Networks of protected areas are the backbone of biodiversity conservation. The effectiveness and the efficiency of networks of protected areas depend on the methods used to select sites for the network. In the past ad-hoc or opportunistic approaches dominated. As a consequence, some species or habitats were frequently represented whereas others were missing or insufficiently represented in networks of protected areas. EuMon reviewed methods to systematically develop networks of protected sites and analysed information gaps that may hamper a systematic approach to the development of European networks of protected areas. EuMon also analysed gaps in the existing NATURA 2000 network in terms of the representation of specie and habitats of the European Nature Directives.
In terms of sites involved NATURA 2000 is the largest network of conservation areas in the world. As of December 2007, more than 25.000 sites were included, covering approximately 20% (ca. 85.000 km2) of the terrestrial area of the 27 Member States of the EU. The proportion of the territory covered by NATURA 2000 differed considerably among Member States (between 2.9% in Irland and 25.1% in Slovakia for areas protected under the Habitats Directive and 6.8% in the UK and 31.4% in Slovenia under the Birds Directive).
The effectiveness of the selection process and the existing Natura 2000 network has often been questioned - but not yet analysed at a European scale - as each state made its designations largely independently and in most cases without references to theory of optimal reserve site selection. Our analysis of species of Annex II of the Habitats Directive shows that the Natura 2000 network is effective in avoiding gap species (ca. 15 out of 905 species were not present in any site), but the representativeness of species is very skewed. Representations vary considerably among species groups with mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish being well covered, but plants and invertebrates are less represented. In conclusion NATURA 2000 has provided major achievements to biodiversity conservation in Europe but further potential and needs for improvements exist. These improvements should consider recent advances in systematic reserve site selection and in methods to determine national responsibilities and conservation priorities.
Based on the findings of EuMon we made recommendations how research, monitoring, and data management programs could contribute to filling identified information gaps. A first important information gap is the lack of an explicit quantitative criterion regarding the representation of the target species and habitats. For the management and improvement of the Natura 2000 network,the following steps are recommended: (1) setting quantitative representation targets for species and habitats, (2) adding sites to achieve the representation targets for all species and habitats using systematic site selection methods, (3) monitoring target species and habitats within and outside the existing network, and ideally (4) assess the viability of species and connectivity requirements.
More information about information gaps and gaps in species representation of the NATURA 2000 network are available in the Deliverable
List of information gaps in existing monitoring programs for potential conservation network sites
The review of methods for systematic reserve site selection can be found in the Deliverable
Draft methodology to analyze whether networks represent adequately habitats and species of Community interests