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Natura 2000 sites designation

In a nutshell

Natura 2000 is a network of sites selected to ensure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats. How a site is chosen depends on what it aims to protect.

In practice

The Natura 2000 network stems from the Habitats Directive. Member States choose sites according to precise, scientific criteria, but the selection procedure varies depending on which of the two nature directives – Birds or Habitats – warrants the creation of a particular site.

Under the Habitats Directive (Art. 3 and 4), Member States designate Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to ensure the favourable conservation status of each habitat type and species throughout their range in the EU. Under the Birds Directive (Art. 4), the network must include Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated for 194 particularly threatened species and all migratory bird species.

Under the Birds Directive

Member States designate Special Protection Areas (SPAs) according to scientific criteria such as ‘1% of the population of listed vulnerable species’ or ‘wetlands of international importance for migratory waterfowl’. While Member States may choose the most appropriate criteria, they must ensure that all the ‘most suitable territories’, both in number and surface area, are designated. Site specific data are transmitted to the Commission using Standard Data Forms.

Based on the information provided by the Member States, the European Commission determines if the designated sites are sufficient to form a coherent network for the protection of these vulnerable and migratory species. These sites then become an integral part of the Natura 2000 network.

Under the Habitats Directive

The choice of sites is based on scientific criteria specified in the directive, to ensure that the natural habitat types listed in the directive's Annex I and the habitats of the species listed in its Annex II are maintained or, where appropriate, restored to a favourable conservation status in their natural range.

Member States first carry out comprehensive assessments of each of the habitat types and species present on their territory. They then submit lists of proposed Sites of Community Importance (pSCIs). Site specific data are transmitted to the Commission using Standard Data Forms and must include information such as the size and location of the site as well as the types of species and/or habitat found on this site and warranting its selection.

Based on the proposals provided by the Member States, scientific seminars are convened for each biogeographical region. With the support of the European Environment Agency, these expert biogeographical seminars aim to determine whether sufficient high-quality sites have been proposed by each Member State.

Once the lists of Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) have been adopted, Member States must designate them as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), as soon as possible and within six years at most. They should give priority to those sites that are most threatened and/or most important for conservation and take the necessary management or restoration measures to ensure the favourable conservation status of sites during this period.

The Commission updates the Union SCI Lists every year to ensure that any new sites proposed by Member States have a legal status

Natura 2000 Standard Data Forms

Commission Implementing Decision of 11 July 2011 concerning a site information format for Natura 2000 sites (2011/484/EU)
Official Journal L 198, 30/07/2011 P. 0039 - 0070
(repeals Commission Decision 97/266/EC, Official Journal L 107, 24/04/1997 P. 0001 - 0156).

Natura 2000 Reference portal

Technical Support to Natura 2000

The European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity provides technical and scientific support to the European Commission, DG Environment, and the Member States in implementing the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC) and Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC), particularly for the establishment of the Natura 2000 network. It also provides further details on site selection and the biogeographical seminars

For more information

  • Explore the Natura 2000 viewer to locate Natura 2000 sites (pSCIs, SCIs, SACs and SPAs) from anywhere in the EU or find out more about the habitats or protected species for which a site has been designated.
  • Natura 2000 Barometer: Updated every year, it offers the latest overview of the Natura 2000 network in terms of information on area and site numbers for both SPAs and SCIs.

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