The Atlantic region includes over half of Europe’s long coastline and two of the most productive seas in the world: the North Sea and North-east Atlantic Ocean. It has specific, regional features: low, flat lands, a very varied and dynamic coastline rich in habitats and species, and an oceanic climate. As for 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 animal abundance.
To best protect the Atlantic 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 Atlantic biogeographical region, included in Natura 2000, is updated every year.
This region benefits from an oceanic climate with mild winters, cool summers, predominantly westerly winds and moderate rainfall throughout the year
The powerful forces of tide, wind and waves have formed a 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 creating vast estuaries of high economic and biological value.
The Atlantic region may not exhibit high levels of biodiversity but it more than makes up for this in animal abundance. The Gulf Stream 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. Waterbirds and waders also flock to the area in large numbers to escape the harsh conditions of the arctic north and to find shelter in the nutrient-rich coastal wetlands of the Atlantic and North Sea coast..
Altogether, 117 habitat types, 52 plants and 81 animal species listed in the Habitats Directive are found in the Atlantic region.
The Atlantic region is best known for its abundant marine life, including harbour seals, bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises. But It is also home to many listed species of bats and invertebrates, ranging from rare butterflies and dragonflies to land snails such as the tiny Desmoulin’s whorl snail (Vertigo angustior) and molluscs such as the freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera durrovensis).
Many of the listed flora species are closely associated with typical Atlantic habitats. Festuca summilusitanica is only found in the Northern Iberian coastal heaths and the early gentian (Gentianella anglica) in the chalk grasslands of the UK. The rare petalwort (Petalophyllum ralfsii) is confined to new wind-formed damp hollows of dynamic dune systems and cannot survive in over-stabilised dunes.
The Atlantic region is one of the most heavily populated (almost a third of the EU population) and intensely managed areas in Europe. This puts massive pressure on the natural environment and presents a particular challenge for Natura 2000. Today, the landscape is predominantly agricultural, with increasingly large urban and industrial areas. Many natural and semi natural habitats now only exist as isolated, fragmented patches in a largely artificial landscape. Pollution from heavy pesticide or fertiliser use and industrial effluents further exacerbate these problems.
Marine life may be abundant but it is also under increasing threat from overfishing, pollution, abstraction and shipping traffic. Endemic species such as harbour porpoises are at risk from unsustainable high levels of by catch in fisheries and the harmful effects of such pollutants as PCBs, cadmium and mercury which accumulate in their bodies.
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 Atlantic list are available here:
The Reference list of habitat types and species of the Atlantic 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.