With increasing road encroachment, habitat fragmentation by transport infrastructures has been a serious threat for European biodiversity. Areas with no roads or little traffic (“roadless and low-traffic areas”) represent relatively undisturbed natural habitats and functioning ecosystems. They provide many benefits for biodiversity and human societies (e.g., landscape connectivity, barrier against pests and invasions, ecosystem services). Roadless and low-traffic areas, with a lower level of anthropogenic disturbances, are of special relevance in Europe because of their rarity and, in the context of climate change, because of their contribution to higher resilience and buffering capacity within landscape ecosystems. An analysis of European legal instruments illustrates that, although most laws aimed at protecting targets which are inherent to fragmentation, like connectivity, ecosystem processes or integrity, roadless areas are widely neglected as a legal target. A case study in Germany underlines this finding. Although the Natura 2000 network covers a significant proportion of the country (16%), Natura 2000 sites are highly fragmented and most low-traffic areas (75%) lie unprotected outside this network. This proportion is even higher for the old Federal States (western Germany), where only 20% of the low-traffic areas are protected. We propose that the few remaining roadless and low-traffic areas in Europe should be an important focus of conservation efforts; they should be urgently inventoried, included more explicitly in the law and accounted for in transport and urban planning. Considering them as complementary conservation targets would represent a concrete step towards the strengthening and adaptation of the Natura 2000 network to climate change.
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