Future

The protection of European nature has advanced substantially in the past years. Ongoing shortcomings involve the protection of offshore waters and some ecosystem types as well as the implementation of effective management plans and its monitoring. Thus, ambitious action is needed to achieve the targets to 2030 set by the EU and the CBD

Key messages

  • The protection of European nature has advanced substantially in the last number of years; ongoing shortcomings involve the protection of offshore waters and some ecosystem types as well as the implementation of effective management plans and its monitoring, among other issues
  • Targets to 2030 set by the EU and the CBD will considerably shape conservation priorities in the coming years, focusing on the increase of protected area but also strengthen the role of restoration and connection across the entire landscape
  • The Natura 2000 network will continue to have a significant role in achieving the next cycle’s biodiversity objectives, possibly complemented by OECMs

As shown in this report, the topic of protected areas in Europe is highly dynamic and diverse. Protected area coverage advanced rapidly in the last years, overall and in almost all European countries. The connectivity between different sites as well as with the surrounding landscape also significantly improved. Most of this progress can be attributed to the Natura 2000 network.

However, the report also illustrated ongoing shortcomings, especially regarding the protection of offshore waters and single ecosystems (e.g. with special importance for pollinators), strategic coordination to foster connectivity and the monitoring of management effectiveness, among other issues.

Biodiversity targets to 2030 set by the EU and the CBD will considerably shape conservation priorities in the coming years

The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the upcoming post-2020 global biodiversity framework build an ambitious work plan for the next decades with new targets to be met and ongoing shortfalls to be resolved. The renewed targets of the strategy to further increase the protected area coverages (to 30 %) requires strong commitments by all entities involved, especially for particular regions, countries – including EU overseas – and ecosystems, such as grasslands, mires or the open sea.

New challenges also emerge with the strategy’s reinforced and quantified requirement to increase restoration activities for degraded European ecosystems, including protected areas and beyond. Besides traditional conservation activities, this also calls for joint efforts with other sectors, in particular the agricultural sector to reduce impacts of intensive management practices and the use of pesticides.

The intended Trans-European Nature Network further emphasises the importance of transboundary connectivity across the EU territory reaching well beyond individual protected area cooperation. Only with an integrated landscape level approach, the EU will achieve its target to halt biodiversity.

For the Natura 2000 network and its individual sites, future activities would therefore include fostering connectivity and restoration action, looking at the contribution for further protection and enforcing effective management, e.g. via appropriate conservation objectives and management plans. Further adequate measures targeting these multi-level objectives may involve ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ (OECMs). OECMs were introduced in the Aichi Target 11 of the CBD’s Strategic Plan 2011-2020 and refer to “a geographically defined area other than a protected area, which is governed and managed in way that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes” for biodiversity. The implementation of OECMs offers additional opportunities to recognise conservation efforts that take place outside designated protected areas, implemented by multiple stakeholders including e.g. local communities, NGOs, businesses and land owners.

Future conservation activities will also need to strategically consider climate change impacts and ongoing unsustainable land use practices

It is further vital to provide well-grounded answers and act determinedly to reduce the negative impacts on biodiversity, especially with regard to land and sea use changes, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species. All these impacts should be approached holistically and considered in future conservation activities. Projections of climate change impacts and other (or associated) emerging threats like invasive alien species have to be taken into account today to shape the resilient and healthy European nature of tomorrow. This involves, inter alia, a critical review of current practices, stricter monitoring, tough decisions on conservation priorities and a systematic coordination among the different sectors and stakeholders.