Natura 2000 sites have been designated specifically to protect core areas for a sub-set of species or habitat types listed in the Habitats and Birds Directives. They are deemed to be of European importance because they are endangered, vulnerable, rare, endemic or present outstanding examples of typical characteristics of one or more of Europe’s nine biogeographical regions. In total, there are around 2000 species and 230 habitat types for which core sites need to be designated as Natura 2000 sites.
Nature reserves, national parks or other nationally or regionally protected sites are, on the other hand, established exclusively under national or regional law, which can vary from country to country. Sites may be designated for a range of different purposes and may also concern species/ habitats other than those targeted by the Natura 2000 network.
They do not have the same status as Natura 2000 sites. Nevertheless, it may be that some nationally or regionally protected sites are also designated as Natura 2000 sites because they are important areas for species and habitats of EU importance as well. In such cases, the provisions of the EU directives apply, unless stricter rules are in place under national law.
Further information:Building the Natura 2000 network
Natura 2000 sites are selected with the aim of ensuring the long-term survival of species and habitats protected under the Birds and the Habitats Directive. The choice of sites is based on scientific criteria.
In compliance with the Birds Directive, EU Member States are required to designate the ‘most suitable territories’, both in number and surface area, to protect bird species listed in Annex I of the Directive as well as migratory species.
In compliance with the Habitats Directive, Member States have to designate the sites required to ensure that the natural habitat types listed in 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.
The sites are selected and proposed by the Member States. The European Environment Agency (EEA) then assists the European Commission in analysing sites proposals and in the evaluation of the contribution of the proposed sites to the conservation status of each habitat type and species at the biogeographical level. Once the sites proposed under the Habitats Directive are considered sufficient, the lists of sites are adopted by the Commission and the Member States must designate them as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) as soon as possible and within six years at most.
Further information:Natura 2000 sites designation
Different types of ecosystems are included in the Natura 2000 sites, including terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. An ecosystem can include one or many different habitats and usually hosts a diverse community of plants and animals.
However, some ecosystems are more abundant than other in then Natura 2000 network. For instance Forest ecosystems represent about 50% of the network’s surface while agro-ecosystems (pastureland and other agricultural areas) cover about 40% of the network,
Currently (2016), almost 6% of the EU marine area is included in the Natura 2000 Network and work is in progress to complete designation of marine sites that will ensure the conservation of habitat types and species protected by the Habitats and Birds directives in the marine ecosystems.
The directives do not lay down in detail the consultation process to be followed for the selection of sites. As a result, the procedures have varied considerably between Member States in accordance with their administrative systems. In some cases, the identification of the sites has been accompanied by detailed discussion with owners and users but, in other cases, there has been little or no consultation with stakeholders.
This did give rise to controversy in some Member States, leading to a variety of administrative and legal challenges which delayed the submission of proposals. The Commission was however not involved at this stage and had no powers to intervene in the differing procedures followed in Member States.
As regards the analysis of the national lists of SCIs and their selection at biogeographical level, this has been carried out in a transparent way through scientific seminars convened by the Commission and supported by the European Environment Agency. Member States and experts representing relevant stakeholder interests from owners and users as well as environmental NGO's were given an opportunity to participate in these seminars.
The identification and selection of sites for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network is done on purely scientific grounds in accordance with the selection criteria laid down in the two Directives. Using a scientific basis for the selection of the sites ensures that:
If the best sites are not included, or if there is an insufficient number of sites for a particular species or habitat type, the network will not be ecologically coherent and will not be able to fulfil its objectives under the two nature directives.
Socio-economic considerations are therefore not taken into account during site selection process. They are however a fundamental consideration when deciding how a Natura 2000 site should be protected and managed. Article 2 of the Habitats Directive makes it clear that all measures taken pursuant to the Directive shall be designed to maintain and restore, at a favourable conservation status, natural habitats and species of EU importance, whilst taking account of economic, social and cultural requirements and regional and local characteristics.
The Natura 2000 network includes currently (2016) over 27,000 sites covering a total surface of about 1,150,000 km2 both on land and marine areas of all the EU Member States. The total land area covered by the Natura 2000 represents around 18% of the total land EU surface. The national land coverage of Natura 2000 sites varies from about 9% to almost 38% depending on the countries. This difference is in part due to the amount of natural and semi-natural habitat that each country hosts. For example a much higher proportion of habitat types and species protected under the Directives are to be found in the Mediterranean, Continental, and Alpine Regions than the Atlantic Region. Furthermore, some countries have been historically subject to higher levels of intensive land use and fragmentation resulting in a smaller natural resource for protection under the Directives. Natural and semi-natural habitats and species such as large carnivores are generally much more plentiful and extensive distributed in the Central and Eastern European Member States that joined the EU from 2004 onwards than in the some older Member States. It also results from different approaches Member States have taken in delineation of boundaries of sites selected for designation. Several Member States have proposed broadly delineated large Natura 2000 sites embracing a more holistic approach that includes areas of non-qualifying habitat. Others have delineated their sites more exactly, limiting them more to the area of qualifying habitat.
The Natura 2000 barometer regularly updates the information about the number of sites and surface covered in every country and at EU level.
The Natura 2000 viewer is an on-line facility that enables the user to locate and explore Natura 2000 sites anywhere in the EU at the press of a button.
Further information:Lists of Natura 2000 sites approved by the Commission in every biogeographical region.
SAC, SCIs and SPAs are all collectively referred to as Natura 2000 sites. SPAs are Natura 2000 sites that have been designated under the Birds Directive while SCIs and SACs are sites designated under the Habitats Directive. An SCI and SAC concern the same site. The only distinction between the two is in their level of protection.
SCIs are sites that have been officially adopted by the European Commission and are therefore subject to the protection provisions or articles 6.2, 6.3 and 6.4. SACs are SCIs that have been designated by the Member States through a legal act and for which the necessary conservation measures are applied to ensure the conservation of the species and habitat types of EU importance present.
The EU Natura 2000 Network contains over 27,000 sites across all 27 EU Member States (status 2016). Together, they cover over 1 million square kilometres, which represents almost a fifth of Europe’s land area (18,36%) as well as an important part of the surrounding seas. This makes it one of the largest coordinated networks of conservation areas anywhere in the world.
The European Commission, with the assistance of the European Topic Centre for Biological Diversity, is responsible for assessing, at both a national and a biogeographical level, whether each species and habitat type is sufficiently covered by the existing sites in the network. It has concluded that Natura 2000 network is now largely complete on land, but it has requested certain Member States to propose further sites for a number of species and habitats in order to complete the network in their territory.
Progress in designating Natura 2000 sites in the marine environment has however been much slower than on land. To date (June 2016), more than 3000 marine Natura 2000 sites have been designated, which cover almost 6% of the total EU marine area (over 360,000 km²). One of the key reasons for slow progress in marine site designation has been the lack of scientific information on the distribution of EU protected marine habitats and species, especially at a level of detail required to enable sites to be identified, and appropriate management to be introduced.
The European Commission and Member States have recently stepped up efforts to designate further marine sites, especially in offshore marine jurisdictional zones beyond the Member States' territorial waters.
Further information:Natura 2000
A site can only be delisted if it has lost its conservation value due to natural developments and cannot be restored by management measures. However, it is important to bear in mind that the mere degradation of the site, due for example to inadequate management, would be a breach to Article 6.2. Such sites cannot be declassified simply because they have been allowed to deteriorate, and have not been managed correctly in accordance with the requirements of the two Nature Directives. Sites that have been destroyed and duly compensated for in application of Article 6.4 of the Habitats Directive can be removed from the list. Also sites for which it appears that the initial designation or delimitation was based on erroneous scientific information can be modified or delisted. Any proposal for such modification by a Member State will only be authorised by the Commission if it is scientifically duly underpinned.
Further information: ECJ ruling Case C-301/12.
The European Commission, with the help of the European Environment Agency, has created a public on-line GIS mapping system – called the Natura 2000 viewer - which gives the precise location of each Natura 2000 site in the EU Network. The user can search for, and query, any site anywhere in the EU. Thanks to the large scale of the maps, site boundaries and key landscape features are easily visible.
