Protected areas have grown in Europe, providing great rewilding opportunities

November 1, 2012

On 22 October 2012, the European Environment Agency published an in-depth overview of protected areas in Europe, highlighting the status of protected regions across 39 countries. The report marks the 20th Anniversary of Natura 2000 and the EU Habitats Directive.

According to the report, 21% of Europe’s land surface has been designated protected in 105.000 individual sites, such as national parks, biosphere reserves and other categories of protection. The report covers all 32 countries that are members of the EEA – 27 member states as well as seven cooperating countries.

However, the European landscape is perhaps the most fragmented one in the world. Nature has been divided by roads and towns which results in small and remote wildlife populations. This poses a threat to many individual species as well as that it decreases biodiversity as such. Thus, networks of protected areas (also called ecological networks) become more and more important for nature protection.

In addition to serving as refuges for wildlife and biodiversity, protected areas offer many benefits for the human society as well  clean water, recreational activities, employment for local people and tourism revenue, to name just a few. It has been calculated that Natura 2000 sites, for example, bring in an at least 50 billion euros of revenue per year.

Rewilding Europe supports conservation efforts in large intact regions, and is working to develop ten rewilding areas of at least 100.000 hectares each. Protected areas are obvious parts of these larger rewilding landscapes and offer great opportunities for large-scale rewilding and restoration of natural processes, for the benefit of nature and people. Especially so if the management rules of these protected areas are not too conservative and not too focused on what we often call “landscape gardening” and instead can allow for truly wild development, where nature is allowed to run itself much more. Allowing for the natural processes to again control the development instead of the often over-detailed human management.

“This report shows that we have made huge progress in Europe towards establishing protected areas, but also that there is still a lot of work to be done,” says Frans Schepers, Managing Director of Rewilding Europe. “One of the main challenges is to look at how these areas can be managed in a most cost-effective way. Rewilding provides a management approach that could be very helpful in many of these areas, as financial resources are limited. Through our work and pilot areas, we hope to inspire many park managers and authorities to bring these areas into a wilder state than they are now.”

The European Environment Agency’s report on protected areas can be downloaded as pdf here.

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