Europe and Central Asia

Protection of Natura 2000 sites


    Natura 2000 sites under the Birds Directive or the Habitats Directive needs to be protected to save them from disappearing under roads, housing blocks, golf courses, and from the damaging or degrading effects of intensive agriculture and fisheries, hydro-electric dams and poorly placed wind farms.

    The Habitats Directive protects Natura 2000 sites from all plans and projects that could have a significant damaging effect on the species and habitat types present on the sites:

    • Screening: since there are usually many plans and projects on any given Natura 2000 site, the first step is to check which activities could potentially have a significant effect in relation to the conservation objectives of the site, either by themselves or together with other activities.
    • Appropriate assessment: if a plan or projects could potentially have significant effects, the competent authorities need to ensure that this plan or project is subject to an appropriate assessment, which assess the likelihood of significant effects. Plans or projects which are likely to have significant effects cannot go ahead.
    • Mitigation measures: often plans and projects can be adjusted to avoid significant effects on the nature on the site, for example by doing forestry operation outside the bird breeding season, or choosing a different location for a windfarm.
    • Plans and projects of overriding public interest: some plans and projects are of major importance and need to go ahead even if they have a damaging effect on the site. This includes for example actions which are necessary to safeguard public health and military security. Plans and projects of overriding public interest that damage Natura 2000 sites may go ahead in this case. However, EU Member States are in this case required to take compensation measures for the damage to the Natura 2000 site, and in some cases required to get a positive opinion from the Commission.

    Unfortunately the protection of some Natura 2000 sites is only happening on paper. The BirdLife Partners in the EU frequently come across plans and projects which are damaging or will damage Natura 2000 sites and which are a violation of the Habitats Directive.

    In some Member States, BirdLife Partners can challenge damaging plans and projects at the national level. However, in the absence of access to environmental justice or in the case of insufficient protection under national legislation, these cases frequently result in complaints by the BirdLife Partners to the Commission. The Commission then can take these cases to the European Court of Justice, which can impose fines on EU Member States.

  • EU Nature and Biodiversity section

    Conservation objectives

    Conservation objectives should be defined for each Natura 2000 site. These objectives specify which role the site plays in the network – the plants, animals and habitat types the site will protected and managed for, and the ecological role the site plays for them.

    European Court of Justice

    The European Court of Justice oversees the correct application of EU law by the EU Member States. Cases before the European Court of Justice are often brought by the Commission, responding to complaints by EU citizens or taking own initiative. The European Court of Justice can impose fines on the Member States if after a ruling of the Court EU law is still not applied correctly.

    Natura 2000 network

    Natura 2000 is the centerpiece of EU nature policy. It is an EU wide network of Natura 2000 sites, established under the Birds and Habitats Directives. 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.

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.