Current Conservation Policies in the EU

Nationally Designated Protected Areas

Nationally Designated Protected Areas (NDPAs) encompasses a variety of designations: “national park”, “regional park”, “nature park”, “nature reserve”, “biosphere reserve”, “wilderness area”, “wildlife management area”, “landscape protected area”, and “community conserved area” (Dudley et al. 2008; Ramão et al. 2012), which also vary greatly in their management policies. When countries are divided into “federal” states (e.g. Spain, Germany), each entity can also have regional designation policies. Moreover, some countries protect specific ecosystem nation-wide (e.g. wetlands in Croatia, rivers in Portugal), without designating them within their protected areas (Ramão et al. 2012). More than 31 % of the European NDPAs cover forest ecosystems, while agro-ecosystems are represented in over 28 % of the areas (Ramão et al. 2012). These areas also tend to be designated in mountain regions, due to their remoteness and the resulting lower human densities.

The IUCN defined, in 1994, six protection categories for the NDPAs (Dudley et al. 2008), based on the level of management and the allowed degree of human activity (Table 11.1), though not all areas are yet classified, or even registered as such. In practice, the managers of a given protected area report its protection category on a voluntary basis. Out of the 68 % of NDPAs classified by IUCN categories in Europe ( N = 52,995), the vast majority belongs to category IV, Habitats/Species management areas (Table 11.1). However, category V (Protected landscape/seascape) covers the largest area on the continent. It is also interesting to observe that the strictest PAs in terms of management (Categories I and II) are not the most common, both in terms of number and area, with coverage of 20 % of the total protected areas. Nonetheless, although comparatively few areas are in category II (National Parks), they cover an area almost similar to the most represented type of protected area, category IV (respectively 88155 and 88352 km2 in Table 11.1).

The historical distribution of the different types of NDPAs matches the history of the European perception of the role of protected areas. From the 1950s to the mid −1960s about half of the PAs were in the most restrictive categories (mostly national parks, Cat.II), while the other half were managed with the inclusion and/or tolerance of human activity (Fig. 11.1). In the 1970s there was a large increase of PAs designated as the less restrictive category V (Protected landscape). Currently, the IUCN categories II and I represent less than a quarter of the total classified PAs of Europe (Fig. 11.1).

Table 11.1  Description of the different IUCN categories for protected areas and contribution of the continental Nationally Designated Protected Areas of Europe to those categories. (Dudley et al. 2008; EEA 2013a)

Table 11.1 (continued)

a Two protected areas were assigned to category I, without distinction between Ia and Ib, and were not counted in this table

b Areas designated as “National parks” in Europe can fall in different IUCN categories than II

Fig. 11.1  Temporal evolution of the number of Nationally Designated Protected Areas in Europe, and the total area protected. The NDPAs are classified according to the IUCN categories, NA meaning that the area was not yet classified. (EEA 2013a)

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