One of the commitments of the European Union is the protection of biodiversity, including the natural legacy of landscapes, agriculture and natural spaces that we can pass on hopefully intact to future generations. Over the last 25 years the Member States have built up a network of over 26,000 protected areas covering a total area of around 850.000 km2, representing more than 20% of total EU territory. This vast array of sites, known as the Natura 2000 network - the largest coherent network of protected areas in the world - is a testament to the importance that EU citizens attach to biodiversity.
The legal basis for the Natura 2000 network comes from two European Union directives, the Birds Directive (1979) and the Habitats Directive (1991). Together these Directives constitute the backbone of the EU's internal policy on biodiversity protection. Among others, the Directives define animals, plants and habitats of European importance that are crucial for the preservation of Europe's biodiversity and for which protected areas and other conservation measures need to established by each Member State.
In each designated Natura 2000 site, the Member State is required to ensure a favourable conservation status of those habitats and species, for whose protection the site was designated. Favourable conservation status must be maintained through implementation of appropriate management measures. The measures depend on the species and habitats in question, their current status and existing or perceived threats to their conservation. This may involve placing restrictions on what activities can take place within a NATURA 2000 site, or may involve direct nature conservation interventions such as habitat management or restoration. Other strategies such as measures or incentives to maintain or develop sustainable forestry, agriculture or species population management may be employed. Because of their ecological importance and natural beauty Natura 2000 sites also provide visitor related economic opportunities to the local communities and serve the purpose of scientific research, education and building the awareness of the European public about the importance of protecting nature and environment.
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