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Good news for butterflies, bats and bears

"Natura 2000 is the most potent weapon Europe has in the fight against biodiversity loss," said Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for the Environment. "I am delighted to see that our network of protected areas is continuing to expand. This means that we are gaining ground in our efforts to halt biodiversity loss in Europe by 2010. Biodiversity conservation is our life insurance for the future."

What is Natura 2000?

Natura 2000 is Europe's vast network of protected natural areas for plants, birds and habitats. The network covers nearly 20% of the continent's landmass, and these recent additions add 489 new sites and a total area of 18 784 square kilometres. This expansion involves mountainous regions, the Mediterranean area and the Canary Islands, and will increase protection in a wide range of habitats. These habitats feature a wealth of flora and fauna, from butterflies in Finnish meadows to bats in French caves and bears in the woods of Slovenia. The range of protected areas is vast, from flower-rich meadows to cave systems and lagoons. The nine regions of the network reflect the wide variety of the continent's biodiversity.

The philosophy behind the network is that man must work together with nature. Activities carried out inside the network must be sustainable and in harmony with the natural environment. This means that a great number of activities are still possible, including agriculture, fisheries and forestry.

Member States choose their Natura 2000 sites in partnership with the Commission. Once selected, the areas are formally recognized by the Commission as "Sites of Community Importance" as has happened today. This process confirms the formal status of the sites, and cements the obligations to protect them. For the new sites, Member States now have six years to put the necessary management measures in place. Together with the "Special Protection Areas" for birds, the "Sites of Community Importance" form the Natura 2000 network.

Why does it matter?

Biodiversity – the limited resource that is the variety of life on earth – is in crisis. Species are being lost at an unprecedented rate as a result of human activities, with irreversible consequences for our future. The European Union has pledged to halt biodiversity loss in Europe by 2010, and has an action plan to address the problem.

The recent 2007 report on the implementation of that plan confirms that the continuing expansion of Natura 2000 is the most significant achievement to date, although progress is also being made towards other goals, like developing an EU framework on invasive alien species, strengthening partnerships on business and biodiversity, communicating biodiversity and launching a review of the economics of biodiversity loss.

What is included in these recent additions?

The recent additions - in January and March - cover the Alpine, Mediterranean and Macaronesian bio-geographical regions. Ten countries have added further areas to their lists of "Sites of Community Importance". Three sites in Austria include the dry meadows of Fliesser Sonnenhänge, home to the Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly Argynnis paphia; Cyprus has added 36 sites including the Larnaka salt lakes, where large numbers of flamingos winter, Finland has added 5, including Mieraslompolon kenttä, home to the woodland ringlet butterfly Erebia medusa; France has added 32 sites, including the Grotte de la source du Jaur, a cave system home to large numbers of Schreibers' long-fingered bats Miniopterus schreibersi; Malta has added 27 sites including Rdumijiet ta Malta, coastal cliffs home to seabirds such as the Yelkouan shearwater Puffinus yelkouan; Poland has added 18 sites including the Góry Slonne mountains, home to lynx Lynx lynx and wolf Canis lupus; Slovakia has numerous sites including Mala Fatra in the Carpathians, a farming area where the fauna includes bears and wolves; Slovenia has added almost 750km2 in the Julian Alps, home to iconic European fauna such as brown bears; Spain has added three sites in the Canary Islands, including the underwater seagrass meadows of Sebadales de Güigüí, and Sweden has added 10 small sites.

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