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Land take by the expansion of residential areas and construction sites is the main cause of the increase in the coverage of urban land at the European level. Agricultural zones and, to a lesser extent, forests and semi-natural and natural areas, are disappearing in favour of the development of artificial surfaces. This affects biodiversity since it decreases habitats, the living space of a number of species, and fragments the landscapes that support and connect them. The annual land take in European countries assessed by 2006 Corine land cover project (EEA39 except Greece) was approximately 108 000 ha/year in 2000-2006. In 21 countries covered by both periods (1990-2000 and 2000-2006) the annual land take decreased by 9 % in the later period. The composition of land taken areas changed, too. More arable land and permanent crops and less pastures and mosaic farmland were taken by artificial development then in 1990-2000. Identified trends are expected to change little when next assessment for 2006-2012 becomes available in 2014.
The designation of protected areas is a cornerstone for the conservation of biodiversity worldwide, from genes to species, habitats and ecosystems. In June 2006, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) re-affirmed the role of protected areas as cornerstones of biodiversity conservation, but also highlighted that many are "beset with managerial and financial difficulties that impede their effective management". At the European level, there has been an increase in the total area of nationally-designated protected areas over time, indicating a positive commitment by European countries to biodiversity conservation. The total area of nationally designated sites in 39 European countries was around 100 million hectares in 2008. There has also been an increase in the total area of Natura 2000 sites over the past two years with 52 million hectares designated as Special Protected Areas and 65 million as Sites of Community Importance. At least 45 % of SCIs surface is also covered by one national designation. The level of sufficiency in designating Natura 2000 sites for the Habitats Directive is high for most EU-27 countries (21 countries have sufficiency above 80%) and the new Member States are doing well. In addition to quantitative signals it is important to also keep in mind the crucial need to have a qualitative view on the efficiency of the network of designated areas. Marine areas are not yet represented as Natura 2000 sites as the phase of proposals is still going on. There are increasing pressures on biodiversity outside of protected areas, and an assessment of the effectiveness of designated sites in protecting and conserving biodiversity is needed in a broader scale and with the climate change perspective. Assessments of conservation status of species and habitats of Community interest are available and will help to get this qualitative view.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) is an agency of the European Union.