Characteristics of the Natura 2000 network
Natura 2000 is an EU wide network of nature protection areas established under the 1992 Habitats Directive.
As stated in the European Commission strategy to protect Europe's most important wildlife areas, the aim of the network is to assure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats. It comprises Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) designated by Member States under the Habitats Directive, and Special Protection Areas (SPA) designated under the 1979 Birds Directive.
The establishment of protected areas also fulfils a Community obligation under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
The selection of Natura 2000 sites is based exclusively on scientific criteria, such as the size and density of populations of target species and the ecological quality and area of target habitat types present on the site.
The Directive does not lay down rules regarding the consultation process to be followed in selecting the
sites. This is for Member States to determine.
The directives do not say how much land and marine areas are to be included in Natura 2000 network. This will depend on the biological richness of the different regions. If, for example, a Member State is particularly rich in specific species and habitats, it is expected to designate sites in proportion to this wealth of biodiversity.
Although the establishment of Natura 2000 is not yet complete, an area equivalent to more than 15% of EU territory has now been proposed for conservation under the network.
Natura 2000 is not a system of strict nature reserves where all human activities are excluded. Human activities can continue on Natura 2000 sites, provided the future management is compatible with the objectives of biodiversity protection.
New activities or developments within Natura 2000 sites are not prohibited a priori, but are to be judged on a case by case basis. Procedure is defined in the Habitats Directive for assessment and subsequent decisions relating to development proposals that are likely to have an impact on designated sites.
Member States must ensure full compliance with the legal requirements of Natura 2000, regardless of whether they are in receipt of structural funds. However, it is particularly important to ensure compliance in situations that involve Community funded programmes.
In the light of this concern the Commission has already informed Member States that failure to present lists of Natura 2000 sites could result in the suspension of payments under certain structural funds programmes.
The threat of suspension of payments from such programmes was a precautionary measure to ensure that
Community funded programmes would not contribute to irreparable damage to sites before they have been officially proposed for protection under Natura 2000 policy.