Europe and Central Asia

Designation of Natura 2000 sites


    The Special Protection Areas under the Birds Directive and the Special Areas of Conservation under the Habitats Directive together form the Natura 2000 network.

    Natura 2000 sites are selected on a scientific basis, for animal and plant species as well as for certain habitat types. Only ecological criteria can be used to delineate the sites. Sites under the Habitats Directive are first designated, through a so-called biogeographic process, as Sites of Community Interest (SCIs), and should then within six years be designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), with specific protection rules and a management plan or equivalent. Sites under the Birds Directives are designated as Special Protection Areas and should have adequate management immediately.

    The Natura 2000 network currently includes more than 25 000 sites and covers more than one million km2, a fifth of the EU's land territory. Natura 2000 is the biggest network of protected areas in the world.

    Natura 2000 represents and shows the huge variety of European landscapes: from the last untouched forests of Eastern Poland, to the extensive cork-oak-pastures in Spain, from peaceful Mediterranean islands to the busy port of Antwerp – Natura 2000 sites can be found in densely populated areas as well as on remote mountain peaks.

    Natura 2000 sites are laboratories for sustainable land use. They do not exclude any human activity per se, but allow any land use that does not compromise specifically agreed conservation objectives. The Habitats Directive gives a lot of flexibility even for harmful impacts allowing damage under special circumstances while requiring it to be compensated.

    Designation of Special Protection Areas for birds (SPA) as a component of Natura 2000

    The Birds Directive requires Member States to designate the most important areas for the bird species on Annex I and regularly occurring migratory birds as SPAs. BirdLife has developed a methodology to identify important bird areas (the IBA criteria). Using these criteria, and the data and expertise from its huge network of scientists and volunteers, BirdLife has produced national inventories showing the IBAs of all EU Member States.

    The European Court of Justice has in several rulings confirmed the value of these inventories as best available reference for the designation of SPAs (Natura 2000 sites), and has ruled that EU Member States, in the absence of better data, should designate IBAs as SPAs.
  • Related topics

    EU Nature and Biodiversity section

    Natura 2000 network

    Natura 2000 is the centerpiece of EU nature policy. It is an EU wide network of Natura 2000 sites, nature protection areas established under the Birds Directive (SPAs) and Habitats Directive (SCIs and SACs). The aim of the network is to ensure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats. Over 25 000 sites have already been designated, covering more than one million km2.

    IBAs and SPAs

    More than 70% of IBAs have been designated as SPAs and are part of the Natura 2000 network. Unfortunately many Nature 2000 sites lack proper protection, management, financing and monitoring. Also, the designation of marine IBAs is still far behind while economic pressures on the marine environment, including on key sites for marine biodiversity, is increasing.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.