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Natura 2000

A European network of protected sites under EU legislation

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A network of terrestrial, coastal and marine protected areas, based on the legislation adopted by the European Union (EU) governments to protect the most seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe. This includes the Birds Directive adopted in 1979 and the Habitats Directive adopted in 1992. All EU Member States contribute to the network of sites in a Europe-wide partnership from the Canaries to Crete and from Sicily to Finnish Lapland. These sites ensure the conservation of vulnerable habitats such as wetlands, which in turn helps to safeguard the animals and plants which need these places to survive. Across the EU a diverse range of priority habitats are protected, including meadows, estuaries and cave systems and this benefits a huge variety of wildlife species throughout the EU. It is not only natural habitat types which are covered, but also semi-natural ones, which depend on management of humans (e.g. certain types of grasslands).


Supported by

European Commission


Year of creation



Regional (European) network of terrestrial, coastal and marine area. Approximately 25,000 designated sites, covering approximately 20% of the 27 member States of EU.1



The Birds Directive requires the establishment of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds.2 The Habitats Directive similarly requires Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to be designated for other species, and for habitats.3 Together, SPAs and SACs make up the Natura 2000 series. For designations each Member State must compile a list of the best areas containing the habitats and species listed in the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive.

For the identification of SPAs,2 an assessment is made to determine the most suitable areas for the conservation of the 194 European species and sub-species listed in the Birds Directive as particularly threatened and in need of special conservation measures. These include: a) species in danger of extinction; b) species vulnerable to specific changes in their habitat; c) species considered rare because of small populations or restricted local distribution; and d) other species requiring particular attention for reasons of the specific nature of their habitat. In addition SPAs are also designated for migratory birds.

For the identification of SACs,3 an assessment is made at the national level of the relative importance of sites for each natural habitat type and species listed in the Habitats Directive. For habitat type this assessment looks at representativity, coverage, conservation and restoration possibilities and the global value of that site for the conservation of that habitat type. For species, this assessment looks at population size and density, conservation and possibilities for restoration of habitat important for those species, degree of isolation of species present, and the global value of that site for the conservation of those species.



The member states are responsible for ensuring that all Natura 2000 sites are appropriately managed by conservation authorities in each country. This is often carried out in partnership with other authorities, voluntary bodies, local or national charities and private landowners. There is not any a priori prohibition of new activities or developments within Natura 2000 sites. These need to be judged on a case by case basis. There is a clear procedure in the Habitats Directive for assessment and subsequent decisions relating to development proposals that are likely to have an impact on designated sites. Sometimes certain activities have to be restricted or stopped where they are a significant threat to the species or habitat types for which the site is being designated as a Natura 2000 site. Keeping species and habitats in good condition is not necessarily incompatible with human activities; in fact many areas are dependent upon certain human activities for their management and survival, such as agriculture. The European Commission invites partnership with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) at the local level to support Natura 2000 sites in activities such as eco-tourism.


Business relevance:

Legal and compliance – Legal recognition and protection of these sites is necessary for inclusion in the Natura 2000 series. The protection of the sites is the responsibility of the Member States, who are obligated to comply with the directives and any violation could result in legal action and penalties. These sites have high visibility across Europe, due to their recognition by the European Commission. There are no specific compliance requirements for business specified in the directives, however as part of EU policy, the Natura 2000 network and the Habitats and Birds Directives on which it is based are mentioned in the eligibility criteria for finance by the European Investment Bank (EIB),4 whereby projects are needed to protect or improve such areas. They are also referred to in a number of other business related standards such as the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria5 of the Tourism Sustainability Council as areas where biodiversity benefits can be delivered. As areas that fall under international and national law, they are also included in the safeguard institutions of a number of other finance institutions and certification programmes that make specific requirements for operations in legally protected areas (see information on IUCN protected area categories for further information).

Biodiversity- Natura 2000 are site-scale areas that are important for the protection of European species and habitats. The criteria for identification include both high vulnerability and high irreplaceability of species in a European context, although identification is not restricted to these criteria. Many areas are therefore of high biodiversity value and, as site-scale management units, of high relevance for business in terms of avoiding risk from biodiversity loss and identifying opportunity associated with biodiversity conservation.

Socio-cultural values – – The criteria for designation of these sites do not explicitly mention social, cultural or economic values, however in managing the Natura2000 network, EU governments must take account of economic, social and cultural requirements and regional and local characteristics.3Human activities can therefore be expected within many of the sites, and for some may be a key component of their management



  • Natura 2000 Public Viewer is an online interactive GIS tool to explore the Natura 2000 network.
  • The Biodiversity Data Centre (BDC) provides access to data and information on species, habitat types and sites of interest in Europe.
  • Protected Planet is a tool for visualizing, mapping and contributing to information on protected areas. This includes information on Natura 2000 sites. Protected Planet brings together spatial data, descriptive information and images from the World Database on Protected Areas, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), WikipediaTM, PanaramioTM, FlickrTM, and Google MapsTM.
  • The Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT) for business provides a visualisation and GIS download tool for protected areas, including Natura 2000 sites


  1. The European Commission website provides information and access to publications and Natura 2000 data, and links to Member States’ Natura 2000 web pages
  2. The European Commission website – The Birds Directive.
  3. The European Commission website – The Habitats Directive.
  4. EIB (2009) Statement of Environmental and Social Principles and Standards. European Investment Bank, Luxembourg.
  5. GSTC (2008) Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria.


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