Protected areas have commonly been the cornerstone of nature protection in the EU and beyond, yet progress on improving the management of areas and gauging the effectiveness of conservation measures has been moderate in comparison. In the EU’s Natura 2000 network is the largest and most ambitious internationally coordinated network of protected areas in the world, covering over 18% of the EU’s terrestrial surface and over 9% of its marine surface. Despite this achievement, the status of many habitats and species throughout the EU continue to diminish.

Understanding why protected area management is failing to prevent biodiversity loss, which management frameworks are implemented by Member States in Natura 2000 sites, and analysing how adaptive and effective these approaches were, formed the basis of this study. Trinomics, along with partners IEEP, WCMC and Daphne, identified persistent bottlenecks which impacted the effectiveness of protected area management by MSs, including:

  • a lack of knowledge of ecological requirements and pressures affecting habitats and species;
  • the absence of smart objectives and measures; and
  • a lack of public participation and poor financial planning.

To improve the management of Natura 2000 sites, the study recommended that the European Commission require future management templates (such as the Prioritised Action Frameworks) to include a funding requirement for management effectiveness assessment for MSs to extract EU funding to support effectiveness monitoring. Other solutions to enhancing management effectiveness include to highlighting best-practice in improving management effectiveness, for example by introducing a new Natura 2000 Award category, or improving the reporting on Natura 2000 effectiveness. The latter could involve consider criteria to track for each Natura 2000 site whether established conservation objectives have been adopted, measures identified and management measures in place, if investment needs are met, and whether management effectiveness reviews have taken place.