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The Natura 2000 Network

The EU Habitats Directive is the most important regulation in environmental matters. This Directive establishes, amongst others, a list of species for which each Member State must create special areas of conservation. These areas set up the named European environmental network of protected areas, the Natura 2000 Network

Only 5 habitats and 16 species of the marine environment are included. According to these listed species, each Member State will need to present a proposal of marine protected areas. This will be developed in 3 seminars- Baltic, Atlantic and Mediterranean-, and the European Commission decides whether the proposals meet the established criteria or whether the country needs instead to protect more areas. The meeting  held on June 15-17 in Brindisi (Italy) evaluated compliance with the EU Habitats Directive in the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and Macaronesia.

What is the Habitats Directive?

The Habitats Directive was created in 1992 to address the commitments assumed after the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to protect at least 10% of marine areas and as a way of tackling the decline of EU habitats and species. This directive includes measures focused on protecting and recovering the environment and includes five annexes specifying the habitats and species that will be protected.

What is the Natura 2000 Network?

According to the Habitats Directive, each country must designate Sites of Community Importance (SCI) that will make up the Natura 2000 Network. Additionally, every country must include management plans for each SCI. In this event, the Sites of Community Importance become Special Areas of Conservation (SAC).

Apart from the SCIs, created to protect habitats listed in Annex I (link) and species in Annex II (link), the Natura 2000 Network also includes Special Protection Areas for birds (SPA), according to Annex I of the Birds Directive (external link), focused on protecting birds that temporarily or permanently live in the European territory.

What are the steps necessary to set up the Natura 2000 Network?

The EU was biogeographically divided into nine terrestrial areas: Alpine, Atlantic, Black Sea, Northern, Continental, Macaronesia, Mediterranean, Steppe and Pannonian. The marine environment is divided into Baltic, Atlantic and Mediterranean, which includes the Black Sea and Macaronesia.  

Each area was evaluated according to each country’s proposals. A committee integrated by the European Commission, the scientific community and some NGOs determines whether these proposals are Sufficient or Insufficient, for each species and habitat. If they are Insufficient, the corresponding country must develop new proposals for Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) to be evaluated by each country and the European Commission. In the case of Special Protection Areas for birds (SPA), these are directly included in the Natura 2000 Network, without undergoing the evaluation process.

Currently, all the biogeographically divided terrestrial regions have been evaluated as the Habitats Directive was first applied to land ecosystems since more information about these areas is available. In regards to the marine ecosystems, the Baltic and Atlantic bioregions have already been assessed. Some countries, such as Spain, must continue to create marine protected areas because their assessment for many species and habitats was deemed Insufficient.

The marine environment in the Natura 2000 network

The annexes of the Directive only include 5 marine habitats and 16 marine species. More important marine species like corals, sponges, sharks and algae must be included due to their endangered situation and because many of them are unprotected by international legislation and conventions.

As of present, Europe only protects 1% of its marine surface and is very far from complying with its commitments before the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which mandates the protection of 10% of the marine surface by 2012.