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News announcement30 May 2024Directorate-General for Environment7 min read

Natura 2000 Award: And the winners are...

The biennial prize recognises outstanding management of Natura 2000 sites.

Natura 2000 glass award depicting blue birds, green motifs and the EU stars logo.

The European Commission has announced the winners of the 2024 Natura 2000 Award at Green Week in Brussels on Thursday.

The biennial Award, this year celebrating its tenth anniversary, recognises outstanding management of Natura 2000 sites and showcases the network’s added value of conserving nature for local communities and economies across the EU.

With over 3,500 votes, the Polish initiative to protect the black stork, submitted by the Forest Experimental Station in Rogów, won the hard-fought public vote and received the Citizens’ Award.

Followed closely in second place was the Belgian Wolf Fencing Team, for promoting peaceful coexistence with wolves.

The Spanish 'Nature’s guardians: enhancing effectiveness and efficiency of response to environmental crime’ came in third.

In the regular competition, winners were selected by a high-level jury of representatives from the Commission, Council, Committee of the Regions, NGO community and the users and landowners associations.

The Estonian Fund for Nature received the Conservation on Land Award with their initiative to restore 8,000 hectare of mire habitats, whereas the Marine Conservation prize went to Portuguese NGO Ocean Alive, for restoring and protecting ‘blue forests’ (seagrass meadows). 

The Wild Atlantic Nature project convinced the jury with their ’Ground-breaking agri-environment payment scheme for farmers in Natura 2000 areas in Ireland (Working together for Nature category), as did the Spanish-French initiative ‘Grazing to preserve Natura 2000 habitats and species in the Pyrenees’ led by the HAZI Foundation (Cross-Border Cooperation category).

The Italian Artetica Cultural Association took home the Communication prize with their community engagement and citizen science initiative ‘From the woods to the web and back.

Celebrating world’s largest coordinated network of protected nature

Since 2014, the Natura 2000 Award recognises nature conservation success stories across the EU and raises awareness about one of Europe’s outstanding achievements, the Natura 2000 network of protected areas. For citizens, it represents a tangible example of EU environment policy, as 65% of Europeans live within 5 km of a Natura 2000 site.

Natura 2000, established by the Birds and Habitats Directives, is made up of nearly 27,000 protected sites and covers more than 18% of EU land territory and about 9% of its marine areas. The aim of the network is to ensure the long-term survival of our most valuable and threatened species and habitats. It is also the result of a unique process of cooperation between stakeholders at national levels, and among EU Member States, which demonstrate the value of EU cooperation.

The good management of the network is at the core of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, which aims to put biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030, benefiting people, climate and the planet.

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Maroš Šefčovič, said:

“The Natura 2000 network is at the heart of Europe’s biodiversity protection and restoration. Our wellbeing, food security and economic prosperity fully depend on healthy nature . Healthy nature is also the livelihood of farmers, fishers and foresters. And it is our main ally in the fighting against climate change, from absorbing the carbon we emit to cooling the cities we live in. The Natura 2000 network strongly contributes to all these functions, preserving Europe's most valuable and threatened habitats and species, while creating economic opportunities in rural areas.

In the 10 years of the Natura 2000 Award, including this edition, we have seen exceptional commitment of public authorities, stakeholders and local communities to ensure the network continues to flourish and provide vital ecosystem services for future generations. My congratulations to finalists, winners and all the applicants for their hard work.”

More about winners

Conservation on Land: Conserving and restoring mire habitats in Estonia. 

  • Funded by the EU LIFE programme and coordinated by the Estonian Fund for Nature with support by University of Tartu and Archaeovision, this large-scale intervention focused on the six most important mire areas in Estonia and achieved the restoration of natural water conditions over nearly 8,000 hectares of mires. 
  • The project partners carried out a range of best-practice conservation activities including mire restoration, hydrologic monitoring, species monitoring, as well as awareness-raising, education and citizen science.  
  • What the jury said: “Mires are globally recognise as important for biodiversity and carbon sequestration, and this project’s achievements deserve the highest recognition. The winner also stood out for enhancing the historical and cultural peatland values.”

