In 2015 the European Commission published the report The State of Nature in the European Union - giving the status of and trends for habitat types and species covered by the Birds and Habitats Directives. However, the report does not show the wider contribution of Natura 2000 to the conservation of species that are not listed in the annexes to the Directives. The need to understand this contribution is driven by a general inquiry into the effectiveness of the Nature Directives and the EU strategic target within the Biodiversity Strategy to 2020.
The Commission therefore initiated this research project to assess the significance of the presumed “umbrella effect” of Natura 2000. An Alterra-led team of researchers from Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom was set up and, for the purposes of the study, they were granted access to large data files containing distribution information on mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and plant varieties across the European Union. The outcome of their research has demonstrated the crucial importance of the network for all groups of species investigated, especially for birds, butterflies and plants.
An analysis of the data inside and outside the Natura 2000 network showed that all flora and fauna investigated benefit from the network. The rarer species of flora benefit the most. And it was found that both the more common and rarer species of fauna occur more frequently in the Natura 2000 areas than in other areas. Butterflies in particular, and most bird species, were found to benefit from the Natura 2000 network. In the case of butterflies, the areas outside Natura 2000 are dominated by modern agriculture where many habitats are simply not available or are only found in in small patches that are unable to support viable populations. Many species can only live in nature reserves and Natura 2000 hosts many of the best of them. For birds, the added value of the Natura 2000 network is strongly linked to the type of habitat. For example, the network provides little added value for forest birds because there are still large of areas of suitable forest outside the Natura 2000 areas. The same goes for species that thrive in open landscapes that are mostly used for agriculture, which may be linked to the limited area of agricultural land within the Natura 2000 areas.
Approximately 35% to 40% of the populations of threatened species investigated were found to occur within the Natura 2000 areas. While this may seem a small number, the fact that only 18% of the surface area of the European Union is designated as Natura 2000 area highlights that this is a relatively high amount.
In conclusion, the Natura 2000 network is of crucial importance for the protection of biodiversity. Not only for the species covered in the Birds and Habitats Directives for which the areas were designated, but also for many other threatened and non-threatened European species of flora and fauna.
Read the technical report: How much Biodiversity is in Natura 2000?