By Andrej Sovinc, WCPA Regional Vice Chair for Europe. With more than 120,000 protected area sites, Europe accounts for more protected areas than any other region. Many of these areas reflect Europe's rich cultural heritage and long lasting co-existence of man and nature which shaped different cultural landscapes. Also, vast natural areas, often in good ecological condition, are still found in some parts of the continent, mainly in the North, East and South-East.
In Europe, policy regarding the designation of areas aimed at protection of nature and biodiversity is a product of both the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) provisions, international agreements and specific EU legislation. Protected areas classified according to the national legislation and Natura 2000 (and Emerald network) sites, which are established mainly to secure favourable ecological status for those species and habitats that are considered as endangered at the regional level, need to be looked at from a particular perspective in order to effectively deliver conservation goals.
The terrestrial part of the Natura 2000 network with 28 European Union Member States is considered largely complete, but there is still work to be done to complete its marine component, particularly for offshore sites. One of the key challenges in Europe would be to align and integrate the IUCN Green List of Protected Areas with Natura 2000 network, and support it by a communication strategy to provide targeted improvements and capacity building.
Full consideration of the IUCN protected area definition and standards for protected areas is needed on our densely populated continent when considering different land-uses, including tourism and use of natural resources, focusing on habitat quality and ecosystem functions and processes which might include establishment of no-go areas.
European protected areas require different governance and management approaches, taking into account protection of ecosystem services while managing natural landscapes with the involvement of different sectors, including agriculture, infrastructure, business and industry.
Protected areas in Europe reconnect people with nature: these areas are a powerful tool to create inspiring experiences which trigger positive emotions and support understanding the role and economic value of protected areas as important contributions to health, and health services. They provide space for nature based solutions helping people cope with climate change and other global challenges.
The vision for protected areas in Europe is founded on the premise that these areas are, and must remain, at the heart of all nature conservation efforts if regional biodiversity targets are to be met, and development planning must be built on this foundation. What we invest in protected areas in Europe today will determine the success of our sustainable development pathway in the future.
Andrej Sovinc, WCPA Regional Vice Chair for Europe