20 years of EU nature conservation

21 May 2012 | News story
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Today is the 20th anniversary of the Habitats Directive and the LIFE financial instrument both developed by the European Union to help protect European nature.

On 21 May 1992, the European Union adopted legislation designed to protect the most threatened habitats and species across the EU. This legislation is called the Habitats Directive and complements the Birds Directive adopted in 1979. The latter requires the establishment of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds while the Habitats Directive requires Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to be designated for species other than birds, and for habitats. Together, SPAs and SACs make up the Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

The network today includes some 26,000 protected sites and covers approximately 18% of the EU’s land surface as well as significant sea areas. The network is still being enlarged and management models for the selected sites are being developed. To date, progress with management effectiveness is not the same throughout the EU and there is need to strengthen enforcement of rules and regulations. Additionally, there is need for securing funding for the network. A recent study estimated the total annual cost of managing the network is around € 5.8 billions per year which is only € 3 cents per day per European citizen. 

This year is also the anniversary of the LIFE financial instrument. This has proven to be an essential instrument for improving the environment and for the achievement of long-term prosperity and well-being of European citizens. In 2010, some € 244 millions were available through LIFE for co-financing conservation activities. Yet, in view of the revision of the EU budget several civil society organizations are calling for an increase of the LIFE fund to 1% of the overall EU budget.

The year 2012 marks the celebration of 20 years of nature conservation in the European Union, but also 20 years of global sustainable development since the 1992 Rio Summit. It is a crucial year for nature, also as the IUCN World Conservation Congress takes place in September in Korea. Happy birthday, Natura 2000! And happy 2012, nature! 


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This image shows the courtship behavior of Indian Bull frogs (Holobatrachus tigerinus). During the monsoon, the breeding males become bright yellow in color, while females remain dull. The prominent blue vocal sacs of male produce strong nasal mating call.