Financing protected areas is crucial for guaranteeing the flow of ecosystem services (ES) provided by natural and semi-natural ecosystems, which are the basis of human well-being. In the last two decades, together with traditional conservation tools, innovative instruments, such as PES (Payment for Ecosystem Services), have been proposed and implemented all over the world in order to improve management effectiveness in biodiversity conservation. In this paper we identified and categorized 33 PES case studies in 19 Natura 2000 sites developing the hypothesis that a PES approach may contribute to improving the effectiveness of conservation actions at different spatial and administrative levels. We found that in these areas, farmers and foresters often allow the maintenance of natural and semi-natural ecosystems through their economic activity. Through PES schemes their important role can be formally acknowledged, both in environmental and economic terms. PES schemes are also a tool for involving more stakeholders, particularly local companies, residents and tourists in conservation actions. So PES can actually improve Natura 2000 sites’ management and increase the availability of financial resources in favor of conservation actions. However, careful attention must to be paid to the supporting role of public authorities, generally crucial for the success of a PES.
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