Natura 2000 is the key instrument to protect biodiversity in the European Union. It is an ecological network of protected areas, set up to ensure the survival of Europe's most valuable species and habitats.
Natura 2000 is an ecological network composed of sites designated under the Birds Directive (Special Protection Areas, SPAs) and the Habitats Directive (Sites of Community Importance, SCIs, and Special Areas of Conservation, SACs). For each Natura 2000 site, national authorities have submitted a standard data form (SDF) that contains an extensive description of the site and its ecology. The European Topic Centre for Biological Diversity (ETC/BD), based in Paris, is responsible for validating this data and creating an EU wide descriptive database.
The spatial data (borders of sites) submitted by each Member State is integrated into a spatial database and, after validation with a specifically developed GIS tool, linked to the descriptive data. Any problems identified during this process are brought to the attention of the concerned Member States, with a view to ensure that a high quality, reliable database can be developed.
Natura 2000 therefore plays the key role in protecting the EU’s bio-diversity in line with the decision taken at the meeting of the European Council in Göteburg in June 2001 to halt bio-diversity decline within the Union by 2010.
How does Natura 2000 work?
The Habitats Directive outlines three stages in the establishment of Natura 2000:
- Proposals for sites for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network;
- Selection of a list of sites of Community importance from proposals made by Member States; and,
- Establishment of management regimes for the sites.
Proposing Sites for Natura 2000 - A Member State Responsibility
The responsibility for proposing sites for Natura 2000 lies with the Member States. Although they were required by the directive to make their proposals by 1996, there have been considerable delays. These delays have led the Commission to initiate a number of actions before the Court and also to link approval of certain Structural Fund programmes to the submission of site lists. These actions have resulted in significant progress and for most Member States substantial proposals have now been received.
(Commission working document on Natura 2000: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/info/pubs/docs/nat2000/2002_faq_en.pdf)
How can the Commission help Member state better implement Natura 2000?
In order to help overcome these problems of implementation, the Commission is developing guidelines. Guidance has already been published on management and planning issues and working groups with the Member States are developing further topics - conservation objectives, reporting and monitoring and hunting management. Regular contact and dialogue with the Member States is ensured both through the Habitats and Ornis (Birds Directive) Committees and the more recently established biannual meeting with Nature Directors. This provides an invaluable forum for early discussion of emerging issues. In those Member States which have made good progress with designations and which also have more open and participatory planning processes (e.g. Denmark, Netherlands and United Kingdom) the Commission generally receives fewer complaints. Therefore, stronger and more effective mechanisms for handling complaints within Member States could also reduce the volume of cases being handled directly by the European Commission. (Commission working document on Natura 2000: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/info/pubs/docs/nat2000/2002_faq_en.pdf)
On-going Problems- Consultation on Selection of Sites
The directive did 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, identification of the sites has been accompanied by detailed discussion with owners and users on management measures but in other cases there has been little or no consultation with stakeholders. This has given rise to considerable controversy in some Member States with a variety of administrative and legal challenges, which have delayed the submission of proposals. The Commission is not involved at this stage and has no powers to intervene in the differing procedures followed in Member States. (Commission working document on Natura 2000: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/info/pubs/docs/nat2000/2002_faq_en.pdf)
Management of Natura 2000 sites
The establishment of the Natura 2000 network is a major achievement. As the designation process nears its conclusion, attention now turns towards the management of the sites. Within six years after their designation as sites of Community importance, Member States will designate these sites as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and adopt conservation measures involving, if need be, appropriate management plans and other measures which correspond to the ecological requirements of the natural habitat types and the species of Community interest. Special Protection Areas designated under the Birds Directive need to be managed in accordance with the ecological needs of habitats of birds. According to the EU nature directives the conservation objectives should be met while taking account of economic, social, cultural, regional and recreational requirements. It is for the Member States to establish the most appropriate methods and instruments for implementing the directives and for achieving the conservation objectives of Natura 2000 sites.
The European Commission, in close cooperation with Member States and stakeholders, has elaborated guidance documents with regard to the management of Natura 2000 sites. A large variety of approaches and a considerable amount of experience and best practice has become and still will become available. This webpage should contribute to enhancing the exchange of information, experience and good practice on Natura 2000 management. (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/management/index_en.htm)
Natura 2000 Barometers
The Natura 2000 Barometer provides an overview on the Natura 2000 network of sites under the Birds and the Habitats Directives, in terms of information on area and site numbers.
The barometer is updated once per year, based on the most recent information officially transmitted by Member States. It is also regularly published in the Natura 2000 Newsletter.
The barometer statistics have been produced by the European Environmental Agency in Copenhagen.
The current Natura 2000 barometer is based on the national data that have been officially transmitted by Member States until December 2013. They can be downloaded here (MS Excel file with two worksheets): Natura 2000 barometer. (excel sheet at: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/barometer/index_en.htm)
How to read the Natura 2000 Barometer
Many sites have been designated according to both Nature Directives, either in their entirety or partially. The pooled area figures for the Natura 2000 network of sites (SPA s + SCIs) have been obtained by GIS analysis, using the spatial boundaries provided by Member States for each of their sites. The calculation used for Natura 2000 eliminates possible overlaps between Birds Directive sites and Habitats Directive sites.
The percentage of surface area data only relate to the terrestrial area that has been designated as a Natura 2000 site (or SPA or SCI), and does not include the marine area. Some Member States have designated substantial portions of their marine waters.
Sites having a terrestrial component covering more than 5% of their total area are counted as terrestrial sites whilst sites having a marine component covering more than 5% of their total area are counted as marine sites. Coastal sites with a marine area covering more than 5% but less than 95% of the total site are counted as both terrestrial and marine sites.
Note that several Member States have proposed large sites including ‘buffer zones’ as Natura 2000 sites, while others have proposed only the core areas. In both cases, Article 6 of the Habitats Directive applies to new activities, even if foreseen outside a Natura 2000 site, where these activities are likely to affect the sites’ integrity.