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The Habitats Directive

In a nutshell

The Habitats Directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species. Some 200 rare and characteristic habitat types are also targeted for conservation in their own right.

In practice

Adopted in 1992, the Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora aims to promote the maintenance of biodiversity, taking account of economic, social, cultural and regional requirements. It forms the cornerstone of Europe's nature conservation policy with the Birds Directive and establishes the EU wide Natura 2000 ecological network of protected areas, safeguarded against potentially damaging developments.

The Birds and Habitats Directives have had to evolve to reflect successive enlargements of the European Union. We provide a summary of the changes made to the two directives in order to reflect the impact of enlargement. A consolidated version of the directive includes the latest versions of the annexes.

The Interpretation Manual of European Union Habitats - EUR28 aims to help clear any ambiguities in the interpretation of the Annex 1 of the directive by developing common definition for all habitat types.

Species protection under the Habitats Directive

All in all, over 1.000 animal and plant species, as well as 200 habitat types, listed in the directive's annexes are protected in various ways:

  • Annex II species (about 900): core areas of their habitat are designated as sites of Community importance (SCIs) and included in the Natura 2000 network. These sites must be managed in accordance with the ecological needs of the species.
  • Annex IV species (over 400, including many annex II species): a strict protection regime must be applied across their entire natural range within the EU, both within and outside Natura 2000 sites.
  • Annex V species (over 90): Member States must ensure that their exploitation and taking in the wild is compatible with maintaining them in a favourable conservation status.

The European Commission has published guidance on species protection to help Member States implement correctly the directive's provisions. EU Species Action Plans are developed to restore the populations of certain species across their range within the EU. The European Commission also promotes the conservation of Europe's 5 species of large carnivores and supports the European Red Lists of Threatened Species, developed by the IUCN to provide an overview of the conservation status of c. 6,000 European species, so that appropriate action can be taken to protect those threatened with extinction.


Certain articles of the Habitats Directive (Art. 6, 12, 16 and 17) require Member States to report on the conservation status of habitats and species, on compensation measures taken for projects having a negative impact on Natura 2000 sites or on derogations they may have applied to the strict protection measures. (Access the Member States reporting)

Habitats Committee

The Habitats Committee assists the Commission in the implementation of the ‘Habitats’ directive and delivers an opinion on the draft list of LIFE-Nature projects to be financed each year.

Register of Commission expert groups and other similar entities
Comitology Register

For more information

Find out more about the designation of protected Natura 2000 sites.

Search for proposed SCIs (pSCIs), Sites of Community Importance (SCIs), and Special Areas of Conservations (SACs) in the Natura 2000 viewer.

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