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Atlantic Biogeographical Region

The Atlantic Region stretches from the top of the United Kingdom and Ireland down to the northern shores of Spain and Portugal, encompassing all of the Netherlands and parts of Germany, Denmark, Belgium and France along the way. Nowhere is more than 300 km away from the sea and because much of the land is flat and lowlying, the oceanic climate penetrates far inland bringing mild winters, cool summers, predominantly westerly winds and moderate rainfall throughout the year.

This region includes over half of Europe’s long, indented coastline and two of the most productive seas in the world: the North Sea and North-east Atlantic Ocean. The powerful forces of tide, wind and waves acting upon an alternating substratum of hard bedrock and soft sedimentary stone are largely responsible for the formation of this very varied and dynamic coastline, rich in habitats and species. Wind swept cliffs, exposed rocky headlands and narrow tidal inlets contrast sharply with long stretches of sandy beaches, sheltered bays and extensive intertidal mudflats.

Several of Europe’s most important rivers drain off into the sea along the Atlantic coast, (the Gironde, Loire, Rhine, Thames, Seine, Schelde) creating vast estuaries of high economic and biological value.

In terms of species, the Atlantic Region may not exhibit the high levels of biodiversity found in other regions but it more than makes up for this in terms of sheer animal abundance. The Waddensea alone harbours around 12 million migratory birds at various times of the year. This abundance of life continues beneath the waves. The Gulf Stream, which travels right up to the north coast of Scotland and Norway, brings warm currents all year round and a rich supply of nutrients from the Caribbean. In the shallower waters of the continental shelf and the North Sea, this creates an ideal environment for a wide array of marine organisms from plankton, crustaceans, bivalves and fish to seabirds and mammals at the top of the food-chain. The North-east Atlantic is in fact one of the richest oceans in the world, but it is also one of the most heavily used. As such it is under constant pressure from overfishing, pollution, abstraction and shipping traffic. On land, the situation is rather different.

The most recent glaciation, which ended some 10,000 years ago, had a considerable effect in reducing the biodiversity of the region. So too has the long history of human exploitation, which has created a heavily altered and often degraded environment. Under natural conditions, forests would have been the dominant habitat but these have been systematically cleared since the Middle Ages. The undulating topography and long growing seasons provide ideal conditions for modern production systems that now cover a significant part of the countryside. Today, the landscape is predominantly agricultural, with heavily urbanised areas. As a result, many natural and semi-natural habitats now only exist as isolated, fragmented patches scattered amidst an otherwise mostly artificial landscape. Pollution from heavy pesticide or fertiliser use and industrial effluents further exacerbate these problems.

The Atlantic Region is indeed one of the most heavily populated and intensely managed areas in Europe. Over 100 million people live and work in the area (almost a quarter of the EU population). Outside the capital cities of Paris, London, Brussels or Amsterdam, human densities can still reach 360 inhabitants/km² in certain areas. This puts massive pressure on the natural environment and presents a particular challenge for the conservation of rare species and habitats both within and outside Natura 2000 sites.

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Member States:

 BE • DK • ES • FR • DE •  IE • NL • PT • UK

Lead country: T.B.D.

 

More information:

Ecosystems and Habitats
Natura 2000 Biogeographical Process in the Atlantic Region
Regional Cooperation
Relevant Projects
Relevant Publications

 

Ecosystems and Habitats

Ecosystems

Habitats

Wetlands

4010 Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix

4030 European dry heaths

7110 Active raised bogs

7140 Transition mires and quaking bogs

7230 Alkaline fens

Coastal

1130 Estuaries

1310 Salicornia and other annuals colonizing mud and sand

2120 Shifting dunes along the shoreline with Ammophila arenaria ("white dunes")

2130 Fixed coastal dunes with herbaceous vegetation ("grey dunes")

2190 Humid dune slacks

1330 Atlantic salt meadows (Glauco-Puccinellietalia maritimae)

Rivers and lakes

3110 Oligotrophic waters containing very few minerals of sandy plains (Littorelletalia uniflorae)

3130 Oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters with vegetation of the Littorelletea uniflorae and/or of the Isoëto-Nanojuncetea

3150 Natural eutrophic lakes with Magnopotamion or Hydrocharition - type vegetation

3260 Water courses of plain to montane levels with the Ranunculion fluitantis and Callitricho-Batrachion vegetation

91E0 Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (Alno-Padion, Alnion incanae, Salicion albae)

Grasslands

6210 Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia) (* important orchid sites)

6230 Species-rich Nardus grasslands, on silicious substrates in mountain areas (and submountain areas in Continental Europe)

6410 Molinia meadows on calcareous, peaty or clayey-silt-laden soils (Molinion caeruleae)

6510 Lowland hay meadows (Alopecurus pratensis, Sanguisorba officinalis)

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Natura 2000 Biogeographical Process in the Atlantic Region

Document library

Background documents First Atlantic Seminar (2012)

Background documents Second Atlantic Seminar (2016)

 

Discussion Forum

Sub-forum dedicated to the Atlantic biogeographical region

 

 Preparatory / Follow up actions

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