Nature & BioDiversity / Environment / December, 2004
The European Commission has taken another major step forward in establishing NATURA 2000, the network of protected nature sites in the EU. It has decided to include more than 7,000 nature sites in the Atlantic and Continental regions of the EU in the network. The 197 animal species, 89 plant species and 205 habitats covered are scientifically considered of European importance. This means that their protection must be enhanced to preserve valuable bio-diversity in Europe. Species such as the Wolf, the Otter, the Salmon as well as certain coastal lagoons and river systems are part of the lists, which cover most of the EUís territory (France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, UK, Sweden, Austria and Denmark).
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: ìBy establishing Natura 2000, the EU strives towards reaching its objective of halting the decline of biodiversity by 2010. After a slow start to Natura 2000 in the late 1990s, we have been able to pick up speed in the last five years. It is a great pleasure for me to have these lists adopted. With the adoption of the lists in the Atlantic and Continental regions, the Natura 2000 network becomes the largest coherent network of protected areas in the world and the EUís most efficient operational tool to protect its fauna and flora.
Natura 2000 Network
The Natura 2000 network is set up under the EUís Habitats Directive  to safeguard Europeís most important wildlife areas and species. Being part of Natura 2000 means that the selected areas benefit from increased protection as set out in the Directive. Member states must take all the necessary measures to guarantee their conservation and avoid their deterioration. Not all economic activity in the sites is excluded, but Member States must ensure that such activities are carried out in a way which is compatible with the conservation of the habitats and species living there.
The Atlantic and the Continental Lists
The Atlantic and Continental lists just adopted cover sites in 12 Member States. The entire territory of Luxembourg and large parts of Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Italy and Sweden are included In the Continental list of sites. The Netherlands, the UK, Ireland, the Western part of France, as well as parts of Belgium (mainly Flanders), Germany, Portugal and Denmark are included in the Atlantic list of protected sites.
The lists of protected areas include a large number of endangered animal and plant species and habitats such as for example the Wolf , the Otter, the Salmon, coastal lagoons, heath- and grasslands, bogs, several types of forests and river systems. The protection of these species and habitats is scientifically considered to be of European importance, and a joint EU effort is therefore necessary to ensure bio-diversity and the conservation of natural fauna and flora in these regions of Europe.
The lists of sites foreseen in the Habitats Directive are divided in seven bio-geographic regions  within the territory of the Union. The lists for the Macaronesian and Alpine regions have already been adopted by the Commission.
Next steps towards the completion on the Natura 2000 network will be the adoption of two more lists of sites (Boreal and Mediterranean bio-geographical regions) and the establishment of the Natura 2000 network in the new Member States.