Adequate site management and targeted measures are key factors for successful conservation. Current analyses show, however, that while protection is increasingly secured on paper, the progress on improving the management and assessing the effectiveness of measures has been rather low.

Key messages

> Progress in improving the management and assessing the effectiveness of measures has been rather low in the last years

> Efforts in undertaking individual assessments of protected area management effectiveness (PAME) are still lacking, so that systematic EU assessments are so far inconclusive

> Future actions should focus on enhancing enforcement of Natura 2000 legal requirements, closing investment gaps, increasing access to knowledge, training and stakeholder participation, showcasing best-practices examples and improving current Natura 2000 reporting, among others

Management regimes of protected areas vary greatly. Some protected areas ban activities such as hunting or extraction of natural resources, while for others, human activities are part of their identity and even necessary for maintaining and restoring target species and habitats. Depending on the individual protected area classification and its usage (e.g. recreational or cultural), species and habitat composition, as well as specific biogeographic and socio-economic characteristics, tailored management options must be identified.

Management regimes of protected areas vary greatly and there is a general lack of information on this

At EU level, the Nature Directives require Member States to implement targeted conservation measures for their Natura 2000 sites. Within six years of their designation as Sites of Community Importance (SCIs), Member States need to designate these sites as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and adopt conservation measures involving – if needed – appropriate management plans and other measures which correspond to the respective ecological realities. Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated under the Birds Directive need to be managed in accordance with the ecological needs of habitats of birds. Many Member States failed to meet the deadline of SAC designations, so that the process is still ongoing. Deciding on appropriate methods and instruments to practically achieve the conservation objectives is left to the Member States and local implementing bodies.

49 % Natura 2000 sites with management plans

As of the Nature Directives’ reporting 2013-2018, more than 15 000 SACs (80 % of all SACs) and 3 100 SPAs (57 % of all SPAs) laid out comprehensive management plans (with potential double-counting due to overlap between SACs and SPAs). Based on the analysis of the current reporting period, it results in a cumulative SAC area of 358 000 km2 and 475 700 km2 of SPA area.

One of the main challenges for Member States in drafting management plans has been to meet the requirements of the Nature Directives to ensure an adequate species and habitat protection. Specifically, this entails establishing conservation objectives for each species and habitat of Community interest and taking into account the site’s importance for the overall maintenance and restoration of favourable conservation status of the species and habitat. Only very few countries appear to adopt a more strategic approach to objective setting that considers the importance of each site in relation to higher level conservation objectives (Gerritsen et al., 2020).

Clear conservation objectives and appropriate management plans need to be set

However, it is not only a question, if in fact protected areas are managed, but also how they are managed. Apart from its quantitative part, the Aichi Target 11 of the CBD’s Strategic plan 2011-2020 set out the commitment to secure a system of ‘effectively and equitably managed’ protected and conserved areas. This commitment was reiterated in 2016, when Parties committed i) to undertake more systematic assessments of protected area management effectiveness (PAME) and their biodiversity outcomes, and ii) to provide information on the results to the Global Database on Protected Areas Management Effectiveness (GD-PAME). As a result, it is the most comprehensive repository of global PAME information, containing records from over 28 283 different protected areas and representing around 20 % of the global protected area coverage (UNEP-WCMC et al., 2020). The database is hosted on the Protected Planet website.

Number of reported management effectiveness assessments within UN Environment regions, including repeat assessments of the same site

Source:Protected Planet Report, Status 2019

A recent study commissioned by the EEA on the management effectiveness of the EU’s Natura 2000 network conducted an analysis on PAME for the EU Member States. Results show, that methodologies for PAME assessments are well-established. However, most approaches focus on the early stages of the protected area management cycle (e.g. planning) rather than on actual conservation outcomes. Only 15 Member States reported so-called ‘repeat assessments’, and usually only for a small number of sites. The EU and its Member States, as parties to the CBD, committed to assess management effectiveness of 60 % of the total protected area covered by 2015. Based on reporting to the GD-PAME, only 7.6 % of recorded protected area in the EU has been assessed. The findings indicate significant underreporting by EU Member States and suggests that the EU is well off its global target.

Systematic EU assessment on management effectiveness so far is inconclusive

The same study also confirmed findings of earlier evaluations that full and timely implementation of the Nature Directives would have resulted in more effective management. A great body of evidence on Natura 2000 implementation has been established in recent years confirming huge progress in many Member States. Still, there were many cases of late, inadequate and/or absent management and established measures that demonstrated the need for a more pro-active approach between the European Commission and Member States on implementation and enforcement. Though some Member States developed specific national approaches to improve Natura 2000 management in their countries, it is currently not possible to monitor management effectiveness within the Natura 2000 Network, e.g. due to missing coordination, knowledge and resource capacities on national/regional level as well as suitable indicators for effective monitoring.

Key actions therefore have to be taken by the European Commission, EU Member States and local entities to

  • achieve more transparent and strategic enforcement of key EU legal requirements relevant to Natura 2000 effectiveness
  • integrate Natura 2000 management requirements into other relevant sectoral plans and policies
  • fill investment gap for management to ensure for implementation of the Nature Directives and restoration of ecosystems more broadly
  • address knowledge and communication gaps in science, policy, and practice
  • facilitate targeted knowledge sharing on management effectiveness evaluation
  • improve current Natura 2000 reporting in terms of management effectiveness in a cost-effective way
  • implement effective management plans on local level as well as a mechanism for revision and adaptation of the plan as required by the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030



Davis, M., Röschel, L., Naumann, S., McFarland, K., Graf, A., 2020, ‘Literature Review: The ecological effectiveness of the Natura 2000 Network’, European Topic Centre for Biological Diversity.

EEA (2020) Management effectiveness in the EU's Natura 2000 network of protected areas , Briefing no. 11/2020

EEA (2020) Management effectiveness in the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected areas: Report

UNEP-WCMC, IUCN and NGS (2020). Protected Planet Live Report 2020. UNEP-WCMC, IUCN and NGS: Cambridge UK; Gland, Switzerland; and Washington, D.C., USA.