Introduction | Protected areas networks | Coverage and representativeness | Designation and management

Protected areas are designated by countries under their national law and under different international legal instruments.

The protected area system in the EU is strongly influenced by the Natura 2000 network, with over 27 000 sites designated as Natura 2000 sites. The Natura 2000 network is also the EU’s contribution to the Emerald network of sites designated under the Bern Convention across the geographical Europe.
In the marine realm, protected areas can also be designated under several Regional Seas Conventions such as HELCOM, OSPAR or the Barcelona Convention. Often, these networks overlap and some protected areas have multiple designations. Read more about this on the Coverage page.

Nationally designated areas

Nationally designated areas are those created in each country under their specific national legislative instruments. These protected areas include a variety of designation types with different protection regimes and regulations.

EEA collects information on nationally designated areas from 38 EEA member countries. This information is updated annually and provides an overview of the number of nationally designated areas in each country, their size and designation type.

Natura 2000

Explore the dedicated BISE Natura 2000 mini-site

Explore the new Natura 2000 Viewer

Emerald Network

The Emerald Network is a pan-European network of protected sites. It consists of the Areas of Special Conservation Interest (ASCI) designated under the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats.

The Network involves all the European Union Member States and other countries in Europe. As a Contracting Party, the European Union contributes to the Emerald Network with its Natura 2000 sites.

The information on Emerald sites is updated annually. The map below shows an overview of this network.

Regional Seas Conventions

In the marine waters of Europe, protected areas can also be designated under one of the Regional Seas Conventions (RSC) which include the following international instruments:

  • the Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution (Barcelona Convention) provides the regional framework for the conservation of biodiversity in the Mediterranean, inter alia, through the establishment of Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI)
  • the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (Helsinki Convention) includes a recommendation on the establishment of a “system of coastal and marine Baltic Sea protected areas” (HELCOM MPAs)
  • the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Convention) promotes the establishment of an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas