Protected areas in Europe: the official data

Apr 04, 2022 | written by:

The EU has the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world, known as Natura 2000 and consisting of almost 27,000 terrestrial and marine sites.

According to data released by Eurostat, in 2020 terrestrial protected areas covered over 764,000 km2, largely the same as the previous year and just over 0.50% higher than in 2015.

Goals 15 of the 2030 Agenda

To monitor the progress made by the European Union and individual countries towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defined by the 2030 Agenda, Eurostat has associated some indicators with each of the 17 goals.

In particular, for Goal 15, “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”, one of the indicators used is Terrestrial sites designated under Natura 2000, 2019 (as % of total land area).

The importance of biodiversity

Biodiversity includes the number, variety and variability of plants, animals and other organisms, including humans. We depend on the natural wealth of our planet for the food, energy, raw materials, clean air and water that make life possible and underpin our economies. It is therefore essential to prevent a loss of biodiversity – any loss can undermine not only the natural environment, but also our economic and social goals. 

At the end of 2019, the European Commission adopted The European Green Deal, an ambitious vision for a sustainable green transition that is fair and socially equitable. Biodiversity is one of its main fields of action. 

In May 2020, the European Commission adopted the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 to halt the decline of biodiversity and bring nature back into our lives.

Terrestrial protected areas in Europe (2011–2020)

According to data published by Eurostat, between 2011 and 2020 the terrestrial protected areas in the 27 countries of the European Union went from about 758,000 to 764,000 km2, with an increase of just under 6,000 km2 (+0.50%). In this case, the largest expansions of protected areas occurred in France with +2,000 km2, followed by Spain with +941 km2, while Italy is fourth with +572 km2. Some countries saw a decrease in protected areas, especially Sweden, with -1,235 km2.

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