The Natura 2000 viewer also provides access to the Standard Data Form (SDF) that accompanies every site. The SDF records the species and habitat types of EU importance for which the site has been designated, as well as their estimated population size and degree of conservation within that site at the time of designation.
More detailed Information on Natura 2000 sites is also available from the competent nature conservation authorities in each Member State.
Further information:Natura 2000 viewer
People often associate nature conservation with strict nature reserves where human activities are systematically excluded. Natura 2000 adopts a different approach. It fully recognises that man is an integral part of nature and the two work best in partnership with one another.
Natura 2000 site designation does not mean therefore that all economic activities must be stopped. In some cases, adaptations or changes may indeed be required to safeguard the species and habitats for which the site has been designated, or to help restore them back to a good state of conservation. But in many other cases, the existing activities will continue as before.
In fact, for numerous sites, the species and habitats present may be entirely dependent on the continuation of such activities for their long term survival, and, in such cases, it will be important to find ways to continue to support, and if appropriate, enhance such activities – eg regular mowing or grazing or scrub control.
It is therefore not possible to generalise. Much depends on the specific environmental, as well as social and economic circumstances of each site and the precise ecological requirements of the species and habitat types present. This can only be assessed on a case by case basis.
Traditional activities will be allowed to continue as before if they have no negative impact on the species or habitat types for which the site has been designated. Again, this needs to be assessed on a case by case basis. Only then will it become clear if there is in fact an impact or not. If there is a negative impact, then the studies will help to determine its extent and the best means of reducing or removing it (e.g. relocating the activities to another part of the site or adapting practices and their timing) so that they no longer cause the deterioration or degradation of the species and habitats for which the site has been designated.
Hunting is a typical example of ongoing activities that can be allowed to continue in a Natura 2000 site, provided it has no negative impact on the species or habitat types for which the site has been designated. The Birds and Habitats Directives recognise the legitimacy of hunting as a form of sustainable use and do not a priori prohibit its practice within Natura 2000 sites. Instead, the Directives set a framework for controlling hunting activities to ensure there is a balance between hunting and the long term interest of maintaining healthy and viable populations of huntable species.
Further information: Sustainable hunting initiatives
People go in search of nature for a whole variety of different reasons. Many are looking to relax in the peace and quiet of a scenic environment, some are keen to explore new areas, whilst others are more interested in pursuing nature-based activities such as swimming, walking, cycling, fishing, hunting, etc. Whatever their motivation, Natura 2000 offers people a unique opportunity to discover and enjoy Europe’s rich natural heritage.
These recreational activities are compatible with the provisions of the Habitats and Birds Directives as long as they do not adversely affect the habitats and species present. The key often lies in the sensitive planning and wise use of resources to ensure they do not end up destroying the very thing upon which they are based.
Conservation objectives are intended to define as precisely as possible the desired state or degree of conservation to be reached in a particular site. Objectives should be set for each of the relevant habitat types and species present in that site.
Often they are presented as quantitative targets, e.g., maintaining the population of a particular species at a given minimum number of individuals or improving the degree of conservation of a habitat type from category C to B within 10 years.
Setting clear conservation objectives for Natura 2000 is essential for ensuring that each site in the network contributes as effectively as possible to the overall objective of the two Nature Directives, which is to achieve a favourable conservation status for all the habitat types and species they protect1 across their entire range within the EU.
Conservation objectives are specific to each site and should be based on a sound knowledge of the site and the species/habitats present, their ecological requirements as well as any threats and pressures on their continued presence on the site. This is because every Natura 2000 site presents its own unique set of biotic, abiotic and socio-economic conditions which can vary considerably from one site to another even when they host the same species and habitats.
It is also advisable to set broader conservation objectives for a whole suite of sites, or for certain species or habitats within a particular region or country (national or regional conservation objectives). This will not only help in setting the conservation objectives at individual site level but it will also help identifying strategic conservation priorities within and amongst the different sites. In this way the measures that have the greatest potential to improve or maintain the conservation status of a particular species or habitat within that region or country can be prioritised.
The Commission has published an interpretation note to provide guidance on setting conservation objectives for Natura 2000, which provides further explanations.
1 The objective of the Birds Directive is formulated slightly differently, but the ambition is the same.
Setting conservation objectives is the responsibility of the competent authorities in each Member State. The Nature Directives do not prescribe how this should be done as it is up to each Member State to decide on the form and methods for implementing their provisions. However it is the objective of the Nature Directives to reach Favourable Conservation Status for the species and habitats of Community interest and to use the Natura 2000 network to achieve that goal.
The Commission nevertheless recommends that, in addition to ensuring that conservation objectives are based on sound knowledge, all interested parties – be they land owners, land managers or conservation NGOs – are involved in the process of setting conservation objectives. This will help defining realistic and achievable conservation objectives.
Not only do land owners and managers generally have a very good understanding of the site management that has led to conservation successes or failures in the past but it is also important to enable a two-way discussion between authorities and key stakeholders about how site-specific conservation objectives and measures can best be defined. Discussing and clearly communicating a particular site´s importance, role and conservation objectives will also help to improve the awareness and engagement of all those involved.
Every country has its own mechanism for publishing the conservation objectives of its sites. They can be specified within the legal site designation decisions or acts or accompanying documents. They can be published on the competent nature authorities' website. They are also usually included, and further elaborated on, in the Natura 2000 site management plans or similar instruments, where such instruments exist. The Commission has recommended that Member States provide easily accessible information on Natura 2000 conservation objectives in a way that is relevant and easily understandable to land owners and managers.
Conservation objectives should be established by the authorities for all Natura 2000 sites. Nevertheless it can happen that the process has been delayed and that conservation objectives are still missing.
In such a case, it is the responsibility of the competent authorities to inform stakeholders on the implications of the designation of an area as a Natura 2000 site. They should in particular communicate whether certain activities should be adapted or possibly excluded in order to avoid the deterioration of the site, or which activities should be promoted in order to improve the site’s conservation conditions. The Standard Data Form (SDF) is a useful source of information to understand the reasons why a particular site has been designated. It should always be consulted when taking management decisions (e.g. when drafting management documents or planning new investments).
The minimum requirement would be to avoid deterioration of all significantly occurring habitats and species in the site, according to the SDF. When scientific information is missing a precautionary approach should prevail.
Detailed information about the site’s requirements can also be found in the Natura 2000 management plans where they exist or in other relevant documents (i.e. documents on conservation objectives, site designation acts, etc.).
Member States usually provide detailed information about their Natura 2000 sites, including reasons for their designation, conservation objectives, management plans and conservation measures, which are made publically available through web sites and other means (e.g. through local administrations). Some countries also provide specific and detailed information to landowners and key land users in every Natura 2000 sites (e.g. through particular notifications or through the setting up of local groups or committees where key stakeholders are involved, from the beginning, in the management of the sites, as is the case in France and other EU Member States). Landowners and land users can also address local conservation authorities to know more about specific Natura 2000 sites.
Establishing conservation measures in Natura 2000 sites is the responsibility of the competent authorities in each Member State. In accordance with the Habitats Directive (Article 6.1): “For special areas of conservation, Member States shall establish the necessary conservation measures involving, if need be, appropriate management plans specifically designed for the sites or integrated into other development plans, and appropriate statutory, administrative or contractual measures which correspond to the ecological requirements of the natural habitat types in Annex I and the species in Annex II present on the sites”.
The necessary conservation measures must be established by the Member States for all special areas of conservation (SAC) and this general conservation regime applies to all the natural habitat types of Annex I and the species of Annex II present on the sites, except those identified as non-significant in the Natura 2000 Standard Data Form.
The Commission has provided guidance on establishing conservation measures for Natura 2000 sites and published a review of the provisions of Article 6.1 and their practical implementation in different Member States.
A compilation of the most important rulings of the European Court of Justice related to Article 6 of the Habitats Directive is available, including on the obligation to take the necessary conservation measures in Natura 2000 sites.
Conservation measures are the practical actions that need to be implemented in order for a site to reach its conservation objectives. They must correspond to the ecological requirements of the habitat types and species present. When establishing conservation measures, the economic, social and cultural contexts must also be taken into account as well as regional and local characteristics. This principle is enshrined in the Habitats Directive (Article 2).
