Protected areas represent the main tool for halting the continuing loss of biological diversity. About one fifth of the terrestrial surface of the European Union (EU) is now covered by the Natura 2000 network; yet, knowledge remains limited about its efficiency to encompass inland water ecosystems sufficiently.
In this study, we aimed to determine the extent to which the Natura 2000 network covers 5132 European lakes that host fish species and freshwater lake habitat types of conservation interest. We investigated whether the protection coverage of the water bodies reflects the coverage of the terrestrial areas surrounding the lakes.
We found that, although most of these sensitive ecosystems have high protection coverage at water body level, the Natura 2000 largely excludes their surroundings. At the catchment level, we detected lower conservation coverage, raising concerns on whether the network offers sufficient protection to wetland species, habitats, and ecosystem functioning against numerous threats operating in the terrestrial areas surrounding water bodies.