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Emerald Network Sites

A regional network of areas of special conservation interest


The Emerald Network is an ecological network made up of Areas of Special Conservation Interest (ASCI) set up by the Council of Europe in 1989 and launched in 1996 as part of its work under the Bern Convention (Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats).1 It is to be set up in each Contracting Party or observer state to the Convention. It involves all the European Union states, some non-EU states and a number of African states (Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal and Burkina Faso are Contracting Parties to the Bern Convention; Algeria, Cape Verde, and Mauritania have been invited to accede). The Emerald Network aims to identify and conserve areas of a great ecological value for both the threatened and endemic species listed in the Appendices of the Bern Convention and for the endangered habitat types which have been identified by the Standing Committee as “requiring specific conservation measures”.2 It contributes to the setting-up of the Pan-European Ecological Network (PEEN) and facilitates the establishment of national networks of protected areas. As the European Union is a Contracting Party to the Bern Convention, Natura 2000 is considered to be the EU contribution to the Emerald Network (See Natura 2000 for further information regarding these sites). This network of sites seeks to positively influence the conditions for the survival of habitats and species in the fragmented natural areas and human dominated landscapes of Europe, through creation of ‘core areas’ (to provide the environmental conditions to conserve important ecosystems, habitats and species populations); ‘corridors’ (to interconnect the core areas); and ‘buffer zones’ (to protect the network from damaging impacts).


Supported by

Council of Europe


Year of creation



Regional (European) network of marine and terrestrial sites



Emerald Network sites within member states of the European Union are those of the Natura 2000. Areas of Special Conservation Interest of the non-EU members and observers of the Bern Convention are those areas which fit one or several of the following conditions:3

  1. Contributes substantially to the survival of threatened species, endemic species, or any species listed in Appendices I and II of the Bern convention;
  2. Supports significant numbers of species in an area of high species diversity or supports important populations of one or more species;
  3. Contains an important and/or representative sample of endangered habitat types;
  4. Contains an outstanding example of a particular habitat type or a mosaic of different habitat types;
  5. Represents an important area for one or more migratory species;
  6. Otherwise contributes substantially to the achievement of the objectives of the convention.


While membership of the Network is optional, the obligations on the Contracting Parties to protect natural habitats are rigorous requirements set out in the Convention and forming part of international law. Sites are managed by the appropriate authorities in each of the contracting party states according to recommendations of the convention, including:2
1. ASCIs “are the subject of an appropriate regime, designed to achieve the conservation of the factors” responsible for the designation of the area;
2. “the agencies responsible for the designation and/or management and/or conservation of ASCIs have available to it sufficient manpower, training, equipment and resources (including financial resources) to enable them properly to manage, conserve and survey the areas;
3. appropriate ecological and other research is conducted, in a properly coordinated fashion, with a view to furthering the understanding of the critical elements in the management of ASCIs and to monitoring the status of the factors giving rise to their designation and conservation;
4. activities taking place adjacent to such areas or within their vicinity do not adversely affect the factors giving rise to the designation and conservation of those sites.”

Furthermore, the States are recommended to take steps, as appropriate, in respect of ASCIs to:

  1. Draw up and implement management plans which will identify both short- and long-term objectives;
  2. Regularly review the terms of the management plans in the light of changing conditions or of increased scientific knowledge;
  3. Clearly mark the boundaries of ASCIs on maps and, as far as possible, on the ground;
  4. Provide for the monitoring of ASCIs and especially of the factors for which their conservation is important.

Business relevance:

Legal and compliance: Protection under national law is not a necessary requirement for designation of an area as an Emerald site (ASCI). However many sites are likely to have legal recognition and protection, and those within EU countries in particular do have legal recognition and protection under the Natura 2000 network of the European Commission. While states implementing the Emerald Network are invited to pay conservation attention to ASCIs so to grant the long-term survival of the protected species and habitats, there is no precise recommendation to give legal protection to ASCIs, and the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention recommend only that the areas ‘be subject to the appropriate regime’. The Bern Convention emphasizes more on the achievement of conservation results than by a particular ‘area protection’ procedure. As sites recognised under the international Bern convention, these areas are regarded as protected areas by some international safeguard standards such as those of the European Investment Bank,4 and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development5 that largely do not fund activities within such areas unless no adverse impacts can be expected.

Biodiversity: The criteria for the designation of Emerald Sites include high irreplaceability and vulnerability of species and habitats in a European context and therefore many sites are likely to hold significant biodiversity value. As site-scale areas, these areas are of high business relevance in terms of mitigating and avoiding risk from biodiversity loss and identifying opportunity associated with their conservation.

Social: There is no explicit mention of social, economic or cultural values in the criteria or management regime of Emerald sites and the states implementing the Emerald Network have the flexibility to liaise in any way with local communities. Nonetheless as many of these areas are located in human dominated landscapes, human activities and social-cultural values can be expected.



Not applicable



  1. Council of Europe website with information concerning the Emerald Network.
  2. Council of Europe (1979)Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (1979)C Bern, Switzerland.
  3. Factsheet on Emerald Network Sites prepared by the Council of Europe.
  4. EIB (2009) Statement of Environmental and Social Principles and Standards. European Investment Bank, Luxembourg.
  5. EBRD (2008) Environmental and Social Policy. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, London, U.K.


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