In order to identify the necessary conservation measures, it is vital to have a sound information base of the existing conditions in the site, as well as on the conservation status, threats, pressures and needs of the species and habitat types present and on the overall socio-economic context (existing land uses and ownership, stakeholder interests, on-going economic activities etc.).
Conservation measures, like conservation objectives, are generally specific to each site and must be established on a site-by-site basis. This is because every Natura 2000 site presents its own unique set of biotic, abiotic and socio-economic conditions which can vary considerably from one site to another even when they host the same species and habitats.
Member States have up to 6 years from the time a site has been adopted as a Site of Community Importance (SCI) to establish the necessary conservation measures and designate the site as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). These 6 years should be used not only to gather all the necessary information on the site but also to inform, discuss and negotiate with all interest groups about which measures would be most appropriate to implement in order to achieve the conservation objectives set for the site.
The Nature Directives do not prescribe how this should be done as it is up to each Member State to decide on the form and methods for implementing their provisions.
The Commission has provided guidance on the establishment of conservation measures for Natura 2000 sites.
As stated earlier, this needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis in function of the sites ecological as well as socio-economic circumstances. Conservation measures could range from:
In some cases, non-intervention and strict protection can also be considered as a conservation measure, especially for habitats and species that are very vulnerable to any kind of human intervention and so require strict refuge areas to ensure their continued survival.
The Commission has published a review of approaches for establishing conservation measures in different Member States and a wealth of examples of different conservation measures that have been implemented under a range of socio-economic circumstances across the EU.
Different types of measures may be necessary in Natura 2000 sites, including restoration activities that require works to be carried out at certain specified times, such as works to restore the hydrology of a wetland, re-planting some species, reintroduction or re-enforcement of populations, installations or infrastructure needed, etc. Regularly recurring actions may also need to be implemented periodically in the site to maintain or improve the conservation status of some habitats or the population of certain species. This type of actions may include, for instance, mowing or grazing grasslands, regular scrub clearance, management of hydrological regimes for wetland areas, etc. Surveillance, warding and guarding activities may also be necessary to ensure adequate protection of some areas.
The preparation of the necessary measures requires careful planning and the elaboration of detailed blueprints and technical specifications to ensure their correct implementation. Monitoring is usually also part of the planned conservation measures, as there is a need to follow-up and evaluate the results achieved in order to assess the efficacy of the measures and introduce the necessary adjustments when needed.
Finally, the implementation of conservation measures in Natura 2000 sites is often best achieved if it is accompanied by appropriate information and raising awareness of the population living in the area and especially of the main stakeholder and interest groups concerned by the actions or involved in their implementation. Awareness-raising is also especially useful where sites are open to access and use by third parties, i.e. persons who are not landowners, tenants or public authorities. Raising awareness and understanding among those who use these areas can be one of the most important management approaches.
To help ensure that sites are managed in a clear and transparent way, the European Commission strongly encourages Member States to elaborate Natura 2000 management plans, in close cooperation with local stakeholders. The establishment of Natura 2000 management plans is a responsibility of the competent authorities for Natura 2000. A management plan represents a solid and efficient framework for the implementation and the follow-up of conservation measures.
Although not obligatory under the Habitats Directive, Natura 2000 management plans are very useful tools as they:
Natura 2000 management plans can be specifically designed for the site or integrated into other development plans, provided that the Natura 2000 conservation objectives are clearly included within such plans.
Guidance for the preparation of Natura 2000 management plans, for the formulation of conservation measures as well as for conducting the management planning process in Natura 2000 sites is available on the European Commission's website2, as well as in many countries.
Financial support may also be available from the EU Structural Funds (European Regional Development Fund, Cohesion Fund), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural development (EAFRD) and the LIFE Programme, for drawing up, updating and implementing management plans for Natura 2000 sites.
Substantial use of these European funds has been made in the past for the preparation of Natura 2000 management plans, e.g. EAFRD in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, some German Länder; ERDF in Greece, Poland, Hungary, Italy; Cohesion Fund in Lithuania; and LIFE funding in Cyprus, Hungary, Lithuania and many other countries. These funds will continue to be used in the future for the revision and updating of management plans, depending on the national implementation programmes.
The ecological requirements of habitat types and species involve all the ecological needs, including both abiotic and biotic factors, which are deemed necessary to ensure the conservation of the habitat types (i.e. the habitat specific structure and functions necessary for its long-term maintenance, its typical species, etc.) and species present on the site, including their relations with the physical environment (air, water, soil, vegetation, etc.).
These requirements rest on scientific knowledge and should be defined on a case-by-case basis, which means that the ecological requirements can vary from one species or habitat type to another within a site but also for the same species or habitat type from one site to another. They are independent of any socio-economic considerations.
Available national and regional sources can be consulted to gather relevant and detailed information about ecological requirements of habitat types and species of EU importance to support their management. The Commission has also published management guidelines for some habitats and species, which provide relevant information in this regard.
Usually no; as regards the compliance with the Birds and Habitats Directives’ provisions, only the species and habitat types protected under these two directives and present on the Natura 2000 site require the establishment of conservation measures. However species which are not protected as such under the Habitats Directive but typical for an Annex I habitat type or necessary for the conservation of a species of Community importance (e.g. protection of anthills for birds) may also require attention. The competent authorities should be in a position to provide relevant information.
Furthermore, site management can also take into account other species and habitats that are not protected under the EU Nature Directives. Member States and indeed individual owners and managers are entirely free to draw up conservation objectives and/or measures also for species and habitats that are not covered by these two directives, e.g. for habitats and species that are protected or threatened at national or regional level.
The process of establishing the necessary conservation measures for each Natura 2000 site is not an optional provision; it is obligatory for all Member States. This means that, for each Natura 2000 site, those conservation measures, which are deemed to be necessary, must be established and implemented (ECJ case C-508/04).
It is however useful to distinguish between those measures which are deemed necessary for the conservation and restoration of the species and habitat types present on the site and those which are considered desirable and ‘would be good to implement if there are the means and opportunities for doing so’. The latter can ideally be identified as such in the Natura 2000 management plan while being considered to be best practice measures aimed at improving the overall level of biodiversity in the site while going beyond the obligatory requirements for the site.
Implementing conservation measures does not always imply active management or restoration measures, such as the removal of invasive alien species or the diversification of the age structure of forest stands. It can also include protective measures such as avoiding disturbance of a species during the breeding season.
A compilation of the most important rulings of the European Court of Justice related to Article 6 of the Habitats Directive is available, including on the obligation to take the necessary conservation measures in Natura 2000 sites.
The conservation measures should be described in sufficient detail to ensure their effective implementation. Their location and a description of the means and tools required for their implementation, as well as information on the roles and responsibilities of the different players involved should be provided. The language used when describing the conservation measures should be clear in order to make them widely understandable.
Conservation measures should be reviewed and adapted when required, e.g. on the basis of the actual results of the measures already done. It is important also to indicate estimated costs and available funding and to set a timeline to review the conservation measures taken, in terms of their actual implementation and their suitability for achieving the conservation objectives.
Deciding what conservation measures are needed falls under the responsibility of competent authorities in each country. The nature directives do not prescribe the type of conservation measures that should be implemented, other than to specify that they must correspond to the ecological requirements of the species and habitat types present on a site. It leaves it up to each Member State to design and implement the type of measures that it considers most appropriate and effective for its Natura 2000 sites.
The Commission nevertheless strongly recommends that, in addition to ensuring that conservation measures are based on sound knowledge, land managers or owners as well as relevant other interested parties – be they representatives of local communities or of conservation NGOs – are actively involved in the process of identifying the necessary conservation measures and preparing Natura 2000 management plans.
In particular, land owners and managers should be involved at an early stage in the development of site-specific conservation measures. Their participation in planning and preparation of conservation measures for a Natura 2000 site makes it possible to benefit from their expert knowledge and provides an excellent opportunity also to actively engage them in the implementation of these conservation measures. Current good practice involves ensuring the active contribution of all relevant stakeholders, e.g. through setting up steering groups or committees.
Good communication from the beginning will also help finding compromises and synergies between what is already done and what can be improved. The result is likely to be a more cost‑effective and less time consuming process. It will also greatly increase the likelihood of success as it will encourage and empower the different stakeholders to become more actively engaged in, and committed to, the management of their Natura 2000 site.
