Over a quarter of the land area of the European Union was designated for the preservation of biodiversity last year, according to a new report.

In 2021, around 1.1 million km² of the land area in EU member states was designated as Natura 2000 sites or nationally protected sites.

Eurostat, which compiled the report, explained that this represents 26% of the total EU land area.

Protected areas represented 20% or more of the total land area in 20 of the 27 EU member states.

The highest share of protected land area (52%) was in Luxembourg, one of the smallest member states, followed by Bulgaria and Slovenia, both at 41%.

In contrast, the lowest shares of protected areas were observed in Finland at 13%, Ireland and Sweden, both with 14%.

Eurostat noted that the EU average for protected land stood at 26% last year.


The EU has the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world, known as Natura 2000, consisting of around 27,000 terrestrial and marine sites protected under the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive.

Natura 2000 is a network of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA) which are core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species, and some rare natural habitat types.

In addition, EU member states have protected large portions of their territory under national protection schemes.

Designated land

Meanwhile, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) is calling on the state to establish a fund that will top up the purchase price of designated land when it is being sold.

Speaking on the Farmland programme, produced by Agriland Media Group, president of the INHFA, Vincent Roddy, outlined that designated land in Ireland is falling in value, with some farmers encountering a 50-80% devaluation against comparable sites in the area.

He said that this is becoming a significant issue not only when farmers want to sell, but also when they want to borrow on the strength of their land.