Indicator Assessment

Nationally designated protected areas

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-142-en
  Also known as: CSI 008 , SEBI 007
Published 19 Dec 2018 Last modified 24 Nov 2021
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The total area of nationally designated protected areas in Europe [1] has increased over time and amounted to 1.5 million km2 across 39 European countries in 2017, covering almost 26 % of terrestrial territory and inland waters. With more than 100 000 sites, though often small and fragmented, Europe has more protected areas than any other region in the world.

Increase in the number and size of nationally designated protected areas, 1838-2017

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

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Nationally designated protected areas by major ecosystem type and International Union for Conservation of Nature management category

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Nationally designated areas by country and International Union for Conservation of Nature management category for major ecosystem types

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EU countries
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A 'nationally designated protected area' is an area designated by a national designation instrument, based on 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 figure.

As shown in Fig. 1, in the 39 European Environment Agency (EEA) countries, the growth in nationally designated protected areas has been exponential, reaching 1.5 million km2 and more than 100 000 sites in 2017. As a result, nationally designated protected areas cover almost 26 % of Europe's terrestrial territory and inland waters.

Europe's protected areas are highly diverse; they vary in size, purpose and management approach. They are large in number but relatively small in size. Approximately 93 % of sites are less than 1 000 hectares (ha) and 78 % are less than 100 ha. This reflects the high level of land use pressure, arising from agriculture, transport and energy infrastructure, and continuous urban extension.

The two most important European networks of protected areas are Natura 2000, in the EU countries, and the Emerald Network, outside the EU, an ecological network of Areas of Special Conservation Interest set up by the Contracting Parties to the Bern Convention.

Natura 2000 covers over 18 % of the EU's land, with 540 000 km2 designated as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive and more than 600 000 km2 designated as Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) under the Habitats Directive (according to the Natura 2000 Barometer updated in May 2018). Many sites are designated under both directives (i.e. as both SCIs and SPAs). Taking into account this overlap, the overall area of the terrestrial Natura 2000 network is slightly more than 790 000 km2

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 and Lithuania. The countries that joined the EU most recently — Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia — have extended their protected areas very significantly through creation of Natura 2000 sites, with little overlap. Similar situations exist in Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal and Slovakia. In other countries, such as Denmark, France and Germany, there are proportionally more sites that are nationally designated than there are Natura 2000 sites and there is also moderate or little overlap. Switzerland, the only country for which information about complementarity with the Emerald Network is available, has a moderate overlap with nationally designated sites.

Fig. 3 shows that the most common International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categories of terrestrial area are protected landscapes/seascapes (category V), with 42 %, habitat/species management areas (category IV), with 12 %, and national parks (category II), with 14 %. Categories IV, V and VI are the most common marine protected areas, with 32 %, 26 % and 25 %, respectively.

Fig. 4 presents areas per IUCN category for individual countries. Large-scale nature reserves under category I occur mostly in countries with a low population density, such as Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. It is difficult to compare categories across countries because of the differences in interpretation that exist. This is particularly true for category V, which comprises areas that are highly variable in character and management. Nonetheless, some countries have important surface of designated areas with category V: France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Natura 2000 sites mostly overlap with nationally designated sites under IUCN categories I to IV, which aim to protect ecological processes and biodiversity. (More information about Natura 2000 is available in another EEA indicator: Sites designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives.)


Note: More information about Marine Protected Areas is available in:

Supporting information

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, by terrestrial and marine ecosystems and by country.


Surface area (km2) of nationally designated protected areas.

Number of nationally designated protected areas.




Policy context and targets

Context description

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

Comprehensive data on officially designated protected areas are regularly compiled.

These 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 of protecting fauna, flora, habitats and landscapes (the latter as far as is relevant for the protection of fauna, flora and habitat); Category B, designations based on statutes under sectoral, particularly forestry, legislative and administrative acts providing adequate protection relevant for fauna, flora and habitat conservation; and Category C, designations based on private statutes providing durable protection for fauna, flora or habitats.

It is important to note that, for this indicator, and for any other indicators based on the Common Database on Designated Areas (CDDA;, 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 the IUCN's 2008 Guidelines for applying area management categories (available at:


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'.

Streamlining European Biodiversity Indicator (SEBI)008 helps to measure Aichi Target 11 at EU level, relying on the Natura 2000 network.

Related policy documents

  • 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 for indicator calculation

CDDA reporting is based on the 'linked approach' and re-uses the Inspire protected sites data set. This is done to avoid double reporting for countries implementing the Inspire Directive.

CDDA reporting is divided into two components:
• Type 1 data include the spatial data, defined by Inspire protected sites;
• Type 2 data include the tabular data.

The available CDDA data delivered previously to the EEA are provided in templates based on Eionet's Data Dictionary specifications and the CDDA reporting guidelines. Reporters are asked to review and update the data, providing information on the current situation of the designated areas in their countries. Countries implementing Inspire should use their Inspire protected sites data set for reporting the Type 1 component of the CDDA.

Both Type 1 and Type 2 data files hold mandatory CDDA information.

More information is available in the CDDA reporting guidelines (


IUCN management categories

Ia: strict nature reserve

Category Ia areas are strictly protected areas set aside to protect biodiversity and also possibly geological/geomorphological features, where human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values. Such protected areas can serve as indispensable reference areas for scientific research and monitoring.

Ib: wilderness area

Category Ib areas are usually large, unmodified or slightly modified areas, retaining their natural character and influence without permanent or significant human habitation, which are protected and managed so as to preserve their natural condition.

II: national park

Category II areas are large natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities.

III: natural monument or feature

Category III protected areas are set aside to protect a specific natural monument, which could be a landform, sea mount, submarine cavern, geological feature, such as a cave, or even a living feature such as an ancient grove. They are generally quite small protected areas and often have high visitor value.

IV: habitat/species management area

Category IV protected areas aim to protect particular species or habitats, and their management reflects this priority. Many category IV protected areas will need regular, active interventions to address the requirements of particular species or to maintain habitats, but this is not a requirement of the category.

V: protected landscape/seascape

A category V protected area is an area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value, and where safeguarding the integrity of this interaction is vital to protecting and sustaining the area and its associated nature conservation and other values.

VI: protected area with sustainable use of natural resources

Category VI protected areas conserve ecosystems and habitats together with associated cultural values and traditional natural resource management systems. They are generally large, with most of the area in a natural condition, where a proportion is under sustainable natural resource management and where low-level non-industrial use of natural resources compatible with nature conservation is seen as one of the main aims.

Not applicable: the IUCN management categories are not applicable to a specific designation type.

Not assigned: a protected area for which the data provider has chosen not to use the IUCN management categories.

Not reported: the IUCN management category has not been reported.

    Methodology for gap filling

    No methodology for gap filling has been specified.

    Methodology references



    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 funding, 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


    Geographic coverage

    Temporal coverage