Once established, the conservation measures should also be communicated to the general public (e.g. on websites, in the local press, in official registers at local authorities).
It may happen that a particular conservation measure will benefit one species or habitat whereas it could have some negative effect on other ones. For instance, deciding to remove an invasive species could represent the elimination of a habitat for some birds. Smaller trade-offs are frequent but well-thought conservation objectives will help make the right decision. It is important to refer to them and see where the site-specific priorities for conservation measures are and to assess what will be the likely positive and negative impacts of the envisaged measures on those priorities.
Trade-offs can often be avoided or minimized by a smart timing of measures and by directing them to certain parts of the site or even by compensating an impact on one part of the site by conservation measures for the same habitat or species on another part.
Conservation measures must correspond to the conservation objectives set for each site and are usually site specific. However, similar measures may be needed in different Natura 2000 sites that have similar characteristics and objectives. In such cases, conservation measures can also be applied jointly (e.g. a Natura 2000 management plan can cover several sites that need similar measures).
It is for the competent authorities to determine how best to implement the necessary conservation measures that have been identified for their Natura 2000 sites. The Directive merely states that these can involve appropriate statutory, administrative or contractual measures. The choice between these measures is left to the Member States, in line with the principle of subsidiarity.
However, Member States must choose at least one of the three categories and ensure, that they can reach the conservation objectives with the following measures:
There is no hierarchy between these three categories. Thus Member States have the choice to use, on a Natura 2000 site, just one category of measures (e.g. only contractual measures) or a combination of measures (e.g. combination of statutory and contractual measures). The only binding conditions are that the measures are appropriate with a view to avoiding any deterioration of the habitats or significant disturbance of the species for which a site has been designated (according to Art.6.2 of the Habitats Directive) and that they correspond to the ecological requirements of the habitats and species present on the site (according to Art. 6.1 of the Habitats Directive). Such ecological requirements may reach from simple protection against deterioration to active restoration of favourable ecosystem structures and functions, depending on the actual conservation degree of the species and habitats involved.
Pro-active conservation or restoration measures can be achieved through contractual agreements with land owners and managers including agreements on how the costs of measures that go beyond legal obligations should be covered. Additional costs should be supported with adequate funds as far as possible and income foregone caused by imposed restrictions of use should be compensated. The degree of compensation will depend on the nature of the imposed restrictions and the actual loss as well as on local circumstances.
Natura 2000 payments, as well as agri- and forest-environment measures under Rural Development policy serve as a good example of how to establish contracts and agreements with land owners on the management of the land to assure the conservation of habitats and species. While Natura 2000 measures can pay for additional costs and income foregone derived from Natura 2000 obligations, agri- and forest-environment measures can pay for the additional commitments going beyond this baseline.
Land owners and local land managers have a key role in the implementation of Natura 2000. They know their land and have extensive experience in implementing practical measures on the ground. They are therefore vital partners in the development and successful implementation of Natura 2000.
Natura 2000 recognises that people are an integral part of nature and that partnerships are essential for achieving conservation objectives. Everyone has a role to play in making Natura 2000 a success – be they public authorities, private landowners and users, developers, conservation NGOs, scientific experts, local communities or citizens in general.
Forging partnerships and bringing people together also makes practical sense. Many sites in Natura 2000 have already been under some form of active land use for a long time which constitutes an integral part of the wider countryside. Many areas are valuable for nature precisely because of the way they have been managed up to now and it will be important to ensure that these activities are maintained well into the future.
In this way, the Habitats Directive supports the principle of sustainable development and integrated management. Its aim is not to exclude socio-economic activities from Natura 2000 sites, but rather to ensure that they are undertaken in a way that safeguards and supports the valuable species and habitats present, and maintains the overall health of natural ecosystems.
However, it must also be noted that some forests included in Natura 2000 have been shaped by natural processes, with very little or no human influence, and their management should aim at conserving their high degree of naturalness.
The Habitats Directive sets the framework for action and lays down the overall objectives to be achieved, but leaves it up to each Member State to decide how best to manage individual Natura 2000 sites in consultation with local stakeholders. The emphasis is very much on finding local solutions to local management issues, while at the same time working towards the shared overall objective of maintaining habitat types and species of Community interest at or restoring them to a favourable conservation status.
The implementation of Natura 2000 should include processes to build local capacities for the management of Natura 2000 areas. The provision of advisory services accessible to all parties involved in the implementation of Natura 2000 management plans or conservation measures by the competent national or regional authorities is strongly recommended. Some Member States already provide such services.
Participatory planning requires providing relevant information to all interested parties and enabling interdisciplinary, technically well-founded actions. Perception is based on the available amount and quality of information. This will require the identification of target groups and ad hoc information planning involving different tools and materials that are adequate to each group. It is important to consider their understanding of and to correct any possible misunderstandings on Natura 2000 conservation objectives and measures.
The Natura 2000 Biogeographical Process has been established with the goal to facilitate the exchange of information and best practice on the management of Natura 2000 and to develop cooperation throughout the Member States and regions. Financial resources from EU funds are available to increase capacity for the implementation of suitable conservation measures involving key local stakeholders such as farmers and forest owners, in particular under the EAFRD but also under LIFE and other funding programmes.
The Habitats Directive (article 6.2) obliges Member States to take appropriate steps to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and the significant disturbance of the species for which a site has been designated. The Birds Directive (Art.4.4) asks for a general avoidance of deterioration of bird species’ habitats.
In this context 'taking appropriate steps' means for the Member State to adopt the necessary legal and/or contractual measures to make sure that the deterioration of natural habitats and the significant disturbance of the species for which a site has been designated is avoided.
Land owners/managers/users will of course have to respect any legally binding provision adopted with this regard at the national, regional or local level (e.g. permit procedures). If only contractual measures are being taken by a Member State, then it is the responsibility of the latter to make sure not only that such measures are 'appropriate' in the sense of Article 6.2 but also that they are actually being implemented in a way that any deterioration of natural habitats and significant disturbance of species can be excluded.
In practice, this means that in Natura 2000 land owners/managers/users must avoid any actions that will have a negative impact on the ecological structure and functions of protected habitats or on the suitability of habitats for protected species (e.g. as feeding, resting or breeding places). It also means avoiding any actions that may cause a significant disturbance of protected species, especially during their breeding, resting or feeding periods.
Whether a particular activity will actually lead to the deterioration of a site or not will also depend on the overall ecological conditions of the site and the conservation degree of the species and habitat types present there. If these are likely to be negatively affected then preventive measures must be taken. In case of doubt on the effects of a particular measure, a precautionary approach should be applied.
A case by case analysis is therefore always recommended. Appropriate measures, regulations or conditions can be included for instance in the elaboration of management plans, so as to ensure that some ongoing activities are carried out in a way that prevents any disturbance to species or the deterioration of the habitats of EU importance.
Indirect effects must also be considered. Some preventive measures may be needed to avoid deterioration caused by external factors or risks, such as forest fires, upstream water pollution, etc., which can occur outside the Natura 2000 site but have an impact on it.
A compilation of the most important rulings of the European Court of Justice related to Article 6 of the Habitats Directive is available, including on the obligation take appropriate steps to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and the significant disturbance of the species for which a site has been designated.
Yes. According to Article 6.2 of the Habitats Directive, any deterioration of habitats and significant disturbance of species for which a site has been designated must be avoided. This also applies to activities that already existed when a site was included in Natura 2000. If such an existing activity in a Natura 2000 site causes deterioration of natural habitats or disturbance of species for which the site has been designated, it must either be addressed by appropriate measures to halt the deterioration according to Article 6.2 or by pro-active conservation measures established according to article 6.1 of the Habitats Directive. This may require, as appropriate, bringing the negative impact to an end either by stopping the activity or by taking mitigating measures. Some economic incentives or compensation can be foreseen where the efforts imposed on forest owners go beyond normal sustainable forest management practice.
For instance, it may be the case that some bird species nesting in the area require an adaptation to the timing or a restriction of certain activities to avoid disturbance to the species during sensitive periods or in particularly sensitive areas to avoid deterioration of specific habitats or natural features present on the site.
On the other hand, where there is a positive contribution of existing activities, these should be enhanced or optimised so as to maximise the potential contribution of ongoing management to achieving the conservation objectives.
