Indicator Assessment

Nationally designated protected areas

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-142-en
  Also known as: CSI 008 , SEBI 007
Published 19 Feb 2015 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 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

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Protected areas by IUCN category

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

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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. 

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, 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

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