Many of the habitats now targeted by the Natura 2000 network are the result of the traditional use of land, which does not endanger but rather enriches biodiversity. During the last decades, human activities and the use of natural resources have changed significantly around the world. The state of biodiversity has deteriorated dramatically in the last 50 years, more than in the entire history of mankind. Due to human activities, species go extinct 1,000 times faster than under natural circumstances. These losses eclipsed the productivity of nature and thus jeopardized the long-term survival of humanity. More than 700 species, mostly birds and mammals, are included in the Red List of Threatened Species in Europe. Not only are rare or endemic species in danger, but many species that are still numerous, their suitable habitats are rapidly disappearing, which can lead to their imminent extinction. Natura 2000 is a fundamental program through which the European Union tries to stop these negative trends in its territory. The landowners that are part of the Natura 2000 sites have a crucial role in managing the sites and ensuring the long-term maintenance of the area’s natural values.

One of the main principles of this network of protected areas is the balance between biodiversity conservation and the maintenance of economic, social, cultural, regional and recreational activities in a sustainable way.

The aim of the Natura 2000 network is to ensure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats, listed under the EU Birds Directive and the EU Habitats Directive, but it is important to note that Natura 2000 doesn’t just refer to the protection of nature but is based on a much broader principle of conservation and sustainable use, where people and wildlife can coexist in harmony.

Suppose you are a landowner and you have lands in a Natura 2000 site. In that case, you should start looking at what this would mean for your activities, but always considering that a lot of alternatives are possible. The European Union is supporting through several grant programs the transformation and improvement of economic activities in the Natura 2000 sites to environmentally friendly or sustainable activities. Remember, Natura 2000 network doesn’t necessarily bring constraints. In most cases, it just means a more controlled way of living with the environment to help the threatened species and habitats maintain a favourable status of conservation. Only sustainable management and professional care ensure the natural capital and the natural heritage, and the good knowledge of land management and maintenance is indispensable.

What are the benefits of Natura 2000 sites for the landowners?

Thanks to the multiple grants available for landowners in the Natura 2000 sites, you can access economic support to adapt or improve your activities through financial support. For Natura 2000-oriented agriculture and forestry use, land management or special implementation measures, hundreds of million euros have been made available in nature conservation funding programs in Natura 2000 areas during the last five years.

It is important to highlight that the implementation of the Natura 2000 network is successful when all parties work together in close dialogue. Thus, owners, farmers, forest managers, conservationists and associations become Natura 2000 partners with common goals. When implementing measures in Natura 2000 areas, the principle of voluntariness and cooperation applies to private owners and managers.

Access to funding programs from farmers & rural businesses

Most farmers in the EU are eligible for direct income-support payments. Around a third of these are given in return for green farming practices (maintaining permanent grassland, crop diversification, etc.).

Farmers also receive money based on the amount of land they hold – again in return for employing eco-friendly farming methods that preserve biodiversity, soil and water quality and keep emissions low.

EU funding also helps farmers train in new techniques and upgrade or restructure their farms. And it is also applied more broadly to improve life in rural areas by creating jobs and providing basic services.

In addition, under rural development, young farmers can benefit from specific support for setting up their business as well as from higher support rates for the investment they make in the business.