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 (known as “the Nature Directives”). In addition, EU Member States have protected large portions of their territory under national protection schemes.
In 2021, around 1.1 million km² of the EU Member States’ land area was designated for the preservation of biodiversity as Natura 2000 sites or nationally protected sites. This represents over a quarter (26%) of the total EU land area, so despite its reputation as a land with enviable natural habitats, Latvia's amount of protected land is considerably below the EU average.
Lithuania's figure (17.0%) was lower than Latvia's, while Estonia's (20.8%) was higher.
In 2021, protected areas represented 20% or more of the total land area in 20 of the 27 EU Member States, with the highest shares recorded in Luxembourg (52%), Bulgaria and Slovenia (both 41%).
In contrast, the lowest shares of protected areas were observed in Finland (13%), Ireland and Sweden (both 14%).