The Macaronesian region consists of the Azores and Madeira in Portugal and the Canaries in Spain. The three archipelagos share regional features: a volcanic origin, a contrasting landscape and a gentle climate. These features have created an ideal environment for a particularly rich biodiversity.
To best protect the Macaronesian 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 Macaronesian biogeographical region, included in Natura 2000, was the first to be adopted in December 2001 and is updated every year. It contains 208 Sites of Community Importance, covering over 5000 km² of land and sea.
Entirely volcanic, the Macaronesian islands share a gentle climate and offer a wide variety of landscapes. The large calderas, jagged mountains and cliffs, wide valleys and sheltered bays are home to a very rich array of species and habitats. The islands may represent a mere 0.3 % of the EU territory but they host 19 % of the habitat types and 28 % of all the plants listed in the Habitats Directive.
The nine Azorean islands spread over 600 km far out on the Atlantic and share a gentle topography and an oceanic climate with mild temperatures and high rainfalls. As a result, they count a great many lakes, pools and alpine rivers, as well as some active raised bogs, blanket bogs and wet woods, unique in the Macaronesian region. The ragged coastlines offer many different habitats: rocky shores, saltmarshes, lagoons and vegetated sea cliffs. Inland are also found ericaceous heaths, dry scrub, lava fields, and areas of juniper and laurel forest. Altogether, 26 habitat types listed in the Habitats Directive are found here.
The Azores host fewer species than other Macaronesian islands but the cliffs are home to many endemic species, such as the Azorean bellflower (Azorina vidalii), and the marine life is amongst the most plentiful in the Atlantic. Some 24 marine mammals, including bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales and pilot whales are found here. The archipelago also offers a transition to seabirds between tropics and temperate zones. Half the world’s population of Cory’s shearwaters breed here; so do large numbers of other rare seabirds: little shearwaters (Puffinus assimilis baroli), Madeiran storm-petrels (Oceanodroma castro), roseate terns (Sterna dougallii).
The Azorean climate, relief and rich soils are particularly suitable for agriculture and the islands are now heavily deforested: only 2 % of the original laurel forests remain. The endemic Azores bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina) once a common feature of the native forests, saw its population plummet to 120 pairs, but it is now on the road to recovery thanks to an EU LIFE project that has now caused the population to treble.
Further south and closer to the mainland, the Madeira archipelago includes two main islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and smaller uninhabited ones, the Ilhas Desertas and De Selvagens. It is mostly flat and semi-arid, but the Madeira island itself boasts a sub-tropical climate heavily influenced by altitude, with much wetter northern slopes on its high mountains and peaks often swept by heavy winds and rains, and even snow in winter. Madeira means 'wood' and was once covered in forests. Today, the laurel forest covers only 20 % of the island but it is still the world's largest. The Macaronesian heath which replaced it also has considerable ecological value.
The main island is incredibly rich in endemic species: 120 native plants already identified, 46 listed in the Habitats Directive, including a rare geranium (Geranium maderense) and scilla (Scilla maderensis). The last 40 pairs of the world’s rarest seabird, the Zino’s petrel (Pterodroma madeira) nest here. Porto Santo is home to 36 endemic species of land snails and several marine species such as sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins. The remaining, smaller island groups are entirely included in Natura 2000 and strictly protected. The De Selvagens count large seabird colonies and rare endemic plants; the Ilhas Desertas harbour Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus) and the only breeding colony in the EU of the globally threatened Fea’s petrel (Pterodroma feae).
Agriculture is the mainstay of Madeira’s economy, but has mostly remained small-scale, due to the rugged landscape. Tourism is becoming increasingly important, generating 10 % of the island’s GDP and employing a significant proportion of the 250 000 islanders.
The Canaries are the largest and most easterly of the 3 archipelagos. Close to Africa, they are generally much warmer and drier. The easterly, low-lying islands such as Lanzarote and Fuerteventura are extremely arid and dominated by immense coastal dunes, wetlands and, inland, pre-desert scrub and heath. The more westerly islands are home to deep gorges and steep mountain peaks, with frequent temperature inversions. The dramatic climate and landscape create a wide range of habitats: the desert-like landscapes of the shore are in walking distance of the moist cloud forests of the mountains.
The Canaries host unique forests habitats. Its Canarian pine forests provide a last refuge for the native, and globally threatened, blue chaffinch (Fringilla teydea). Other typical habitats include Macaronesian heaths, Canarian cushion heaths, olive woodlands, ancient juniper forests and the unique lava fields surrounding the 3718-meter-high El Teide volcano on Tenerife. This wide variety of habitats is home to the richest biodiversity of the region, and one of the richest in the world. Over 14 000 species have been identified so far and new discoveries are still being made. Around 45 % of the fauna and 25 % of the flora species are endemic. Of the 670 plants native to the Canaries, 66 are listed in the Habitats Directive.
Tourism is the most important economic activity. Mixed and terraced farming are still practiced inland but rapidly disappear, replaced by the tropical and forced crops for the export market which now account for 75 % of the agricultural end production. 18 000 ha of highly fragmented laurel forest remain. Only 6000 ha correspond to mature forest.
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 Macaronesian list are available here
The Reference lists of habitat types and species of the Macaronesian Region include protected habitat types (Habitats Directive Annex I) and species (Habitats Directive Annex II) present in this bio-geographical region by Member State.
The Reference Lists derive from the conclusions of bio-geographical seminars and are updated when new scientific information becomes available.
The final Macaronesian seminar report is being prepared by the Spanish Government, and will be made available on the website once we have received it.