In 2019, nearly 764,000 km2 of EU’s 27 Member States’ land area was designated for the preservation of biodiversity as Natura 2000 sites, proposed under the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive (known as “the Nature Directives”). This represents almost a fifth (18%) of the EU total land area, according to Eurostat data published on Thursday on the occasion of the Natura 2000 Day (May 21) and the International Day for Biological Diversity (May 22).
The highest share of protected land area in Slovenia and Croatia, lowest in Denmark
In 2019, Natura sites represented 20% or more of the total land area in 12 of the 27 EU Member States, with the highest shares recorded on the Balkan Peninsula: Slovenia (38%, or 7,700 km2), Croatia (37%, or 20,700 km2) and Bulgaria (35%, or 38,700 km2). Cyprus came 5th with 29% of its land area comprising Natura sites.
In contrast, the lowest shares of protected areas were observed in Denmark (8%, or 3,600 km2), Sweden (12%, or 55,600 km2) and Latvia (12%, or 7,400 km2).
Spotlight on protected marine areas
In 2019, more than 440 000 km2 of the EU’s marine waters were protected as marine Natura 2000 areas. This represents a 5% increase compared with 2018 and almost a 150% increase compared with 2013.
Identification of valuable areas to be protected is much more challenging in seas than on land, according to Eurostat. “That is one of the reasons why the designation of marine Natura 2000 sites is less advanced, compared with the terrestrial Natura 2000 sites, and we still observe large year-to-year progress in the EU Member States,” it was noted.
Between 2018 and 2019, the highest increases were recorded in Cyprus (more than 300%, or 8,300 km2), Italy (76%, or 5,200 km2), Portugal (12%, or 4,400 km2), Croatia (5% or 300 km2) and France (2%, or 3,100 km2).
In absolute terms, the largest national network of marine Natura 2000 areas is located in coastal waters around France (132,689 km2). Together with the second largest national network – in Spain (84,405 km2) – these account for almost half (49%) of the EU’s protected marine area.