The Natura 2000 network is the main European tool to protect biodiversity and to guarantee long term maintenance ofrare natural and semi-natural habitats and of threatened species of flora and fauna at EU level.
This network, extending across all 27 EU countries, includes Sites of Community Importance (SCI), which are subsequently designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), and Special Protection Area (SPA). All these areas are collectively defined as Natura 2000 sites designated under the Habitats (SCI and SAC) and Birds Directives (SPA).
The Natura 2000 network currently includes over 27,000 sites covering a total surface of about 1.150,000 km2, both land and marine areas. Farmlands make up around 40% of the total network’s area. Such areas are allow manufacturing and economic human activities that respect the conservation measures established for each site. The European Directives approach is to provide value to all those areas in which the centuries-old presence of man and his traditional activities has endorsed the maintenance of a balance between human activities and nature.
Agriculture plays a key role in land management and has a great responsibility in the conservation of natural resources and biodiversity. Over the centuries, agricultural practices have brought about a transformation of natural ecosystems, generating new types of environments and giving life to communities of plants and animals rich in different species whose conservation can be guaranteed by the continuation and enhancement of traditional activities. Changes that have happened in the last 50 years, especially due to the emergence of intensive agriculture and high production input, which involves the massive use of chemicals and fertilizers, have led to biodiversity decline and loss of many characteristics of agricultural habitats, with the consequent disappearance of some of the organisms associated with them. Another cause of biodiversity loss is linked the abandonment of agricultural lands and the depopulation of the countryside.
The Natura 2000 network offers a valuable opportunity to manage and monitor biodiversity conservation in rural and agricultural lands and supporting the primary role of agriculture and sustainable rural development for the protection and enhancement of natural resources and cultural traditions.