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Indicator Assessment

Nationally designated terrestrial protected areas in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-142-en
  Also known as: CSI 008 , SEBI 007
Published 18 Dec 2020 Last modified 18 Dec 2020
6 min read

The area and number of terrestrial protected areas in Europe have grown steadily over time, with the biggest increases in recent decades. In 2020, protected areas covered 26 % of EU land, with 18 % designated as Natura 2000 sites and 8 % as other national designations. In the EEA-38 countries plus the United Kingdom, this coverage is lower and amounts to 23 %.

Further expansion of terrestrial protected areas will be needed to achieve the target of legally protecting a minimum of 30 % of EU land, as set out in the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030.  The designation of protected areas is not in itself a guarantee of biodiversity conservation. Effective management requires building a coherent and well-connected network of protected areas with clearly defined conservation objectives and measures. 

Increase in the number and cumulative area of nationally designated terrestrial protected areas in Europe, 1800-2020

Note: The figure shows the rate of growth in the number and cumulative area of nationally designated terrestrial protected areas. Statistics are based on data reported by EEA countries to the Nationally designated areas (CDDA) database.

Data source:

Protected areas benefit species, ecosystems and the environment overall. They provide significant economic and societal benefits, including employment opportunities. In particular, they contribute to people’s health and well-being and have significant cultural value.

The two most important European networks of protected areas are Natura 2000 in the EU Member States and the Emerald Network, outside the EU, established under the Bern Convention. For more information about the Natura 2000 network, see SEBI 008 indicator: Natura 2000 sites designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives.

A 'nationally designated protected area' is an area protected by a national legislation. If a country has included sites designated under international agreements such as the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, or the Bern or Ramsar Convention in its legislation, the corresponding protected sites, such as the Natura 2000, Emerald or Ramsar sites, of this country are included in the indicator.

As shown in Figure 1, the growth in nationally designated protected areas in Europe has been exponential. Currently, 26 % of EU land is protected, with 18 % of this area designated as Natura 2000 sites and 8 % as other national designations, on almost 100 000 sites in total (data for the EU-27 Member States). In the EEA-38 countries plus the United Kingdom, this coverage is lower and amounts to 23 %, with about 170 000 sites.

Europe's protected areas are highly diverse in character, varying in size, aim and management approach. They are large in number but relatively small in size.  This reflects the high pressure on land use, arising from agriculture, transport and urban development. Large-scale nature reserves occur mostly in countries with low population densities, such as Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

Further expansion of terrestrial protected areas will be needed to achieve the target of legally protecting a minimum of 30 % of EU land set in the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030.  Designation of protected areas is not in itself a guarantee of biodiversity protection. Management of the sites is a decisive factor in achieving the conservation aims; however, we currently lack comprehensive information on how effectively these sites are managed. Moreover, protected areas can no longer be perceived and managed as isolated units, but need to be understood as part of a wider network with ecological corridors to prevent genetic isolation, allow for species migration, and maintain and enhance healthy ecosystems. An ecologically coherent network requires both spatial and functional connectivity within countries and across borders, aided, among others, by investments in green infrastructure.  

Share of country designated as terrestrial protected area and the overlap between Natura 2000 or Emerald sites and national designations

Note: The overlap for Norway and Switzerland relates to Emerald Network sites. For all other countries the overlap relates to Natura 2000 sites. Statistics on national designations are based on data reported by EEA countries to the Nationally designated areas (CDDA) database.

Data source:

Natura 2000 covers 18 % of EU land. The degree of overlap between Natura 2000 sites and nationally designated sites 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 (Fig. 2). There are different patterns among countries and the differences in approaches reflect the diversity of historical, geographical, administrative, political and cultural circumstances. In establishing Natura 2000 sites, countries also have the flexibility to introduce new designation procedures, adapt existing ones or underpin designations by other legal acts. Some Natura 2000 sites nearly always overlap with nationally designated sites. This is particularly visible in Estonia, Latvia and the Netherlands and to a somewhat lesser extent in Finland, Lithuania and Sweden. Countries that joined the EU most recently — Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania — have extended their protected areas very significantly by creating Natura 2000 sites, and in the past a similar process took place in Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal and Slovakia. In other countries, there is moderate or little overlap, as in Denmark, France and Germany.

