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Training package on EU Nature Protection Legislation – Focus on Site Protection

Module 2: Focus on Site Protection Legal Regime

Site Designation and Establishment of Conservation Measures: Habitats Directive - Selection and Designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) (1/2)

Given that the overarching objective of the Habitats Directive is to maintain and restore the natural habitats and species of wild fauna and flora of Community interest (Art. 2) at favourable conservation status (FCS), it is essential to establish a coherent European ecological network of special areas of conservation (SAC) (6th Preamble and Article 3). The Special Areas of Conservation are defined as a site of Community importance designated by the Member States through a statutory, administrative and/or contractual act where the necessary conservation measures are applied for the maintenance or restoration, at a favourable conservation status, of the natural habitats and/or the populations of the species for which the site is designated (Art. 1).

Article 4:

  1. On the basis of the criteria set out in Annex III ( Stage 1 ) and relevant scientific information, each Member State shall propose a list of sites indicating which natural habitat types in Annex I and which species in Annex II that are native to its territory the sites host. For animal species ranging over wide areas these sites shall correspond to the places within the natural range of such species which present the physical or biological factors essential to their life and reproduction. For aquatic species which range over wide areas, such sites will be proposed only where there is a clearly identifiable area representing the physical and biological factors essential to their life and reproduction . Where appropriate , Member States shall propose adaptation of the list in the light of the results of the surveillance referred to in Article 11.
    The list shall be transmitted to the Commission, within three years of the notification of this Directive, together with information on each site . That information shall include a map of the site , its name, location , extent and the data resulting from application of the criteria specified in Annex III (Stage 1 ) provided in a format established by the Commission in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 21.
  2. On the basis of the criteria set out in Annex III ( Stage 2 ) and in the framework both of each of the five biogeographical regions referred to in Article 1 ( c ) ( iii) and of the whole of the territory referred to in Article 2 ( 1 ), the Commission shall establish , in agreement with each Member State , a draft list of sites of Community importance drawn from the Member States' lists identifying those which lost one or more priority natural habitat types or priority species.
    Member States whose sites hosting one or more priority natural habitat types and priority species represent more than 5 % of their national territory may, in agreement with the Commission , request that the criteria listed in Annex III (Stage 2 ) be applied more flexibly in selecting all the sites of Community importance in their territory.
    The list of sites selected as sites of Community importance, identifying those which host one or more priority natural habitat types or priority species, shall be adopted by the Commission in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 21.

The designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the Habitats Directive takes place in three steps. In the initial phase, Member States propose a list of sites that either host certain habitat types or certain endangered species (Article 4 (1), Habitats Directive). Habitat types that must be proposed as SACs are listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive. Annex I specifies a total of about 200 habitat types, including 25 different types of grassland communities, and 51 different forest types. Annex II contains endangered animal and plant species. Sites hosting these species can be proposed by the Member States as well. This Annex contains about 700 species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, and plants. Birds are not listed here. Several of the habitat types and the species listed in Annex I and II have been marked as priority habitat types or priority species, indicating that they are especially vulnerable or threatened.

For the presentation on "Designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs)" see the video podcast of Fotios Papoulias:

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For the presentation on "Obligations of special conservation measures" see the video podcast of Fotios Papoulias:

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Developed by the Academy of European Law (ERA)