Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, since I took office as Commissioner for Environment, Maritime affairs and Fisheries one of my top priorities is  making sure that our citizens and politicians alike can truly appreciate the real value of our natural heritage – both 'green' and 'blue'.

I am therefore particularly pleased and proud to welcome you all to this very special event.

It is special because it officially inaugurates the European Natura 2000 Day, an initiative that began as a grassroots initiative through an EU-funded LIFE project in Spain. I would like to pay tribute to the people who have worked hard to make this Day a reality.

And that is a point worth repeating. European Natura 2000 Day is an example of the E  acting on Nature, based on what people want. The people who work in nature, who make their livings through nature, and who want others to enjoy that connection. The site managers, volunteers, farmers, hunters, fishermen, scientists, teachers, business owners – they are the real heart of this network. They are the ones who gave us the idea of marking a special, European wide, day.

This occasion is also special because it marks the 25th anniversary of the Natura 2000 network, which is now the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. It has more than 27,000 protected sites, covering over 1 million square kilometres. That is equal to 18% of Europe's land and more than 6% of its sea waters.

By setting up a dedicated Day, we want to raise the awareness and celebrate this network. It is one of the European Union’s truly outstanding achievements, built on the unique effort and cooperation among all our EU Member States and the European Commission.

Why are we marking the occasion today you may ask? This year the 21st falls on a Sunday. We wanted to make sure that we give the first Natura 2000 Day a proper launch. And we also wanted to give you all one week to find the Natura 2000 site nearest to you. This year will see grassroots events taking place all over Europe.

The proclamation of the Natura 2000 Day also fulfils the first of 15 actions in the Action Plan for Nature, People and the Economy, which the Commission adopted just a few short weeks ago.

As you know, the Action Plan is the Commission's response to an extensive evaluation of the Birds and Habitats Directives. That 'fitness check' concluded that the Nature Directives are fit for purpose. It also said that achieving their objectives and realising their full potential requires that implementation is substantially improved. he evaluation also clearly pointed to the need to raise awareness and engagement to really make the most of what the Directives have to offer.

It is no surprise, therefore, that Communication and Outreach is one of the four priority areas of the Nature Action Plan. This is alongside improving guidance and knowledge, building political ownership & strengthening compliance, and investment in Natura 2000.

Indeed, the success of Natura 2000 depends on a number of important factors. Number one is the commitment and work of so many people.

To encourage and give recognition to their efforts, the Commission set up the Natura 2000 Award. This honours excellence in the management and promotion of the Natura 2000 network. It also raises awareness about EU policy on nature and biodiversity

In fact, the Spanish project which was at the root of Natura 2000 Day was in fact a winner of the "citizens' award" two years ago.

Today we are launching the call for applications for the fourth round of the Natura 2000 Award. Any entity involved in activities related to the sites in the network can apply under any of the five Award categories.

I very much look forward to announcing the future winners here on 21 May 2018 European Natura 2000 day next year. Book the date in your calendars - you are all warmly invited to share with me and all finalists this very special moment!

Thank you!

 

***

Check against delivery