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Natura 2000 in the Marine Environment

Establishing marine Natura 2000


The need to fully apply the Habitats and Birds Directives to the offshore marine environment of the European Union, especially with regards to the establishment of the Natura 2000 network, represents a key challenge for EU biodiversity policy in the coming years.

The establishment of a marine network of conservation areas under Natura 2000 will significantly contribute, not only to the target of halting the loss of biodiversity in the EU, but also to broader marine conservation and sustainable use objectives under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

Guidelines for the establishment of the Natura 2000 network in the marine environment. Application of the Habitats and Birds Directives PDF (1,7MB)

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Management of marine Natura 2000


The document above provides a common methodology at EU level, to assess the impact of fisheries on marine protected areas, as a basis for the subsequent development of fisheries measures, with a view to ensuring level-playing field and compliance with applicable provisions under the Habitats and Birds Directives and the Common Fisheries Policy . The document is not legally binding and has been developed by the Commission services, with the assistance of the Marine Expert Group. It is based on relevant projects carried out by Member States, scientific literature and best available knowledge. An additional document, developed by the Commission services and with the assistance of the Marine Expert Group, offers an overview of the potential interactions and impacts of commercial fishing methods on marine habitats and species protected under the EU Habitats Directive PDF.

The document above addresses some Frequently Asked Questions about links between the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC) and the implementation of the Birds Directive 2009/147/EC and the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC in the marine environment. It has no formal legal status and its aim is to identify and clarify interactions, synergies, differences and potential areas for greater coordination between these instruments concerning the conservation of marine biodiversity.

The aim of this document is to offer guidance which would facilitate the knowledge and implementation of EU legislation underpinning Natura 2000 in relation to aquaculture activities.

MPAs play a key role in the protection of marine biodiversity and ecosystems. As European experience in managing MPAs is increasing, it is becoming more and more evident that MPAs also help to maintain and improve the provision of a wide range of ecosystem services and related socio-economic benefits. This report collects, systematises and discusses the available evidence on the socio-economic benefits provided by coastal and marine ecosystems, with a focus on benefits associated with MPAs, including those designated under Natura 2000.


The context of EU marine biodiversity and protected areas policy

EU policy for marine biodiversity, including protected areas, is developing in the context of commitments at global, EU and regional levels.

At the EU level, EU Heads of State and government have made a commitment ‘to halt the loss of biodiversity [in the EU] by 2010’. And at the global level, they have joined some 130 world leaders in making a commitment ‘to significantly reduce the current rate of biodiversity loss [worldwide] by 2010.’ Faced with evidence of the continuing and even accelerating loss of biodiversity and of critical ecosystem goods and services – as recently highlighted in the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment - the European Council has repeatedly called for accelerated efforts to meet these commitments.

The 6th Environmental Action Programme of the European Community identifies ‘nature and biodiversity’ as one of the priority themes for action. Objectives and priority areas for action on nature and biodiversity laid down by the European Parliament and the Council in the 6th Community Action Programme include:

  • Establishing the Natura network and implementing the necessary technical and financial instruments and measures required for its full implementation and for the protection, outside the Natura 2000 areas, of species protected under the Habitats and Birds Directives (Art 6.2.a. 7th indent)
  • Further promote the protection of marine areas, in particular with the Natura 2000 network as well as by other feasible Community means (Art. 6.2.g. 4th indent)

As a contracting party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) the European Community has prepared an EU Biodiversity Strategy and Biodiversity Action Plans which aim, inter alia, to integrate biodiversity considerations into other Community policies. Marine biodiversity issues are addressed by both the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for Natural Resources, and the BAP-Fisheries. Marine issues have also been raised in relation to the impact of European fishing fleets in international waters

Acting on many of the priorities identified in the Message from Malahide, the Commission adopted in May 2006 a Communication on Halting the Loss of Biodiversity By 2010 — And Beyond [COM(2006) 216 final], which sets out an ambitious policy approach to halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010. In particular, it provides an EU Action Plan with clear prioritised objectives and actions to achieve the 2010 target and outlines the respective responsibilities of EU institutions and Member States. In coherence with the above process, the first action identified in this EU Biodiversity Action Plan is to accelerate efforts to finalise the Natura 2000 network. This states: "complete marine network of Special Protection Areas (SPA) by 2008; adopt lists of Sites of Community Importance (SCI) by 2008 for marine; designate Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and establish management priorities and necessary conservation measures for SACs [by 2012 for marine]; establish similar management and conservation measures for SPAs [by 2012 for marine]". This Action Plan also specifies indicators to monitor progress, and a timetable for evaluations.

This Biodiversity Communication has been broadly welcomed by other Community Institutions, including December 2006 Environment Council, which invited the Commission and Member States to proceed urgently with implementation of the Biodiversity Action Plan.

The Communication and Action Plan take account of various existing international commitments relating to marine protected areas.

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