Europe

Natura 2000: Europe’s protected areas network

The Lapponian Area of northern Sweden Photo: IUCN Photo Library / © Jim Thorsell
Protected areas are defined geographical spaces which are managed in order to ensure their long term conservation, providing us with invaluable ecosystem services and cultural values. They are vital to preserving biodiversity and human livelihoods and also provide us with solutions to modern challenges such as food and water security, human health and well-being, disaster risk reduction and climate change. Today, there are approximately 200,000 protected areas in the world, which cover around 14.6% of the world’s land and 2.8% of its oceans.

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.

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