Protected areas cover a quarter of Europe`s land and almost 6 % of regional seas
Protected areas cover more than 1 000 000 km2 of land and more than 340 000 km2 of coastal and marine ecosystems in Europe, according to the latest data. These areas are vitally important for protecting the continent’s most vulnerable species, habitats and marine life.
The Natura 2000 and Emerald networks are European networks of protected areas intended to coherently protect species and natural habitats across national borders. These networks complement nationally designated protected areas to make up a combined protected area of 1 092 529 km2, or 25 % of Europe's land and inland waters. Marine protected areas, which include additional international designations, cover more than 340 000 km2 or 6 % of Europe's regional seas.
These numbers signify some progress towards internationally-agreed conservation targets. Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity states that 17 % of land and inland water, and 10 % of the sea should be 'conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascapes.'
Protected areas have multiple benefits for society. These 'ecosystem services' range from filtering air and water to recreation and food provision. They are also important in helping Europe adapt to climate change.
Over recent years, European countries have improved data sharing on protected areas. This information is valuable for assessing the natural capital of countries. The latest data on nationally designated areas and Natura 2000 sites show the extent of terrestrial protected areas by the end of 2013. Its release coincides with the end of the IUCN World Parks Congress, held every ten years.