Protected areas

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Protected areas provide a wide range of services in a context of increasing pressures and a rapidly changing environment

In addition to their critical role in biodiversity conservation, European protected areas are important for many other reasons. Covering a wide range of ecosystems, including forests, grasslands, wetlands, peat lands, mountain, coastal and marine areas, protected areas ensure the continued flow of ecosystem services. These include providing clean water, protecting soil resources, capturing and storing carbon, and acting as a reservoir of genetic resources.

Further to these ecological values, the Convention on Biological Diversity recognises that protected areas also 'provide opportunities for rural development and rational use of marginal lands, generating income and creating jobs, for research and monitoring, for conservation education, and for recreation and tourism' (CBD, 1992).

Increasingly, protected areas, particularly those listed in IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) categories IV, V and VI, are valued as areas where sustainable resource use and rural development practices can be tested in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders.

Figure 1 summarises the different values that can be derived from protected areas. The socioeconomic benefits of protected areas have recently been demonstrated by the TEEB process (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity process) (TEEB, 2009).

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