Protecting Europe’s biodiversity (Natura 2000)

Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora

It seeks to contribute to ensuring biodiversity in the European Union by the conservation of:
natural habitats, and
wild fauna and flora species.
It sets up the ‘Natura 2000’ network, the largest ecological network in the world. Natura 2000 comprises special areas of conservation designated by EU countries under this directive. Natura 2000 also includes the special protection areas classified under the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC).

Protection of sites (Natura 2000 network)

The directive’s Annexes I and II list the types of habitats and species of special areas of conservation whose conservation requires the designation of special areas of conservation*. Some of these are defined as ‘priority’ habitats or species in danger of disappearing and for which there are specific rules.
Annex III lists the criteria for selecting sites eligible for identification as sites of Community importance and for designation as special areas of conservation.
The designation process is in 3 stages:

Using the criteria in the annexes, each EU country draws up a list of sites hosting natural habitats and wild fauna and flora.

On the basis of the national lists and in agreement with the EU countries, the European Commission then adopts a list of sites of Community importance for each of the EU’s 9 biogeographical regions:
the Alpine region;
the Atlantic region;
the Black Sea region;
the Boreal region;
the Continental region;
the Macaronesian region;
the Mediterranean region;
the Pannonian region;
the Steppic region.

Within 6 years of the selection of a site of Community importance, the EU country concerned must designate it as a special area of conservation.

Consultation procedure

Where the Commission considers that a site which hosts a priority natural habitat type or species has been omitted from a national list, a consultation procedure may take place between itself and the country in question. If the result is unsatisfactory, the Commission may forward a proposal to the Council on the selection of the site as one of Community importance.
Conservation objectives and measures

Once special areas for conservation are designated, EU countries must introduce appropriate conservation objectives and measures. They must do everything possible to:
guarantee the conservation of habitats in these areas;
avoid their deterioration and any significant disturbance to species.

EU countries must also:
encourage the proper management of landscape features essential for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of wild species;
undertake surveillance of both habitats and species.

Assessment of plans/projects

Any plan or project that is likely to have a significant impact on a Natura 2000 site should be a subject of appropriate assessment. EU countries must agree on a plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not have a significant impact on the integrity of protected sites.
In the absence of other alternatives, some projects that will cause significant negative impact may still be permitted for imperative reasons of overriding public interest (i.e. social or economic reasons). Where this arises, EU countries must introduce compensatory measures to ensure the overall coherence of the Natura 2000 network.

Protection of species

EU countries must:

establish systems of strict protection for animal and plant species which are particularly threatened (Annex IV), prohibiting
all forms of deliberate capture or killing of specimens of these species in the wild;
deliberate disturbance of these species, particularly during the period of breeding, rearing, hibernation and migration;
deliberate destruction or taking of eggs from the wild;
deterioration or destruction of breeding sites or resting places;
prohibit the use of non-selective methods of taking, capturing or killing certain animal and plant species (Annex V);
set up a system to monitor the incidental capture and killing of the animal species listed in Annex IV(a);
report the measures they have taken to the Commission every 6 years. The Commission then issues a composite report covering the entire EU.

Application & Background

It has applied since 10 June 1992. EU countries had to incorporate it into national law by 10 June 1994.

The Natura 2000 network represents almost one fifth of the EU’s land area and more than 250 000 km2 of marine area.


Special area of conservation: a site of Community (i.e. EU) importance designated by EU countries where the required conservation measures are taken to ensure that the favourable conservation status of the natural habitats and/or the populations of the species for which the site is designated is maintained or restored.


Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (OJ L 206, 22.7.1992, pp. 7-50)

Successive amendments to Directive 92/43/EEC have been incorporated in the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds (OJ L 20, 26.1.2010, pp. 7-25)

See consolidated version.

Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament — The state of nature in the European Union — Report on the status of and trends for habitat types and species covered by the Birds and Habitats Directives for the 2007-2012 period as required under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive and Article 12 of the Birds Directive (COM(2015) 219 final, 20.5.2015)


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