What are Natura2000 sites?

Natura2000 is a pan European network of protected sites which represent areas of the highest value for natural habitats and species of plants and animals that are rare, endangered or vulnerable in the European Union (EU). This network includes currently 25.000 sites of all 27 member states of the EU. Collectively they cover a substantial area: almost a fifth of Europe’s land and water.

The Natura2000 network includes two types of area:

  • Areas may be designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) where they support rare, endangered or vulnerable natural habitats and species of plants or animals.. To protect habitats and species (other than birds) the sites are named SAC.
  • Where areas support significant numbers of wild birds and their habitats, they may become Special Protection Areas (SPA). To protect birds: SPA.

Key instruments for this policy are two EU-directives:

  • Bird Directive set up 1979 with the aim to protect birds together with their habitats and resting areas. Countries were encouraged to designate the most important sites as SPA.
  • Habitats Directive adopted 1992, lists in its annex endangered habitats, animals and plants which need community protection. Member states are designating sites (pSCI = proposed sites of Community interest) to ensure a legal protection status. Approved by the EU-Commission and the Seminar of the bio-geographic Region (see below) they are designated to SPAs. Appropriate actions for these habitats, animals and plants are set up in management plans.
    • Areas can be designated as SAP, SAC or both.

The term Natura2000 derives from the Habitats Directive (1992); it symbolises the conservation of precious natural resources for the year 2000 and beyond into the 21st century.

Establishing the Natura2000 network is the primary purpose of the two Directives. In addition they also make other provisions, including protection of habitats and species outside the Natura2000 network.

You may find more information on the EU-Commissions webpage on biodiversity: