.

The UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) 'Aichi' targets adopted in 2010 require countries to ensure that by 2020 at least 17% of their terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of their coastal and marine areas (Aichi target 11) are conserved through a system of protected areas. In 2011, protected areas covered a relatively large part of Europe, with almost 21% of the EEA member countries and collaborating countries (EEA, 2012), so the region as a whole is in line with this target. However, designation of protected areas is not a guarantee of biodiversity protection. Therefore, beyond this quantitative analysis, specific information on site management and quality would help to complete the assessment of target 11. The expansion of protected areas and their role in protecting biodiversity have to be considered and assessed within the wider environment and in a climate change perspective.

Europe has a high diversity of protected areas, which vary in size, aim and management approach. Analysis shows the most common IUCN categories of terrestrial protected areas amongst countries are national parks (designated as category II), habitat/species management areas (category IV) and protected landscapes/seascapes (category V). Categories IV and V are the most common marine protected areas (Figure 2).

Europe has a large number but relatively small size of protected areas. Approximately 90% of sites are less than 1 000 hectares (ha). This reflects the high pressure on land use, arising from agriculture, transport and urban development. Large-scale nature reserves under category Ib and II occur mostly in countries with a low population density, such as Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden. It is difficult to compare other categories across countries because of the interpretation differences that exist. This is particularly true for category V, which comprises areas that are highly variable in character and management.

The two most important European networks of protected areas are Natura 2000 and the Emerald Network. Natura 2000 covers 18% of Europe's land and 4% of its marine waters, with 52 million ha designated as Special Protected Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive and 65 million ha as Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) under the Habitats Directive.[4] The Emerald Network currently includes 37 sites designated by Switzerland, with Norway soon to add 600 sites.

The degree of overlap between Natura 2000 and national designations illustrates the extent to which countries have made use of their nationally designated areas to underpin Natura 2000 and to what extent Natura 2000 sites extend beyond national systems. There are different patterns amongst countries, as some Natura 2000 sites nearly always overlap with national designations. In others, there is little overlap (Figure 3).

Natura 2000 sites mostly overlap with nationally designated sites under IUCN categories I to IV, which aim to protect ecological processes and biodiversity. However, they also overlap with IUCN categories V and VI, particularly in mountainous regions, supporting the idea that Natura 2000 is not restricted to nature reserves but also serves the broader principle of conservation and sustainable use. 

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Katarzyna Biala


EEA Management Plan

2014 1.7.4 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year in October-December (Q4)

Related content

European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100