Building the Natura 2000 network


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 States and building the Union List of SCIs. National authorities send their proposals to EC using the agreed format called Standard Data Form (SDF).

The databases are then forwarded to the European Environment Agency (EEA) to check the quality and completeness of the data. A report listing any technical problem (e.g. empty fields or data not in compliance with the SDF) is sent to the corresponding Member State with request for completing and/or correcting the database.

Using the Natura 2000 database, the ETC/BD prepares "Union lists of SCI” 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 features, 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 representation and level of protection of Annex I habitats and Annex II species sites proposed by a Member State 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 SCIs to the conservation status of the targeted habitats and species. When needed, bilateral meetings or biogeographical seminars chaired by the EC DG Environment and gathering ETC/BD, Member States and other interested parties including Non Governmental Organisations (NGO), are organized to discuss remaining insufficiencies in site designations. 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.

Biogeographical regions

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. The same map is used for the Council of Europe’s Emerald network.

Biogeographical regions: EU 27

The methodology used to create the map is described in the following paper"The indicative Map of European Biogeographical Regions: methodology and development"

The biogeographical map covering the EU 27 terrestrial biogeographical regions can be downloaded from the EEA dataservice here. The spatial boundaries of the biogeographical regions can be downloaded here

Marine regions were created for practical reasons for the Article 17 reporting and they are used also in the assessment of marine Natura 2000 sites during biogeographical seminars and associated bilateral meetings.

  • Marine Atlantic
  • Marine Baltic
  • Marine Black Sea
  • Marine Macaronesia
  • Marine Mediterranean

Map of the Biogeographical Regions and Marine regions used in Article 17 reporting

Reference lists

Annexes I and II of the Habitats Directive (EEC/92/43) list habitats and species for which Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) must be designated as part of the Natura 2000 network. As the Annexes cover all the EU, 'Reference Lists' have been developed which list the habitats and species in a given Biogeographical region and indicating for which habitats and species the Member States in the region have an obligation to designate SAC.

Importantly, Reference Lists are not species check-lists in the sense of listing all species of Community Interest recorded in each Member State. Reference Lists do not include those irregular or vagrant species for which the designation of protected areas is not an appropriate conservation method in a particular Member State.

The Reference Lists are updated annually based on information reported by the Member States. Below are the Reference lists for the biogeographical regions.

For these lists x = present, SR = Scientific Reserve, EX = Extinct, and where the column is left blank = absent

Reference Portal

The reference portal is now at

Meetings/Biogeographical Seminars

National lists of pSCIs at the biogeographical level are assessed by applying criteria agreed upon in 1997, further adapted based on practical experience in implementation. 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.

The results of this assessment are discussed in a special forum called a Biogeographical Seminar. The general principles for biogeographical seminars are outlined here. These events are organized by the European Commission usually for each of the regions and involve all Member States of the region concerned. When and where necessary, Biogeographical Seminars are called repeatedly, depending on the progress achieved by the Member States

The Biogeographical seminars are organized as a discussion forum involving all stakeholders: Member States, European Commission, Non-governmental organizations, independent experts, observers from candidate countries and the European Topic Centre for Biological Diversity.

Where there is a need for a specific meeting between the European Commission and a Member State, a bi-lateral meeting is called which follows almost the same procedure as the Bio-geographical seminar. When a Member State has reached sufficient progress in site designation and there are not many questions left to be discussed, further correspondence between the Member State and Commission is carried out via mail.


As there was some uncertainty concerning the application of the Habitats Directive at sea, progress in designating marine sites has been slower than for terrestrial sites. A working group was set up by DG Environment which resulted in the publication of guidelines for marine Natura 2000 sites in 2007 (see section 'Manuals & guidelines').

Biogeographical seminars

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.

Natura 2000 barometer

The Natura 2000 barometer shows the current statistics on site proposals by Member State regarding Sites of Community Interest and Special Protection Areas. It gives the number and total area of sites designated both in terrestrial and marine parts of the European Union. The Commission produces, twice a year, a Natura 2000 newsletter in which the Natura 2000 barometer is published. The newsletters, which are published in a number of languages are available here


Figures on the number of habitat types and species in the annexes of the Birds and Habitats Directive are available here.