Outside the EU, the Emerald network is still at the early stages within the EEA-38 countries. Norway and Switzerland are two countries that have officially adopted Emerald sites on their territories. Switzerland has a moderate overlap of Emerald sites, while in Norway the overlap is large. 

Supporting information

Indicator definition

The indicator illustrates the rate of growth in the number and cumulative area of nationally designated terrestrial protected areas over time. It also shows the overlap between the international protected areas networks such as Natura 2000 or the Emerald Network and national designations.

A 'nationally designated protected area' is an area protected by a national legislation. If a country has included sites designated under international agreements, such as the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, or the Bern or Ramsar Convention in its legislation, the corresponding protected sites, such as the Natura 2000, Emerald or Ramsar sites, of this country are included in the indicator.

Units

Surface area (km2) and number of nationally designated protected areas.

 

 

 


 

Policy context and targets

Context description

The new EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 contains specific commitments and actions to be delivered by 2030, including establishing a larger EU-wide network of protected areas on land and at sea, building upon existing Natura 2000 areas, with strict protection for areas of very high biodiversity and climate value.

The key commitments for nature protection in the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 are:

1. Legally protect a minimum of 30 % of the EU’s land area and 30 % of the EU’s sea area and integrate ecological corridors, as part of a true Trans-European Nature Network.

2. Strictly protect at least a third of the EU’s protected areas, including all remaining EU primary and old-growth forests.

3. Effectively manage all protected areas, defining clear conservation objectives and measures, and monitoring them appropriately. 

At global level, conservation of protected areas has been a part of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including Aichi Biodiversity Target 11.

Targets

The aim of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 is 'that, by 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes'.

Related policy documents

  • EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030
    The European Commission has adopted the new  EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and an associated Action Plan (annex)  - a comprehensive, ambitious, long-term plan for protecting nature and reversing the degradation of ecosystems. It aims to put Europe's biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030 with benefits for people, the climate and the planet. It aims to build our societies’ resilience to future threats such as climate change impacts, forest fires, food insecurity or disease outbreaks, including by protecting wildlife and fighting illegal wildlife trade. A core part of the  European Green Deal , the Biodiversity Strategy will also support a green recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including Aichi Biodiversity Targets
    In decision X/2, the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, held from 18 to 29 October 2010, in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, adopted a revised and updated Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, for the 2011-2020 period. This Plan provides an overarching framework on biodiversity, not only for the biodiversity-related conventions, but for the entire United Nations system and all other partners engaged in biodiversity management and policy development.
 

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

The data for the nationally designated protected areas inventory (CDDA) are delivered by the Eionet partnership countries as spatial and tabular information. The inventory began in 1995 under the CORINE programme of the European Commission. The CDDA is now an agreed annual Eionet core data flow maintained by the European Environment Agency (EEA) with support from the European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity (ETC/BD). The dataset is used by the EEA and, among others, the UNEP-WCMC for their main European and global assessments, products and services.

In 2018, the CDDA data model and reporting mechanism was changed. The spatial data component of the reporting (referred to as Type 1 data) was aligned to the INSPIRE Protected Sites to avoid double reporting in EU Member States. The tabular data component of the reporting (referred to as Type 2) was simplified and redundant information removed following consultation with the Eionet National Reference Centre for Biodiversity.

The Reporting guidelines with full details on the methodology are available from the CDDA reference page.

    Methodology for gap filling

    No methodology for gap filling has been specified.

    Methodology references

     

    Uncertainties

    Methodology uncertainty

    No uncertainty has been specified.

    Data sets uncertainty

    No uncertainty has been specified.

    Rationale uncertainty

    Main disadvantages of the indicator

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

     

    Data sources

    Other info

    DPSIR: Response
    Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
    Indicator codes
    • CSI 008
    • SEBI 007
    Frequency of updates
    Updates are scheduled once per year
    EEA Contact Info info@eea.europa.eu

    Permalinks

    Geographic coverage

    Temporal coverage

    Dates