Brussels, 23 October 2012
Environment: EU celebrates 20 years of LIFE and nature protection
A double celebration in Genk, Belgium last night marked the 20th birthday of two keystones of EU environmental policy. It is now twenty years since the EU adopted the Habitats Directive, one of the two building blocks of Natura 2000, Europe's network of protected areas. LIFE, the EU funding instrument for the environment, is also celebrating 20 years.
Speaking at a ceremony to mark the event, Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Embracing over 26,000 sites and covering almost a fifth of our land territory, with significant marine areas, Natura 2000 is the largest coordinated network of protected areas anywhere in the world. This is an extraordinary achievement, and we owe it to the Habitats Directive. The LIFE programme too has been a great success. Over the past 20 years it has targeted some 400 species, many of which have now attained favourable conservation status. All Europeans can be proud of these results."
The Habitats Directive is the most ambitious initiative ever undertaken to conserve Europe’s biodiversity. EU governments adopted the legislation in 1992 amid increasing concern at growing biodiversity loss. Along with the Birds Directive, it sets the framework for nature conservation throughout the Union, on a truly European scale. The Directive protects over 1000 animal and plant species and over 200 habitat types, including forests, meadows, and wetlands of European conservation concern.
A direct result of the legislation is Natura 2000, a pan-European ecological network of protected sites designed to protect species and habitats in their natural environment throughout the Union. The network is now almost complete and covers an area equivalent in size to Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic combined. Natura 2000 sites are not limited to nature reserves but are based on a much broader concept of conservation and sustainable use – areas where man works together with nature.
LIFE, the EU fund for the environment, has contributed over EUR 1.2 billion to the management and restoration of over 2000 Natura 2000 sites across the EU. Over the past 20 years the two sections of the fund - LIFE Nature and LIFE Environment Policy and Governance – have co-financed 3 685 projects to the tune of EUR 2.8 billion from the EU budget. Its confidence in, and support for, those initiatives has leveraged a further EUR 3.8 billion for a multitude of schemes to improve the environment and communicate those achievements to a wider audience.
Over 26,000 sites are included in the Natura 2000 network. Some are in remote areas but most form an integral part of our countryside and contain a range of different habitats, buffer zones and other elements of the landscape. Natura 2000 cares for Europe's areas of high biodiversity value, but it also supports the livelihoods of farmers, foresters, fishermen and other users who live in these areas and look after this critical natural capital. Investments in Natura 2000 have substantial potential to contribute to sustainable growth and the creation of jobs, especially in rural and less developed areas. Ensuring healthy ecosystems through Natura 2000 management also contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation objectives.
The name LIFE comes from its French acronym: L’Instrument financier pour l’environnement (Financial Instrument for the Environment). More than 300 ‘LIFE 20th anniversary’ events are taking place this year, organised by LIFE projects past and present. The dissemination events range from a LIFE Easter Camp for kids (Spain), a regional Flower Fair (Greece), to a moonlit Frog Concert (Germany). For more information on all the 300-plus LIFE events, see the LIFE 20th anniversary calendar.
About the Habitats Directive, see the celebratory booklet:
About LIFE, see The Voices of LIFE, a celebratory booklet:
For Audiovisual footage of last night's celebration, see Europe by Satellite: