Denmark is a small country of merely 43 000 km2. The land is intensively used: 62% is farmland, 11% (mainly production) forest and 17% is covered by cities, roads and infrastructure. Thus, only about 10 percent remain for nature protection. Yet, although nature areas may generally be small and scattered, they offer great variety in terms of different landscapes and nature types. From an international point of view, the most important nature types are coastal cliff dunes and shallow sea areas.
Denmark got its first Nature Protection Act in 1917 including the possibility to designate conservation areas by suggestion of public governments and the Danish Nature Conservation Society. Today, the Nature Protection Act also includes a general protection of different nature types (e.g. heath, meadows, lakes) and rules for public access. Many specific areas have been preserved according to the Act.
Denmark has five National Parks, Thy, Mols Bjerge, Vadehavet, Skjoldungernes Land and Kongernes Nordsjælland which were established in 2008. A certification scheme is set up for regional Nature Parks by the Danish Outdoor Council. By 2021 there were in all 11 nature parks in Denmark including pilot nature parks.
International nature protection in Denmark includes 252 Natura 2000 areas, 261 Sites of Community Importance and 113 Special Protection Areas covering 8,3 % of the land and 17.7 % of the sea. Also, 27 wetland areas covering 7,400 km2 have been designated as Ramsar areas (ramsar.org). Stevns Klint and Vadehavet have been designated as natural World Heritage Sites (extension to the designation of the Wadden Sea in Germany and Holland). Denmark has one Biosphere Reserve and one Geopark, respectively at the island of Moen and the peninsula of Odsherred.
For the last almost 30 years, Denmark has been very active in restoring nature areas such as rivers. The largest restoration projects being the River Skjern Nature Restoration projects, where about 2 200 hectares of meadows, reed beds and lakes where restored, together with 40 kilometres of river. Afforestation is another important theme and Denmark aims to double its forest area within 80-100 years.
Agencies protecting Danish nature
The Nature Agency (naturstyrelsen.dk) or “Naturstyrelsen” (formerly Danish Forest and Nature Agency/Skov- og Naturstyrelsen) is responsible for the management of state-owned natural sites, nature restoration, leisure activities and forestry. The agency manages about 200,000 hectares of forests and nature land owned by the Ministry of Environment.
With experiences from the processes of establishing national parks and the many nature restoration and afforestation projects, the Nature Agency has a strong expertise in citizen involvement in larger scale land-use projects involving private landowners and other stakeholders.
The Environmental Agency (mst.dk), also under the Ministry of Environment, is responsible for nature protection, Natura 2000 and other issues related to open land. National Parks have some coordination by the agency, although they are set up like self-governing foundations receiving annual support from the Environment Ministry.
Several nature foundations own huge areas set aside for nature protection. The Aage V. Jensen Nature Foundation owns Lille Vildmosen, Vejlerne and Fiilsoe, and is after the state the biggest landowner in Denmark. Other foundations of importance are Denmark’s Nature Foundation, the Danish Nature Fund, and the Bird Protection Foundation.