The EU is widening the natural areas under its environmental protection scheme. More than 18,000 km sq in countries including the UK, France, Greece and Italy are to be included in Natura 2000, the EU’s network of conservation areas designed to preserve biodiversity and safeguard ecosystems.
This includes a major swathe of marine areas covering 17 000 square kilometres, mainly in the UK. The EU says these will provide a vital refuge for many of Europe’s rarest and most endangered species. In the Atlantic, the new UK areas feature nine coldwater reefs, including reefs off Rockall Island that are “biodiversity hotspots” home to coral, sea spiders and many unnamed species.
Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment said: “Natura 2000 is at the moment one of the most effective tools we have in Europe to combat biodiversity loss, and it plays a key role in our strategy to protect our natural heritage. I particularly welcome the improved coverage of European seas: protecting Europe’s marine environment and its unique features has never been more important.”
The protected areas are not strictly off limits, as farming, tourism, forestry and leisure pursuits can still take place, according to the EU, “as long as they are sustainable and in harmony with the natural environment”.