Protected area approaches in the EU
Protected areas play an important role in achieving biodiversity conservation targets. IEEP has compared the approaches and rationale of designating and managing protected areas in the UK and a selection of eight other Member States of the EU in a short study for Scottish Natural Heritage and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee in the UK. Reflecting their long history in Europe, EU countries use a wide variety of protected area designations and management regimes. The overall coverage of terrestrial protected areas that primarily focus on biodiversity conservation aims is difficult to quantify due to overlaps and differences in designations, and all types of protected area play a role in supporting biodiversity conservation to some extent. However, some assessments indicate that protected area coverage is still inadequate for some species and habitats. The Natura 2000 network has had a strong influence on protected area networks, and in some countries has led to major increases in designated protected areas.
It is widely recognized that protected areas cannot be effective if they are small, fragmented and isolated; they need to be part of wider coherent and functionally inter-connected networks. Accordingly, most Member States have some kind of ecological network strategy, and some are being implemented through binding legislation and spatial planning frameworks. The recreational, cultural and spiritual benefits provided by protected areas are widely recognized; some interesting initiatives are now highlighting the role of protected areas in maintaining other ecosystem services (such as in relation to water quality and carbon storage).