The Member States are responsible for taking appropriate measures to avoid the deterioration of habitat types and the significant disturbance of species in Natura 2000 sites in accordance with Article 6.2 of the Habitats Directive. According to recent European Court of Justice rulings Member States must establish a specific, coherent and complete legal regime, capable of ensuring the effective protection of the sites concerned. Purely administrative measures or voluntary measures may therefore not be sufficient for this purpose.
It is also the responsibility of national or regional competent authorities to verify that the measures to avoid deterioration and significant disturbance are adequately enforced. The baseline for assessing a deterioration or disturbance is the degree of conservation of the habitats and species at the time when a site is proposed as a Site of Community Importance. It has to be evaluated against those initial conditions that are described in the Natura 2000 Standard Data Form. When needed, Member States can inform the European Commission of a need to update the Standard Data Form of a site further to some reasons (e.g. better scientific knowledge or natural developments). If accepted by the Commission, the situation as reflected in the updated Standard Data Form becomes the new baseline for assessing any possible deterioration or disturbance. In the case of deterioration, restoration will be required.
A compilation of the most important rulings of the European Court of Justice related to Article 6 of the Habitats Directive is available, including on the obligation take appropriate steps to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and the significant disturbance of the species for which a site has been designated.
The Habitats Directive does not define "plan" or "project", but jurisprudence has demonstrated that these terms require a broad interpretation since the only triggering factor for applying Article 6.33 of the Habitats Directive is whether or not they are likely to have a significant effect on a site. In the case of a project the definition used in the Environmental Impact Assessment directive is now applied also to the Habitat Directive whereby a project means the execution of construction works or of other installations or schemes, and any other interventions in the natural surroundings and landscape.
The Waddensea case (C-127/02) further clarified that activities which have been carried out periodically for several years on the site but for which a license is granted annually for a limited period, with each license entailing a new assessment both of the possibility of carrying on that activity and of the site where it may be carried on, should be considered, at the time of each application, as a distinct plan or project within the meaning of the Habitats Directive.
The European Court of Justice has also ruled that projects include:
The word “plan” has also, for the purpose of Article 6(3), a potentially very broad meaning. Referring by analogy to the SEA Directive 2001/42/EC, Article 2(a) of that Directive defines plans and programmes as:
‘Plans and programmes, including those co-financed by the European Community, as well as any modifications to them:
The need for an appropriate assessment of a plan should therefore be considered in function of the nature, purpose and content of the plan, and not simply on whether it is called ‘a plan’. Examples of plans likely to have a significant impact on a site are: land use plans and forest management plans that concern Natura 2000 sites, etc.
It is advisable that such plans consider and fully integrate Natura 2000 conservation objectives to avoid any likely significant effect on the sites. In any case, the unlikeliness of any significant negative effect must be verified on the basis of objective arguments (screening of the plan) and duly documented. The plan does not need not be subject to a full appropriate assessment in the sense of Article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive if this condition is fulfilled.
It is useful to recall that plans or projects that are directly connected with or necessary to the conservation management of a Natura site (i.e. Natura 2000 management plan) do not need to go through the Habitats Directive permit process. It generally assumes the effects of such measures for Natura 2000 site are fully considered in the Natura 2000 management planning process and that this assessment does therefore not need be repeated. Nevertheless if such a plan or project also contains a non-conservation component it may still require an appropriate assessment (C-241/08) if likely significant effects on the site cannot be excluded.
A compilation of the most important rulings of the European Court of Justice related to Article 6 of the Habitats Directive is available, including on compliance with Article 6.3 procedure.
3 See Guidance on the provisions of Article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive at: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/management/docs/art6/natura_2000_assess_en.pdf
Plans or projects that are likely to have a significant impact on a Natura 2000 site are not automatically refused. They must, however, undergo a step by step assessment of their implications for the site in view of the site's conservation objectives.
The steps are as follows:
These mitigation measures must be directly linked to the likely impacts that have been identified in the Appropriate Assessment (AA) and can only be defined once these impacts have been fully assessed and described in the AA. The identification of mitigation measures, like the impact assessment itself, must be based on a sound understanding of the species and habitats concerned. The mitigation measures may, for instance, involve a change or restriction on the dates and timetable for implementation of some activities (for example, avoiding certain works during the breeding season of a particular species). If these mitigation measures can successfully remove or pre-empt the adverse effects identified then the project can be approved. If not, it will need to be refused.
See flow chart on Article 6.3 procedure.
These two provisions are in fact, ‘opposite sides of the same coin’. Article 6(2) and 6(3) are both intended to prevent any significant negative effects on Natura 2000 sites. In the case of Article 6(2) the obligation is to take appropriate measures to avoid ‘deterioration …or significant disturbance’. Article 6(3) more particularly targets new plans or projects that could ‘adversely affect the integrity of a site’. Contrary to Article 6.2 where no exception is possible, Article 6.4 provides for a derogation regime that makes plans and projects with negative effects possible under strictly limited conditions (no alternative solution available, imperative reasons of overriding public interest, compensatory measures, etc.). The objectives of Art. 6.2 and 6.3 are therefore broadly similar.
Thus, where a plan or project has been authorised without complying with Article 6(3), a breach of Article 6(2) may also be found. This is the case when deterioration of a habitat or disturbance of a species for which the area in question was designated has been established (Case C-304/05, C-388/05, and C-404/09) ). Any plans and projects authorised according to Article 6(3) and 6(4) will also be in conformity with Article 6(2).
A compilation of the most important rulings of the European Court of Justice related to Article 6 of the Habitats Directive is available, including on compliance with Article 6(2) and 6(3).
The terms "imperative reasons of overriding public interest (IROPI)’ refer to situations where the plan or project envisaged is demonstrated to be indispensable. The term ‘imperative’ means that the plan or project is essential, rather than merely desirable. It also conveys a sense of urgency –that, in the interest of the public, the plan or project must be implemented as soon as possible.
As regards the terms ‘of overriding public interest’, only public interests, irrespective of whether they are promoted either by public or private bodies, can be balanced against the conservation aims of the Directive. The public interest must also be overriding: that is to say the plan or project must be of sufficient importance that it can be weighed against that Habitat and Birds directives’ overall conservation objective.
In the case of a plan or project adversely affecting the integrity of a Natura 2000 site hosting so called ‘priority’ habitat types and/or species of EU importance, the conditions of overriding public interest are stricter. They can only be justified if the imperative reasons of overriding public interest concern human health and public safety, or have overriding beneficial consequences for the environment, or are for other imperative reasons where, before granting approval to the plan or project, a positive opinion of the Commission has been given.
According to the provisions of Art. 6.3, an appropriate assessment is not only required for activities within a Natura 2000 site but for "Any plan or project … likely to have a significant effect thereon".The Article 6.3 procedure applies therefore to all plans or projects, irrespective of whether they are located inside or outside a Natura 2000 site (e.g. drainage upstream).
There are several similarities between the Appropriate Assessment done under Article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive and the other environmental impact assessments carried out under the EIA or the SEA Directives. The two are also often carried out together as part of an integrated procedure, and involve analogous steps (screening, assessment, public consultation, decision making). But, there are also a number of important distinctions.
Each one has a different purpose and assesses impacts with a different focus. In the case of the SEA/EIA, the assessment looks at impacts on fauna and flora in general whereas, for the AA, it focuses explicitly on the protected species and habitat types of EU importance within Natura 2000. An SEA or an EIA cannot therefore replace, or be a substitute for, an Appropriate Assessment, and neither procedure overrides the other.
The outcome of each assessment procedure is also different. In the case of the EIA or SEA, the authorities and proponents must simply take the impacts into account. For the AA, however, the outcome of the assessment is legally binding for the competent authority. Thus, if the AA has ascertained that there will be an adverse effect, or if it cannot rule out the possibility of such an effect on the integrity of the Natura 2000 site then the competent authority cannot approve the plan or project as it stands.
The Natura 2000 permit procedure is also not restricted to certain types of plans or projects. It is applicable to any plan or project that is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site.
