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Natura 2000: Sites - Habitats Directive

Under the Habitats Directive, there are three stages in the selection of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for the Natura 2000 network

  1. The responsibility for proposing sites under the Habitats Directive lies with the Member States. They carry out comprehensive assessments of each of the habitat types and species present on their territory. The choice of sites is a purely scientific process, based on standard selection criteria specified in the directive. Site specific data are communicated to the Commission by using Standard Data Forms.

  2. On the basis of the proposed national lists, the Commission, in agreement with the Member States, must adopt the lists of “Sites of Community Importance”. Scientific seminars are then convened by the Commission for each bio-geographical region in order to analyse the Member States’ proposals in a transparent way. They are open to the Member States concerned and to experts representing relevant stakeholder interests, including owners, users, and environmental NGOs. These seminars are supported by the European Environment Agency, assisted by the European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity which is based in Paris, France.

    These expert seminars aim to establish if sufficient high-quality sites have been proposed by each Member State to ensure the favourable conservation status of each habitat type and species throughout their range in the EU. The objective is to establish a list of “Sites of Community Importance” for each of the regions determined by the Habitats Directive, applying a consistent approach across the Member States.

  3. Once the lists of “Sites of Community Importance” have been adopted, it is for the Member States to designate all of these sites as “Special Areas of Conservation”, as required by the Habitats Directive, as soon as possible and within six years at the most. They should give priority to those sites that are most threatened and/or that are of most importance in conservation terms. During this period, Member States must take the necessary management or restoration measures to ensure the favourable conservation status of those sites.

Biogeographical Regions

The Habitats Directive divides the EU into 9 ecologically coherent “biogeographical” regions – the Atlantic, Continental, Alpine (which includes the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Carpathian mountains and parts of Scandinavia), Mediterranean, Boreal (Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and part of Lithuania), the Macaronesian (Madeira, Azores and Canary Islands), the Pannonian (essentially Hungary and parts of the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia), the Steppic and the Black Sea region (parts of Bulgaria and Romania). Natura 2000 sites are selected according to each biogeographical region. Working on this level makes it easier to conserve species and habitat types under similar natural conditions across a suite of countries.

See as well relevant information on EIONET

Sites of Community Importance (Habitats Directive)