Marine Conservation: Reforesting the sea - Conservation and restoration of 'blue forests'. 

  • Ocean Alive, a Portuguese NGO, has actively and collaboratively engaged the local fishing community, decision-makers and scientists in conserving and restoring threatened seagrass meadows and salt marshes.
  • The actions have achieved significant progress towards improving the conservation status of these “blue forests”. In total, over 20 hectares of seagrass meadows were restored, and over 25,000 tonnes of marine waste (plastic, glass, metal, fishing gear and lead) were removed. 
  • What the jury said: “The initiative is a brilliant example of involving local fisherwomen in the mapping of seagrass meadows, providing them with a complementary income to fishing.”

Communication Award: From the woods to the web and back 

  • The Artetica Cultural Association, a local NGO working in a small community in the Friulian countryside of Italy, implemented a communication programme conducted exclusively by volunteers. 
  • The association has been successful in changing the approach to certain habitat management issues, such as inappropriate mowing of areas rich in rare wild orchids, as well as reducing the risk of fire by revising the water management plan for the surrounding area to ensure a sufficient level of humidity in the most vulnerable forest areas. 
  • What the jury said: “The winner has demonstrated how relatively small-scale actions carried by stakeholders and the local community can lead to meaningful results. This is a highly replicable approach that can be used in other small communities for protecting Natura 2000 sites.” 

Working together for Nature: Ground-breaking agri-environment payment scheme for farmers in Natura 2000 areas in Ireland. 

  • The Wild Atlantic Nature project, funded by the EU LIFE programme, has developed an alternative to the previously existing farm payment schemes. The payment scheme directly links farmers’ agri-environment payments to the ecological condition of their land through scorecards.
  • The initiative developed capacity among farmers, farm advisors, policy makers and scientists to deliver improved ecosystem services in a way that works for both landowners and the environment. 
  • What the jury said: ‘“This project delivered results to over 800 farmers across 63,000 hectares of Natura 2000 and neighbouring land. It is a convincing demonstration of how farmers can be paid fairly and effectively to protect Natura 2,000 sites and habitats, which can be applied across Europe.”

Cross-Border Cooperation: Grazing to preserve Natura 2000 habitats and species 

  • Funded by the EU LIFE programme and led by the HAZI Foundation, this project established a cross-border partnership to address inappropriate grazing practices in the Pyrenees. 
  • This cross-border initiative restored 1,670 hectares of habitats, removed invasive plants and implemented joint grazing plans. It led to the creation of an expert group, a cross-border conservation strategy for grassland habitats and associated species in the Spanish-French Pyrenees and a web application for sharing information on vegetation and habitats, livestock use and pasture productivity.
  • What the jury said: “The winner demonstrated an exemplary engagement with the local community of farmers in Natura 2000 sites. By creating those bridges between farming and nature they discovered win-win solutions to one of the very real challenges of our times.” 

Citizens’ Award: Best practices for the conservation and management of the black stork in Poland 

  • The Forest Experimental Station in Rogów, and the Committee for the Protection of Eagles, with support from the Polish Operational Programme Infrastructure and Environment, have implemented an impressive series of actions, aimed at improving the protection of the black stork and its habitats in 16 Natura 2000 sites across Poland, as well as strengthening its resistance to threats linked to climate change. 
  • By 2023, the project had protected more than 600 breeding sites, supporting 55% of the national breeding population, through the designation by the Regional Forestry Directorate of nest protection zones (each of around 2,800 hectares).
  • The project has received 3,521 out of 20,029 votes in the public voting.
More information

Natura 2000 Award ceremony

Natura 2000 Award 2024 winners: 

More about the Natura 2000 Award 

Natura 2000 Award newsflash 

Natura 2000  

Natura 2000 viewer


Publication date
30 May 2024
Directorate-General for Environment

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