According to IUCN's definition, a protected area is a 'clearly' defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values (Dudley, 2008).

With more than 120 000 sites designated in 52 countries, Europe accounts for more protected areas than any other region. To some extent this large number, but relatively small area, reflects the high pressure on land use arising from agriculture, transport and urban development. Protected areas have long been the only way to preserve remarkable natural assets from adverse land use. The size of Europe’s designated areas varies greatly, ranging from an individual tree, such as the Kacja smreka in Godovic, Slovenia, to over 97 million hectares (ha) for a site in Greenland. Ninety per cent of sites are less than 1000 ha, however.

  • Protected areas provide a wide range of services in a context of increasing pressures and a rapidly changing environment.
  • Europe is the region with the greatest number of protected areas in the world but they are relatively small in size.
  • The Natura 2000 and the Emerald networks are international European networks of protected areas that catalyse biodiversity conservation.
  • The Nationally designated areas (CDDA) is a European inventory of protected areas designated at the national level.

Natura 2000 network of the European Union is based on the 1979 Birds Directive and the 1992 Habitats Directive. The Emerald network is launched by the Council of Europe in compliance to the Bern Convention.


Dudley, N. (editor), 2008: Guidelines for Applying Protected Areas Management Categories (IUCN)


Geographic coverage


Document Actions