Birds have recently shown worrying declining trends, despite the efforts of conservation through the implementation of the Birds Directive and the Natura 2000 network. To assess the potential contribution of Natura 2000 conservation measures, we modelled bird trends in the period 2000–2015 and the effects of Natura 2000 protection, across land cover classes, on regional abundances and local species richness and diversity. We selected as a study site the Veneto Region, among the richest in bird species in Italy, particularly on the Alps and in the Venice lagoon. Bird data were derived from the national breeding bird monitoring scheme. Breeding birds showed declining trends at the regional level, confirming national and continental trends, particularly in agricultural and semi-natural areas. The land cover class, rather than Natura 2000, mostly influenced population trends; however, it was possible to observe slightly higher estimates of species richness and diversity in Natura 2000 sites. Despite the absolute higher estimates over the investigated period, farmland and woodland bird species had steeper declining trends inside Natura 2000 than outside. From our results, we can conclude that the Natura 2000 network capacity to buffer biodiversity loss and act as a species-pool for non-protected areas might be decreasing over time, mainly with regards to farmland and woodland birds. Natura 2000 implementation must be improved: management, monitoring and conservation measures should be better integrated into existing plans and funding should be made more efficiently available for Natura 2000 related expenditures. We suggest that similar assessments may help the improvement process, given that they these are replicable to other regions and areas of study.
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