The report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of protected areas and aims to assist policymakers and the wider public in understanding the complexity of the current systems of protected areas.
Copenhagen, 22 October 2012: Protected areas today cover a relatively large part of Europe, with almost 21 % of the territory of EEA member countries and cooperating countries consisting of protected areas. In spite of this widespread presence of protected areas in all European countries, the topic has not received as much attention on a pan-European level as other environmental issues. This report is especially timely, as 2012 marks the 20th anniversaries of the Convention on Biological Diversity and of the EU Habitats Directive. Both of these legal instruments consider protected areas to be key tools in the maintenance and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems.
For the purposes of this report, a 'protected area' is any site with defined boundaries classified or designated by countries under legislation primarily aiming at nature conservation i.e. at the protection, management and restoration of species, habitats and ecosystems. A protected area can thus be any area of sea, lakes, rivers or land that has been identified as important for the conservation of nature, and managed for this purpose. It is important to recognise that protected areas differ greatly in the extent to which they limit human activity within their boundaries. Some protected areas allow industry, extensive agriculture or fishing to occur within their boundaries, while others prohibit all of these activities. The term is thus very broad in its application.