Not always. It depends very much on the type of measure and the particular area where they are implemented. There are certain conservation measures that do not entail any cost or reduced income, or can be readily absorbed without extra costs or loss of income into day-to-day management activities (e.g. changing the species composition of forests stands where such composition is economically and ecologically unsustainable by introducing productive tree species that correspond to the natural vegetation or simply ensuring that the existing forest management practices are being continued where they have shown to be beneficial to the establishment or maintenance of a good conservation degree of species and habitat types present on a site).
Some conservation measures may even lead to certain economic benefits in the short or longer term (e.g. creation of better hunting conditions for game species, reduced game damage, better angling possibilities as a result of a more river-friendly silviculture, higher touristic interest, more nature-friendly and less expensive silvicultural methods, improved soil conditions, etc.).
However, there will inevitably be a number of conservation measures that do entail costs because they require extra man power to be implemented, require new investments into new infrastructure or equipment, or because they reduce the commercial opportunities available to the owner. These need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
The Commission strongly recommends that the Natura 2000 management plans also provide an estimate of the costs of implementing each of the conservation measures that have been identified for the site in question and also examine all possible sources of funding at local, national and EU level and from both public and private sources. This should also investigate the possibility of using innovative self-financing schemes (e.g. through the sale of Natura 2000 products, eco-tourism, payments for preserving water quality, etc. -see examples in Question 44).
The effective management and restoration of sites in the Natura 2000 network across the entire EU-27 requires significant financial investments. In 2007 the Commission estimated that ca €5.8 billion per year will be needed for EU-27 to manage and restore the sites in the network. However, the use of different EU instruments so far has been very significantly below the financial needs of Natura 2000 as defined by the Member States, covering only 20% of those needs4.
However, these costs are greatly outweighed by the multiple socio-economic benefits provided by the areas included in the network. In addition to playing a crucial role in protecting Europe’s biodiversity, Natura 2000 sites provide a wide range of other ecosystem benefits and services to society. According to recent Commission studies, the benefits that flow from areas designated as Natura 2000 sites are estimated to be in the order of €200 to 300 billion/year.
Although these figures provide only a first estimate, the preliminary results already show that the economic benefits for society derived from the Natura 2000 Network compare very favourably to the costs associated with managing and protecting this important resource, which represent only a fraction of its potential benefits.
The precise cost-benefit ratio will of course depend on a range of factors, including the location of the sites and their land use, but, all evidence to date points to the fact that a well-managed Natura 2000 Network will more than repay the costs related to its maintenance.
Natura 2000 is already proving to be an important motor of many local economies by attracting tourists, whose spending supports local economies. It is estimated that the expenditure supported by visitors to Natura 2000 sites is around €50–85 billion/year (in 2006). If only the expenditure of those visitors who have affinity for Natura 2000 designation (as opposed to natural areas in general) is considered, the range becomes €9–20 billion/year in 2006, generated by around 350 million visitor days.
The total expenditure provided by tourism and recreation supports between 4.5 and 8 million Full Time Employment (FTE) jobs. The benefits generated by the visitors with affinity to Natura 2000 would support from 800,000 to 2 million FTE jobs. This compares to a total of about 13 million FTE jobs in the tourism sector within the EU27 (in 2008). Furthermore, protected areas can provide additional benefits to the local and regional economy, by attracting inward investment and enhancing local image and quality of life.
Money can be saved through working with natural capital, saving water purification and provisioning costs. Water purification and provision are important ecosystem services that are provided by natural ecosystems, including protected areas such as Natura 2000. A number of major European cities, including Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Oslo, Madrid, Sofia, Rome, and Barcelona all benefit from natural filtration in different ways. These municipalities save money on water treatment due to natural treatment from the ecosystems. The savings can be passed on to consumers, resulting in lower utility costs for EU residents.
Information from the four European cities of Berlin, Vienna, Oslo and Munich allows an illustration of the benefits of protected areas for water purification and provision. Using benefit transfer, it can be estimated that the annual economic benefits of water purification are between €7 and €16 million and of water provision between €12 and €91 million per city. The average per capita benefits are between €15 and €45 per year for both water purification and provision combined in the four European cities analysed. This compares to average household water bills of €200 per year in the case of Germany.
As an EU-wide network, Natura 2000 is based on the principle of solidarity between Member States. It represents an important shared resource capable of providing multiple benefits to society and to Europe’s economy. But it is also a shared responsibility which requires sufficient financial investments to become fully operational.
While the main responsibility for financing Natura 2000 lies with Member States, Article 8 of the Habitats Directive recognises the need for EU-level support for the management of Natura 2000 and explicitly links the delivery of the necessary conservation measures to the provision of EU co-financing.
Management requirements of Natura 2000 have been integrated into different EU funding streams, as the Structural Funds (ERDF), Rural Development Fund (EAFRD), European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF), LIFE, etc.
This integration approach was chosen for several reasons:
There are several funding opportunities available under the new EU Funds for the period 2014-2020 but it depends on Member State authorities whether and how these opportunities are made available in the specific country/region.
In order to make best use of the EU funds available the Commission has encouraged Member States to adopt a more strategic multi-annual planning approach to Natura 2000 financing. This takes the form of Prioritised Action Frameworks (PAFs), which define the funding needs and strategic priorities for Natura 2000 at a national or regional level for the period 2014-2020. These PAFs are specifically designed to facilitate the integration of suitable conservation measures, including those for forests, into the new operational programmes for the different EU funding instruments (SEC(2011) 1573 final).
Yes, there is a specific measure referring to Natura 2000 and the Water Framework Directive payments. According to the new EAFRD Regulation (1305/2013), Natura 2000 payments shall be granted annually per hectare in order to compensate beneficiaries for additional costs and income foregone resulting from disadvantages in the areas concerned, related to the implementation of the Habitats and Birds Directives. Support shall be granted to farmers and to private forest holders and associations of private forest holders. In duly justified cases it may also be granted to other land managers (Article 30).
Natura 2000 payments are available for operations related to disadvantages and restrictions imposed in the designated Natura 2000 areas and defined in management plans or other equivalent instruments. Such restrictions must have a mandatory character i.e. must be fulfilled by all land managers in the areas concerned and are linked to the provisions on maintenance or restoration of the habitats and species and on avoiding their deterioration and disturbance.
This measure would also be available for forest owners as long as it will be included by Member States in their Rural Development Programmes.
Yes, there are other measures under the new EAFRD Regulation that could also contribute to the funding of Natura 2000. The most relevant ones are the following:
The new regulation requests that at least 30 % of the total EAFRD contribution to the rural development programme shall be reserved for environmental issues and climate change mitigation and adaptation through support for environment and climate related investments, investments in forests (articles 21 and 34), agri-environment and climate measures, organic farming, areas facing natural or other constraints and payments in Natura 2000.
Whereas the benefits of implementing particular conservation measures accrue to society as a whole it would be unjust if the costs of implementing such measures, either the direct costs or the legitimate income forgone were borne by the land owners/managers.
Member States can have their own rules to handle this issue and in many cases they support land owners and managers where they want to promote some kind of management that means additional costs or loss of income. There are financial resources available to cover such costs, e.g. from EU funds, in particular the EAFRD.
There is a need to examine whether some conservation measures can be financially compensated, in particular measures depriving the owner of revenue that would have been expected in the context of a sustainable forest management or requiring additional investments without productive return. Grants, contractual agreements, tax breaks, technical assistance, etc. are possible options to compensate owners for income foregone, services rendered to society as a whole and, if applicable, capital depreciation.
Avoiding deterioration is a legal obligation derived from the Habitat Directive that does in principle not require compensation. However, decisions on the provision of economic incentives or compensatory payments are to be taken at the Member State level, depending on the national context. For example, where restrictions or obligations are imposed to some kind of management that has been traditional in an area, causing a loss of income or additional costs, appropriate compensation to land owners concerned may be advisable. It can also be the case when the non-deterioration obligation goes beyond the daily vigilance to avoid deterioration and requires important pro-active management measures (e.g. removing an invasive species that has spread in the site).
LIFE has in the past funded a large number of nature conservation projects in the past and will continue to fund conservation measures in Natura 2000 sites, essentially through LIFE Nature & Biodiversity projects.
There is a call for proposals every year, with around 100 M€ available for projects supporting the conservation of nature and biodiversity in general. LIFE co-finances up to 60% of the costs of selected LIFE Nature & Biodiversity projects.
