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Brussels, 12 December 2008

Environment: Greater protection for Europe's wildlife

Europe's rich patchwork of protected flora and fauna grew further today with a major extension of Natura 2000, the EU's network of protected natural areas. The additions include 769 new sites and a total area of 95,522 km2. Most of the sites are in the newer Member States. Romania and Bulgaria have now added areas to the network for the first time, including areas along the Black Sea that are home to numerous varieties of rare and threatened plants and animals. Natura 2000 now includes around 25,000 sites, covering almost 20% of the EU’s landmass, making it the largest interconnected network of protected areas in the world. It is the EU's key weapon in the fight against biodiversity loss.

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Each new site added to the network means greater protection for Europe's species and habitats. I am delighted to see so many sites from our newer Member States added to the lists. Natura 2000 is ensuring that future generations will enjoy Europe's rich natural legacy.”

Where are the new sites?

Most of the new sites are in Bulgaria, Romania and Poland, and include areas in the Black Sea (Bulgaria and Romania) and the Steppic (Romania) bio-geographical regions.

The Black Sea region takes in the Danube delta, which is one of the largest wetlands in Europe and a biodiversity hotspot. It features flowers such as the Fernleaf peony (Paeonia tenuifolia), the yellow pheasant's-eye (Adonis volgensis), and 12 globally threatened bird species including the vulnerable Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus) and the red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis), one of Europe's rarest geese. The Danube Delta is also an important area for fish, with over 70 recorded species, while the forests harbour rare reptiles such as the meadow viper (Vipera ursinii).

Bulgaria has added 252 sites, including the Pirin Mountains, home to diverse plant life such as the Pirin poppy (Papaver pirinica) and the great yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea). It is also rich in wildlife, hosting hazel grouse (Bonasa bonasia), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus).

Romania has added 316 sites, including the Macin Mountains in the Steppic region, home to the marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna) and the Romanian hamster (Mesocricetus newtoni). It also features a wide variety of plant species including the rare Moehringia jankae and the Romanian bellflower (Campanula romanica).

Poland has added 177 sites, including the Goplo Lake, which hosts 19 different habitat types and is home to the yellow widelip orchid (Liparis Loeselii) as well as birds such as the near-threatened great snipe (Gallinago media) and the bittern (Botaurus stellaris).

In the UK, the Humber, Dee and Severn estuaries will receive special conservation status to protect vulnerable wildlife and habitats. These are among the finest estuaries in Europe, presenting a mosaic of coastal habitats.

The Commission is planning a further update of the EU lists by the end of 2009.

For full details of the updated lists see:

What is Natura 2000?

Natura 2000 is an EU-wide network of nature protection areas intended to ensure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable habitats and endangered species. It is composed of "Sites of Community Importance", designated according to the Habitats Directive, and "Special Protection Areas", designated under the Birds Directive.

Today’s additions add 769 new sites, designated under the Habitats Directive, and a total area of 95,522 km². The expansion involves eight (Alpine, Atlantic, Black Sea, Boreal, Continental, Mediterranean, Pannonian, Steppic) of the EU’s nine bio-geographical regions. These nine regions reflect the variety of the continent’s biodiversity. The Natura 2000 network now covers some 700,000 km2 across 27 Member States, or almost 20% of the EU’s landmass. The extended list also includes 36 new sites with a marine component.

The philosophy behind the network is that man must work together with nature. Activities carried out inside the network must be sustainable and in harmony with the natural environment. This means that, under this condition, most human activities are still possible within Natura 2000 sites, including agriculture, fisheries and forestry.

Member States choose their Natura 2000 sites in partnership with the Commission. Once selected, the areas are formally recognised by the Commission as “Sites of Community Importance”, and added to the adopted lists. This process confirms the formal status of the sites, and cements the obligations to protect them.

Why does it matter?

Biodiversity – the limited resource that is the variety of life on earth – is in crisis. Species are being lost at an unprecedented rate as a result of unsustainable human activities, with irreversible consequences for our future. The European Union has pledged to halt biodiversity loss in Europe by 2010, and Natura 2000 is the centrepiece of its nature and biodiversity policy.

For more information:

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