Europe Safeguards Thousands of Natural Sites

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 8, 2004 (ENS) – The European Commission today established the largest ever list of protected natural areas in the European Union. The commissioners adopted a list of more than 7,000 nature sites in the Atlantic and Continental regions of the EU to become part of NATURA 2000, the network of protected nature sites in the EU.

The lists of sites to be protected in the Macaronesian and Alpine regions have already been adopted by the Commission.

With the adoption of the lists in the Atlantic and Continental regions, the Natura 2000 network becomes the largest coherent network of protected areas in the world and the EU's most efficient operational tool to protect its plants and animals, said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

"By establishing Natura 2000," Dimas said, "the EU strives towards reaching its objective of halting the decline of biodiversity by 2010. After a slow start to Natura 2000 in the late 1990s, we have been able to pick up speed in the last five years. It is a great pleasure for me to have these lists adopted."

The Natura 2000 network is set up under the EU's Habitats Directive, a law written to safeguard Europe's most important wildlife areas and species. Member states must take all the necessary measures to guarantee conservation of their Natura 2000 sites and avoid their deterioration.

Not all economic activity in the sites is excluded, but member states must ensure that such activities are carried out in a way which is compatible with the conservation of the habitats and species living there.

The lists are established on the basis of proposals made by the member states, which are then evaluated with the assistance of the European Environmental Agency.

The newly listed sites are in 12 EU member states. The 197 animal species, 89 plant species and 205 habitats covered are scientifically considered of European importance. This means that their protection must be enhanced to preserve the biodiversity of Europe.

Species such as the wolf, the otter, and the salmon as well as landmark coastal lagoons and river systems are on the lists, which cover most of the EU's territory – France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, UK, Sweden, Austria and Denmark.

The reduction and loss of biodiversity in Europe has accelerated in recent decades, the Commission says. The pressures responsible for this loss are urban, infrastructure and tourism development, agricultural and forestry intensification.

The next steps towards the completion on the Natura 2000 network will be the adoption of two more lists of sites – the Boreal and Mediterranean bio-geographical regions – and the establishment of the Natura 2000 network in the 10 new member states.

For more information on the adopted lists – decision-text and annexes, overview maps, background material see the website below.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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