In Europe, the Natura 2000 network of protected areas is the centerpiece of EU nature and biodiversity policy, established under the Habitats and Birds Directives. It covers 18% of Europe’s land and marine areas, with a total of over 27,000 sites, many of which are incorporated into areas that also support human activity, due to the nature of Europe’s geography and high population density. These areas provide European citizens with ecosystem services such as safe drinking water, recreational areas and clean air.
Based on scaling up from 21 studies, the benefits of the Natura 2000 network have been estimated at between €200 and €300 billion per year at present, or 2% - 3% of the EU’s Gross Domestic Product. The activities undertaken in Natura 2000 sites are estimated to have supported about 12 million jobs each year during the period 2006-2008, i.e. about 6% of total employment in the EU.