The Continental Region covers over a quarter of the European Union, stretching from central France to the eastern edge of Poland. It includes all or part of the territory of 11 EU countries. It has specific regional features such as a relatively flat landscape and a climate of pronounced contrasts. The biodiversity is notably high, even if few species are truly endemic to the region.
To best protect the Continental region, the relevant Member States and key stakeholders team up to devise nature protection measures, tailored to suit the particular needs of the entire region and to target its specific pressures.
The list of sites of Community importance for the Continental biogeographical region, included in Natura 2000, is updated every year.
The climate is one of stark contrasts between cold winters and hot summers. In the east, extremes of hot and cold, wet and dry, are more frequent and have a strong impact on the vegetation. Moving west, the characteristics become less noticeable due to the milder oceanic influences of the Atlantic region. Some of Europe’s most important rivers flow through the Continental region, including the Danube, Loire, Rhine, Po, Elbe, Oder and Vistula.
The landscape is generally flat in the north and hillier in the south, except for the extensive floodplains in the Po and Danube basins. The Great North European Plain covers much of northern Germany, Denmark, Poland and Russia. Below the plains, there is a moraine belt containing thousands of lakes, fens and mires. This is one of the least populated areas of the Continental belt.
Further south, the vegetation becomes heavily influenced by the Mediterranean and sub-alpine conditions. The lower elevations of the Alps, Apennines and Carpathians and the mountainous areas of the Vosges, Ardennes, Black Forest, Massif Central, for instance, harbour many species and habitats that are also found in the alpine region.
The Continental region is rich in biodiversity. At the crossroads of so many different biogeographical zones, it shares many species with them. It harbours 149 animals and 83 rare plants listed in the Habitats Directive as well as over a third of the birds listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive.
The characteristic beech, oak and hornbeam forests are home to many typical bird species, including the black woodpecker, red kite, hazel grouse and collared flycatcher. In the undergrowth, tens of thousands of insect and plant species have adapted to different woodland microhabitats. Thanks to the large number of rivers, marshes, floodplain meadows and other wetland habitats, freshwater species such as the otter are also well represented.
The number of fish species is particularly notable. Over two thirds of those listed in the Habitats Directive occur here, including some rare endemics such as the Adriatic sturgeon (Acipenser naccarii), zingel (Zingel zingel) or Danube salmon (Hucho hucho). The region also harbours many rare amphibians: the European spadefoot toad (Pelobates fuscus insubricus), the elusive olm (Proteus anguinus), and several species of cave salamander.
The semi-natural grasslands and meadows attract species like the corncrake or white stork which depend on extensive farming systems for their survival. There are some 40 000 storks in Poland alone, with one quarter of the world population breeding in the grasslands between the Oder and Bug rivers. The grasslands and wet meadows are also particularly rich in plant species and include such rare plants as the Bohemian bellflower (Campanula bohemica), or the gentian (Gentianella germanica).
The Continental region was once covered in lowland deciduous beech forests, extensive floodplains, marshland and bogs. However, much of the forest has been cleared for fuel and timber and replaced by large scale agricultural production. The transformation is so great that this area is now often referred to as the ‘bread basket’ of Europe. The rivers have also played a major economic role over the years connecting the north and the south through internal waterways. Most have been canalised and regulated, leading to a dramatic loss of floodplain habitats and species.
Population levels are mostly high, especially in the northern urban areas of Germany, Denmark and Poland. Central Europe was for many years the industrial heartland of Europe and whole areas are dominated by large industrial zones. Similar areas exist further east, in eastern Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Open cast mining, copper extraction, burning of brown coal (lignite) etc… all produce large quantities of noxious by-products. Known as the black triangle, this area suffers from massive industrial pollution and remains to this day the most polluted area of Europe.
To reflect the changes proposed by Member States to the list of SCIs, and to ensure that all new sites have a clearly defined legal status, the Commission proceeds to an annual updating of the Union Lists.
The list of updates as well as the first version of the Continental list are available here
The Reference list of habitat types and species of the Continental Region includes protected habitat types (Habitats Directive Annex I) and species (Habitats Directive Annex II) present in this bio-geographical region by Member State. These are all habitat types and species for which the Member States have to propose Natura 2000 sites. The Reference Lists derive from the conclusions of bio-geographical seminars and are updated when new scientific information becomes available.