The Natura 2000 network currently includes more than 26,918 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.

The Natura 2000 network stems from the Habitats Directive. Under the Habitats Directive (Art. 3 and 4), Member States designate Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to ensure favourable conservation status of each habitat type and species throughout their range in the EU. Under the Birds Directive (Art. 4), the network must include Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated for particularly threatened species and all migratory bird species.

The Natura 2000 network is designated by each Member State or by accession countries during the negotiation and accession process. Each country has to conduct a comprehensive study of each habitat types and species present on its territory, define the reference lists of the species present and choose sites according to precise, scientific criteria. This procedure depends on which of the two nature directives – Birds or Habitats – warrants the creation of a particular site.

Under the Birds Directive

Each country designates Special Protection Areas (SPAs) according to scientific criteria. While the country may choose the most appropriate criteria, they must ensure that all the ‘most suitable territories’, both in number and surface area, are designated. Site-specific data are transmitted to the Commission using Standard Data Forms.

Will be the European Commission who determines if the designated sites are sufficient to form a coherent network for the protection of these vulnerable and migratory species, becoming an integral part of the Natura 2000 network.

Under the Habitats Directive

The choice of sites is based on scientific criteria specified in the Directive, to ensure that the natural habitat types listed in the Directive’s Annex I and the habitats of the species listed in its Annex II are maintained or, where appropriate, restored to a favourable conservation status in their natural range.

After a comprehensive assessment of each of the habitat types and species present on their territory, the establishment of criteria and analysis of all the potential sites, the countries submit lists of proposed Sites of Community Importance (pSCIs). Site-specific data are submitted to the Commission using Standard Data Forms, and must include information such as the size and location of the site, as well as the types of species and/or habitat found on this site and warranting its selection.

Based on the proposals provided, scientific seminars are convened for each biogeographical region. With the support of the European Environment Agency, these expert biogeographical seminars aim to determine whether sufficient high-quality sites have been proposed by each country.

Once the lists of Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) have been adopted, Member States must designate them as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), as soon as possible, but within six years at most. They should give priority to those sites that are most threatened and/or most important for conservation and take the necessary management or restoration measures to ensure the favourable conservation status of sites during this period.

The Commission updates the Union SCI Lists every year to ensure that any new sites proposed by the Member States have legal status.

All adopted Natura 2000 sites are published in the Natura 2000 viewer to locate Natura 2000 sites (pSCIs, SCIs, SACs and SPAs) from anywhere in the EU or find out more about the habitats or the protected species for which a site has been designated.