It is also possible to target nature conservation via projects that involve essentially communication, in which case applicants should look at the application package for LIFE Environmental Governance and Information.
Finally, the conservation of Natura 2000 sites may also be targeted as part of a much larger project targeting the Natura 2000 network as a whole at regional or national level. For more details, applicants (generally national/regional administrations) should refer to the application package for LIFE Integrated projects.
Yes, there is also a high potential for contributing to nature conservation through national and regional programmes, since the main responsibility for financing Natura 2000 sites lies with the individual Member States. In some Member States there are voluntary agreements to manage Natura 2000 sites in a way that is favourable to the conservation of the site and/or management contracts for the preservation of species and habitats that are financed through national funds.
In some countries, landowners can also benefit from incentives such as property tax exemptions and other tax benefits (e.g. in Belgium).
In addition, in some Member States landowners are entitled to full compensation for additional costs and for income foregone in Natura 2000 areas, e.g. where the designation of forest habitats means certain restrictions on timber production in Sweden.
According to Article 11 of the Habitats Directive, Member States shall undertake surveillance of the conservation status of the natural habitats and species of Community interest. The conservation status of all species and habitats of EU importance is regularly being assessed in the frame of the 6-yearly progress reports submitted by the Member States to the Commission in accordance with Article17 of the Habitats Directive and Article 12 of the Birds Directives. The aim is to determine the conservation status of each species or habitat type across its entire natural range within the EU. Four classes of conservation status have been adopted: Favourable (FV), Unfavourable-Inadequate (U1) and Unfavourable-Bad (U2), Unknown (XX).
In a number of Member States (e.g. Austria, Germany, France United Kingdom) a systematic monitoring programme has been developed to monitor the conservation degree in different sites.
The ultimate objective, of course, is that all habitat types and species reach a favourable conservation status, as defined in the Habitats Directive. But this will take time to achieve. The habitat types and species were selected because they were threatened or rare which means they were, for the most part, already in a bad conservation status to start with. There will therefore be a certain time lag before the conservation measures that have been implemented ‘bear their fruit’ in terms of improving the overall conservation status of the species or habitat across the EU.
Every effort is underway to meet this target and the most recent conservation status assessments have been published in 2015.
It is up to each Member State to decide how best to monitor the condition of the habitat types and species of EU importance at the level of each Natura 2000 site within their country. This responsibility falls on the competent authorities in each country. The latest monitoring results at the national or regional level should be made available to the public, for instance on the authorities’ website.
There is however no obligation for private landowners or managers to monitor the condition of the species and habitat types present in their land. Of course they are most welcome to do so as this is always very valuable information, for example as a means to deliver warning signals when the deterioration may occur.
The conservation degree of a particular species or habitat type in a Natura 2000 site is recorded and kept up-to-date in the Standard Data Form, which is publically available for each Natura 2000 site. Competent authorities and site managers can also be able to provide detailed information in this regard.
Article 11 of the Habitats Directive obliges Member States to undertake surveillance of the conservation status of the natural habitats and species of Community interest. Article 17.1 requires Member States to provide information concerning the conservation measures taken in Natura 2000 sites as well as an evaluation of the impact of those measures.
The new reporting format under article 17 (adopted for reporting on the period 2007-2012) requests information that should make it possible to evaluate the contribution of the Natura 2000 network to the conservation status of habitats and species and the overall effectiveness of the network.
This new reporting format includes the requirement to report on the implementation of management plans or other instruments used by the Member States to manage their network, the sites affected by projects/plans for which compensation measures were necessary and the main measures taken to ensure the coherence of the Natura 2000 network according to Article 10.
Considering the obligation for Member States to report on the implementation of conservation measures and on the impact of the measures on the conservation status, a monitoring mechanism at site level for conservation measures is recommended. Such a mechanism should include measurable and clearly verifiable criteria and indicators to facilitate the follow-up and evaluation of results.
Monitoring in Natura 2000 is usually under the responsibility of competent authorities. Close co-operation between nature conservation authorities and land owners and managers is advisable.
Monitoring and evaluation of results are essential with regard to being able to adapt conservation objectives and measures to any significant natural or other developments that may affect the conservation of habitats and species of Community interest present on the site.
Yes, land outside the Natura 2000 network can play a significant role in the conservation of habitats and species of EU interest, especially those that are vulnerable to fragmentation or isolation. Such land can help to substantially improve the ecological coherence of the network and the functional connectivity between Natura 2000 sites.
The areas outside the Natura 2000 network can also provide further refuges for the species and habitat types outside the designated sites. This is especially valuable in the case of species and habitats that are wide-ranging (e.g. bears and lynx) or have a wide distribution (e.g. riparian forests) since only a part of their total resource is included in the Natura 2000 network (sometimes less than 50%). Those areas outside the Natura 2000 network are needed for achieving favourable conservation status.
Article 10 of the Habitats Directive encourages Member States to manage features of the landscape that are of major importance for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of wild species of fauna and flora. Such measures may also involve land that is not designated as Natura 2000 sites. Article 10 has practical implications for landowners and managers only if Member States have taken specific measures related to that issue. Some countries are addressing this issue in national or regional strategies (e.g. the 'National Nature Nework' in the Netherlands, 'Ecoforests' in Latvia, the "Schémas Régionaux de Cohérence Ecologique" in France, the Strategy of ecological connectivity in Spain). The Green Infrastructure initiative of the European Commission will further encourage Member States to take such measures.
The importance of areas outside the Natura 2000 network for birds is reflected in Article 3 (b) and 4 of the Birds Directive, which require Member States to strive to upkeep and manage habitats inside and outside the protected zones in accordance with the ecological needs and to avoid pollution or deterioration of habitats.
The two EU nature directives also require the protection of certain species across the EU, both within and outside Natura 2000 sites, to ensure their conservation across their natural range within the EU. This concerns all naturally occurring wild bird species in the EU as well as other species listed in Annex IV and V of the Habitats.
In addition, Member States are also required to preserve, maintain or re-establish a sufficient diversity and area of habitats for all the wild bird species in the European territory (Article 3 of the Birds Directive). That requirement may imply habitat protection measures outside the Natura 2000 network.
As regards the provisions on species protection across their whole range, the two Directives require Member States to prohibit the:
These prohibitions as transposed into national legislation must be respected by all land owners, users and managers as well.
Further guidance on the species protection provisions under the Habitats Directive is available.
Derogations to the provisions on species protection across their whole range (see question 46) are allowed in some circumstances (e.g. to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water) provided that there is no other satisfactory solution and the consequences of these derogations are not incompatible with the overall aims of the Directives.
The conditions for derogations are set out in Article 9 of the Birds Directive and Article 16 of the Habitats Directive.
Further guidance on the species protection provisions under the Habitats Directive is available.
Implementing Natura 2000 is a responsibility of Member States but has very important implications for landowners and managers and their participation is of key importance. There is a real need and value in involving landowners and managers from an early stage. Landowners know their property, have their own management objectives and have a key role to play in the establishment and implementation of the management measures in their land. Hence they are key partners in the development and successful implementation of Natura 2000.
The preparation and development of management plans that address the site-specific conservation objectives and include conservation measures in Natura 2000 sites is strongly advisable. It is important to involve all relevant stakeholders in order to explore as far as possible the options which meet different expectations, to address and avoid possible conflicts and find solutions to compensate for economic loss (additional costs and income foregone) that could be caused by particular conservation measures which go beyond normal practice under sustainable land management.
Considering that Natura 2000 aims to contribute to ensuring biodiversity while taking into account socio-economic and cultural requirements, it is strongly advisable that all relevant stakeholders are previously identified and involved in the preparation and development of measures that address the conservation of habitats and species in Natura 2000 sites.
Different types of stakeholders may be more or less directly interested by the management of Natura 2000 sites. Authorities, landowners and managers are the most relevant in decision making processes, but the views of other stakeholders should also to be taken into account, in particular local communities and other land users, NGOs, hunters, anglers, etc. who may be able to contribute to the process with their knowledge and experience.
Public participation in planning and preparing site-specific conservation objectives and conservation measures for a Natura 2000 site allows taking into account the views of the people that live and work on the site or use it. It provides an excellent opportunity to create a social atmosphere more favourable to environmental conservation. The likelihood of success will be greatly enhanced if the different stakeholders are informed and consulted on and, where possible, involved in the management of the site. It may also be an opportunity to develop a multidisciplinary and professional approach as well as cooperation and possible synergies between different actors.
