Natura 2000 aims to protect nature conservation areas
There is a hierarchy of rights in life and in that hierarchy, the common good occupies top place. So it is, in the interests of the common good for both ourselves and future generations, the protection and preservation of our natural heritage is enshrined in our legislation.
Next year, 2018, is European Year of Cultural Heritage and nature conservation is one of the very many products of our cultural expression recognised as being of worth to pass on to unborn generations and to celebrate during the coming special year.
As members of the European Union (EU), our wildlife legislation is driven by EU directives and, as a result, the protection and preservation of 'our' natural heritage is part of the wider shared heritage of all members of the union.
Natura 2000 is a network of some 27,000 important ecological sites, natural heritage areas and nature conservation locations throughout the territories of the 27-member states of the EU. Establishment of the network was undertaken to meet a European Community (EC) obligation arising from the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.
The Convention was opened for signature on 5 June 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, otherwise known as the Rio de Janeiro "Earth Summit". On-going development of the network remains the centrepiece of EU policy for nature and biodiversity
At present the network of 27,000 protected Natura 2000 sites, which comprises the EU's rich natural heritage, accounts for 18% of the EU's land area and almost 6% of its marine territory. Corresponding figures for Ireland are 595 sites accounting for 13.13% of the country's land area and 10,259km2 of its marine area.
There is, of course, much more to the cultural heritage sector than nature conservation. Over 300,000 people are employed in the EU cultural heritage sector. 7.8 million jobs in the EU are indirectly linked to heritage via tourism, interpretation and security. This means that for each direct job, the heritage sector produces 26.7 indirect jobs. This compares with 6.3 indirect jobs created for each direct job in the car industry, for instance.
A monetary value has been put on the contribution that nature makes to the European Union's economy. Ecosystem services such as climate change mitigation, water purification, tourism and recreational benefits, etc., provided by the EU's natural heritage sites within the Natura 2000 Network are estimated to be worth around €200-300 billion per year.