Globally, laws define both where protected areas are and their level of protection. Usually, the legal protection is not absolute and alternative land-uses can be implemented if perceived gains outweigh conservation losses. Technical reports, describing the importance of each protected area, are therefore crucial for decision-making, impact assessments, mitigation policies and management plans, and thus effective conservation. While much research has focused on protected areas themselves, including the biodiversity they contain and the impact of illegal activities, almost no research has evaluated the adequacy of the technical reports. Given high levels of data availability, the European Natura 2000 network (N2000) might be expected to represent best practice. Here we compare known bat presences with records from Standard Data Forms (SDFs) of Spanish N2000 Special Areas of Conservation (SAC); the Habitats Directive protects all European bat species. Across 1206 SACs, we found far fewer bat species listed in the SDFs than are known to occur in the SACs they represent, for both Annex II and particularly Annex IV bat species. These findings have serious conservation implications, including that decisions are systematically biased against conservation outcomes: if SDFs greatly underestimate the conservation value of their SACs, development of the land (or sea) is much more likely to be permitted. Incorporating known species presences into the SDFs of SACs is low in cost and straightforward, and can potentially achieve tremendous conservation benefits for minimal outlay; it should therefore be a top conservation priority globally, and conservation scientists should urgently engage with government agencies, accordingly.
- Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC
- Management policies
- Special Areas of Conservation