EU Member States have, for the first time, systematically assessed Europe’s most endangered animals, plants and natural habitats. Most of the species and habitats examined were found to have ‘unfavourable conservation status’ and many were in decline. There is therefore a clear need to step up conservation efforts. This ‘health-check’ of Europe’s natural diversity is part of regular reporting under one of the EU’s main legal acts on nature protection, the Habitats Directive. Twenty-fi ve Member States gave feedback, for the period 2001-2006 (i.e. before Romania and Bulgaria joined the Union). Over 1,000 species of animals and plants were assessed, as were more than 200 habitat types, both on land and in the marine environment.
The directive, which came into force in 1992, heralded the beginning of strong and innovative EU action on nature conservation.
The Natura 2000 network of protected areas is the prime instrument. Taking the concept of nature conservation beyond nature reserves, the network aims to strike a balance between human activity and wildlife in a living and changing landscape. It covers almost one fi fth of the EU land area and around 130,000 km2 of the marine environment, and is still growing.