Union Lists (formerly known as Community Lists)

Statistics of the Union Lists are presented by European biogeographical regions. Union Lists are the official list of SCIs adopted each year by the Habitats Committee and are derived from the databases sent by Member States. However, the final total figures of the Union Lists and those presented in the Natura 2000 barometer (see above) may differ slightly due to different submission deadlines for both indices and as the result of negotiations on individual sites between Member States and the European Commission.

Detailed Conclusions

Detailed conclusions list the remaining work to be done with the Natura 2000 databases and on designation of new sites by Member State and by biogeographical region. Detailed conclusions are available here.

Natura 2000 viewer

The Natura 2000 viewer is available here. This allows the public to view all the Natura 2000 spatial data (sensitive species are removed). The Natura 2000 data can be downloaded here.

Natura 2000 maps

Maps of the Natura 2000 network are available here.

Natura 2000 in the general picture of protected areas in Europe

In October 2012 the EEA published a report on 'Protected Areas in Europe- an overview'.. The report provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of protected areas and aims to assist policy makers and the wider public in understanding the complexity of the current systems of protected areas. The report has a chapter devoted to discussion and analysis of the Natura 2000 network.

Manuals and guidelines

European Habitats Manual

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.

The habitats are also discussed in Evans (2006), "The habitats of the European union Habitats Directive", Proc. Royal Irish Acad.-Section B, Biol. Environ. 106 (3) , pp. 167–173 and Evans, D. (2010) Interpreting the habitats of Annex I -- Past, present and future. Acta Botanica Gallica 157(4) 677- 686.

Documents in support to sufficiency evaluation

The evaluation of the sufficiency of sites designated under the Habitats Directive is done through annual assessments of national proposed Sites of Community Importance (pSCI) and SCIs at biogeographical region level in order to ensure that all annex I habitats and annex II species included in the corresponding Reference Lists are well represented and protected by the Natura 2000 network.

The criteria used for site evaluation are based on some general principles provided by the European Commission in 1997 (Hab. 97/2 rev. 4 18/11/97). Further clarification was provided by the European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity in 2002 on certain species and taxonomic groups (Habitats SWG 2002-02 rev13) and on the evaluation process itself in an updated document prepared in 2016.

Marine guidelines

In 2007, the European Commission published specific guidelines on selection of marine Natura 2000 sites. The marine biogeographical seminars shall focus on Habitats Directive Annex I habitats and Annex II species known to be present in the marine environment in certain lifecycle stages.

The site evaluation criteria used in the terrestrial biogeographical seminars (see above) are applicable in the marine environment. However, additional guidelines for assessing sufficiency of Natura 2000 proposals (SCIs) for marine habitats and species were prepared by the European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity in October 2009, as a guiding document indicating which criteria could be used in sufficiency evaluations and their relative importance in decision-making. The guidelines include five habitat types from the Habitats Directive Annex I and 16 species from Annex II, which are truly or partly ‘marine’.

Public participation

There are a number of Fora relating to Natura 2000

The European Habitats Forum is a coalition of 17 NGO networks (e.g.,IUCNBirlife InternationalPlanta EuropaEUCCWWF , etc.) that provide input and advice to DG Environment and EU Member State Nature Directors, particularly relating to the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives and the establishment of the Natura 2000 network.

The European Landowners' Organisation (ELO), created in 1972, is a unique federation of national associations from the EU27 and beyond, which represents the interests of landowners, land managers and rural entrepreneurs at the European political level. The Natura 2000 Users' Forum was created by ELO and its partners to think about the challenges, the constraints and the opportunities land users have to face in Natura 2000 areas.

The European Commission, in close cooperation with Member States and stakeholders, has elaborated guidance documents with regard to the management of Natura 2000 sites. This webpage should contribute to enhancing the exchange of information, experience and good practice on Natura 2000 management.

LIFE+, the new Financial Instrument for the Environment, entered into force with the publication of the Regulation in the Official Journal L149 of 9 June 2007, for more information of LIFE+ funding please consult the website.

EU enlargement and the Nature Directives

Below you will find a list of links and files to download related to EU enlargement and the Natura 2000 network.

The DG environment website on the Habitats Directive and Birds Directive give additional information on this process.