Natura 2000 is a European network of important ecological sites underpinned by the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC) and the Habitats Directive (EEC/92/43). In compliance with Art.4 of the Birds Directive, EU Member States are required to designate Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to protect bird species listed in Annex I of the Directive as well as migratory species. In compliance with Art.3 and 4 of the Habitats Directive, Member States have to first propose Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) for habitat-types listed in Annex I and species listed in Annex II of the Directive. They further have to designate them as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). SPAs and SCIs-SACs form the Natura 2000 network.

ETC/BD support to the European Commission in the implementation of the Natura 2000 network mainly focuses on the Habitats Directive component of the network. The ETC/BD assists the European Commission in analysing SCIs proposals by Member State and building the Union List of SCIs. The Member States send their proposals to DG Environment (the Nature and Biodiversity section) via their permanent representatives using an agreed format-the Standard Data Form.

The database is then forwarded to the European Environment Agency (EEA) to check the quality and completeness of the data. A report listing any technical problems (e.g. empty fields) is sent to the relevant Member State and they are asked to correct the information by updating and/or completing the database.

Using the Natura 2000 database the ETC/BD prepares "Union lists of pSCI” for each biogeographical region following the process described in Annex III Stage 2 of the Habitats Directive. The evaluation process is described in more detail in the following document published by DG Environment (Hab. 97/2 rev. 4 18/11/97). The list of selected sites, priority characteristics, Community Importance, areas and co-ordinates of each site, is validated by each Member State within the relevant biogeographical region and published as a Commission decision in the Official Journal.

The contribution of the proposed sites to the conservation status of each habitat type and species is then evaluated at the biogeographical level. The ETC/BD prepares a set of draft conclusions regarding the sufficiency of the contribution of the proposed sites to the conservation status which are then discussed in a Biogeographical seminar between the Commission, Member States and other interested parties including Non Governmental Organisations (NGO).

The document published by DG Environment (Hab. 97/2 rev. 4 18/11/97) provides instructions to focus the discussions during the biogeographical seminars. Seminars are held for each biogeographical region. DG Environment chairs the discussions during the seminar while the ETC/BD provides a scientific evaluation of the sufficiency of the proposed sites. In practice the discussions are framed by two working documents

  • the draft Reference List (presence of Annex I habitat types and Annex II species by biogeographical region and by Member states)
  • the draft conclusions regarding the sufficiency of the proposed sites, giving details of which habitat types and species require additional proposals or corrections to existing proposals.

1. Biogeographical regions (Related to Habitats Directive)

The European Union has nine terrestrial biogeographical regions, each with its own characteristic blend of vegetation, climate and geology. Working at the biogeographical level makes it easier to conserve species and habitat types under similar natural conditions across a suite of countries, irrespective of political and administrative boundaries.

Read more at:

2. Reference Lists (Related to Habitats Directive)

Habitats and species which are subject for designation of Natura 2000 sites are listed in Annexes I and II respectively of the Habitats Directive (EEC/92/43). However, not all habitats and species occur in all Member States. Therefore ‘Reference Lists’ per country were introduced for each biogeographical region. Reference Lists indicate those habitat types and species for which each particular Member State has an obligation to designate pSCIs.

Importantly, Reference Lists are not species check-lists in the sense of listing all possible existing species of Community Interest in each Member State. Reference Lists do not include those irregular or vagrant species for which the designation of protected areas is not an adequate conservation method in a particular Member State. Reference Lists are regularly updated given the latest scientific information and changes in species distribution.

Read more about the reference lists for the biogeographical regions:

3. Reference Portal for Natura 2000

The Reference Portal for NATURA 2000 is part of the Standard Data Form (SDF). The portal provides those elements of the SDF which are subject to change over time and subject to changes due to technical developments. These elements are reference documents (e.g. the coding of species), technical support material (e.g. data-model, applications) as well as guidelines to ensure a consistent use of the SDF by all Member States and to outline the technical and administrative procedures on how to submit data to the Commission. Continue reading:

4. Meetings/Biogeographical Seminars

National lists of pSCIs at the biogeographical level are assessed by applying the agreed upon criteria. This work is carried out by the European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity. As it is not possible to establish one single quantitative criterion which is equally valid for all habitat types and species in all situations, the assessment is done on case by case basis, i.e. species by species and habitat type by habitat type per Member State and biogeographical region. During this process all available scientific information is taken into account. Read more:

5. Current state of the network

The designation of protected areas is a cornerstone for the conservation of biodiversity worldwide, from genes to species, habitats and ecosystems. Within the legal framework of the European Union, site designation is a crucial mechanism for the protection of biodiversity. Progress in this area is regularly communicated to the public via several indicators and statistics. More information at:

6. Manuals and guidelines

There are currently 233 habitat types listed on Annex I of the Habitats Directive and described in the EU Interpretation Manual.

However many countries, and some regions, have published their own guides to the habitats of Annex I. These vary from translations of the EU guidance, although often with photos, to detailed descriptions of the habitats as they occur in a given country or region. In some countries guidance takes the form of a table of correspondence with a national classification of habitats, as in Romania and the United Kingdom.

7. Public participation

8. EU enlargement and the Nature Directives