Involving all relevant players is an opportunity for avoiding or solving possible conflicts and for benefiting from others' knowledge and experience. Taking into account that the conservation status of protected habitat types and species is often influenced by the activities of a range of stakeholders (farmers, foresters, hunters, tourism sector, etc.) the communication with and between them is essential for reaching an integrated management and achieving the conservation and other objectives in a balanced way.
There are several methods of undertaking participatory processes. A participatory process in the management of Natura 2000 forest sites could include the following main steps:
Open, public access to information is extremely important, in particular information on conservation objectives and measures, obligations, recommendations, agreements, both at site and national/regional levels. Further to the necessary consultations, landowners and managers should be well informed about the reasons behind and the importance of site specific conservation objectives and measures in Natura 2000 sites. Therefore it is advisable that detailed description of the conservation objectives and measures, as well as suitable information on the location of key natural features and the respective conservation measures is made publically available. Contrary to some other plans, which may contain private and sensitive information, a Natura 2000 management plan is normally a publicly available document (see also Question 22).
Communication of relevant and understandable information is of paramount importance to enhance mutual understanding and to foster dialogue between stakeholders. It is also a prerequisite for fruitful discussions on conservation objectives and conservation measures. A good communication plan requires developing appropriate communication and information strategies about the general objectives of Natura 2000, the sites’ conservation objectives and measures, etc. This may involve establishing a multi-stakeholder working group or committee if possible and developing a transparent process for meetings and consultations (roundtables, newsletters, etc.). It is important that stakeholders are being properly informed not only about the constraints but also about the opportunities offered by Natura 2000.
Although there are no explicit communication obligations in the Habitats Directive, the Commission has stressed the importance and the need to communicate and explain the objectives of Natura 2000 to the wider public and in particular to stakeholders directly connected to the site for the management of the sites. The Commission has produced useful guidance on the general provisions of the Birds and Habitats Directives as well as guidance more specifically addressed to particular economic sectors (see Article 6 – Sector Specific Guidance)
Several tools are available to increase awareness, provide advice and build local capacities for the management of a Natura 2000 site and to develop a participatory process (see also Question 34).
Natura 2000 conservation requirements must be taken into account in the preparation and implementation of wider spatial plans and development plans and policies. This is usually done during the elaboration of such plans, through consultation with relevant authorities that can provide useful information to allow anticipating and preventing any possible effect on those conservation requirements. This can be achieved for instance by proper location of the planned activities, e.g. avoiding the most sensitive areas, etc.
Any plan that is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura site must be subject to an Appropriate Assessment of its potential impacts on the integrity of the site in view of its conservation objectives.
The Strategic Environmental Assessment provides a tool to assess, prevent and mitigate any potential impact on the conservation requirements of Natura 2000 sites when it integrates proper consideration of the potential impacts on the sites and the provisions of article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive concerning the Appropriate Assessment. (See also Questions 39 and 43)
The ‘Birds’ and the ‘Habitats’ Directives (BHD) interact with other EU environmental legislation that is also aimed at achieving good ecological status in freshwater and marine ecosystems, as the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).
Both the nature directives and the WFD aim at ensuring healthy aquatic ecosystems while at the same time ensuring a balance between water/nature protection and the sustainable use of natural resources. There are many synergies as the implementation of measures under the WFD will generally benefit the objectives of the nature directives. A number of guidance documents have been produced to assist and harmonise the implementation of BHD and WFD throughout the European Union. A compilation of the key questions about the links between EU water and EU nature legislation is available.
The nature directives are also clearly related to the MSFD in that all are concerned with aspects of biodiversity conservation in the marine environment, including a requirement to achieve good status for the elements of biodiversity covered by each Directive. Although the concepts of good environmental status (GES, in the MSFD) and favourable conservation status (FCS, in the Habitats Directive) or status of population (Birds Directive) are not necessarily equivalent they can be mutually supportive. The measures implemented under the nature directives can make an important contribution to achieving the wider objectives of the MSFD and vice versa. Frequently Asked Questions about the links between the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the nature directives are available.
As regards the assessment of impacts of plans and projects on Natura 2000, there are similarities and synergies between the Appropriate Assessment (AA) done under Article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive and the assessments carried out under the Environmental Impact Assessment or the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directives. These assessments are often carried out together as part of an integrated procedure.
The AA must however focus explicitly on the protected species and habitat types of EU importance within Natura 2000. Where projects or plans are subject to the EIA or SEA directives, the Article 6 assessment may form part of these assessments although should be clearly distinguishable and identified within an environmental statement or reported separately (see also Question 43).
Further Information:Case studies on synergies between WFD, MSFD and Nature directives and "Starter’s guide".
The nature directives interact with other EU policies in different ways. These policies take into account the nature protection provisions that apply in the European Union and support their implementation.
In particular, the main EU funds that support the EU's key policies (regional development, cohesion, social, agriculture and rural development, maritime and fisheries policies) integrate relevant objectives and measures that support the implementation and development of the Habitats and Birds Directives and the Natura 2000 network.
In the current financial framework, the European Structural and Investment (ESI) funds support a number of thematic objectives, which include: protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency. These thematic objectives are translated into priorities that are specific to each of the ESI funds.
The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund (CF) include among their investment priorities: protecting and restoring biodiversity and soil and promoting ecosystem services, including through Natura 2000, and green infrastructure.
The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund supports the protection and restoration of aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems and includes several measures that aim to contribute to the conservation of species and habitats protected by the nature directives and to the management, restoration and monitoring of Natura 2000 sites.
The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) includes among its priorities: restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems related to agriculture and forestry, with a particular focus on restoring, preserving and enhancing biodiversity, including in Natura 2000 areas.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has included a series of provisions to protect and enhance biodiversity and natural ecosystems, known as Greening, which include maintaining permanent grassland and ecologically beneficial elements in 'ecological focus areas' among other relevant measures.
The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) also includes a series of measures for the conservation of marine ecosystems, including specific provisions for establishing fishery management measures for Natura 2000 sites and other Marine Protected Areas.
As regards transport and energy policies, the nature protection provisions are taken and into account at the planning level and especially in the environmental assessments of plans and programmes. The Commission has also published specific guidance on Inland waterway transport and Natura 2000, on Wind energy developments and Natura 2000.
Guidance is also available on farming, forestry and aquaculture in Natura 2000 and on energy transport infrastructure and Natura 2000 (see Article 6 - Sector Specific Guidance at: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/management/guidance_en.htm)
The Natura 2000 network provides benefits to society and the economy through the delivery of different ecosystem services. These include the supply of tangible resources such as water and sustainably produced crops and timber (provisioning services), and processes that regulate water and air quality, prevent natural hazards such as flooding and soil erosion, and mitigate climate change through storing and sequestering carbon (regulating services). Natura 2000 areas also provide cultural services, for example by supporting recreation and tourism, and maintaining cultural identity and a sense of place. It is estimated that there are between 1.2 to 2.2 billion visitor days to Natura 2000 sites each year, generating recreational benefits worth between €5 and €9 billion per annum.
Recent studies promoted by the European Commission have evaluated and estimated the overall economic benefits provided by Natura 2000. The value of the benefits of the (terrestrial) Natura 2000 network – based on scaling up from existing site-based studies and from the value of services delivered by different habitats – suggests that these could be between € 200 and € 300 billion per year at present (i.e. 2 % to 3 % of EU GDP). This value should be seen as a first illustrative estimate of the scale of the annual benefits and not as a robust precise result.
In Europe, around 4.4 million jobs, and €405 billion in annual turnover, are directly dependent on the maintenance of healthy ecosystems, a significant proportion of which is situated within Natura 2000. Although these figures provide only a first estimate, the preliminary results already show that the economic benefits derived from the Natura 2000 Network compares very favourably to the costs associated with managing and protecting this important resource. The latter is estimated at around €5.8 billion/year – which is a fraction of its potential worth to society.
By protecting Natura 2000 sites and requiring conservation action, the network enhances the functioning of ecosystems, which in turn deliver benefits to society and the economy.
Further information:Cost and benefits of Natura 2000