Natura 2000 is an ecological network of protected areas in the territory of the European Union.
In May 1992, the governments of the European Communities adopted legislation designed to protect the most seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe. This legislation is called the Habitats Directive and complements the Birds Directive adopted in 1979. These two directives are the basis of the creation of the Natura 2000 network.
The Birds Directive requires the establishment of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds. The Habitats Directive similarly requires Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to be designated for other species, and for habitats. Together, SPAs and SACs make up the Natura 2000 network of protected areas.
The Natura 2000 network contributes to the "Emerald network" of Areas of Special Conservation Interest (ASCIs) set up under the Bern Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats.
Each EU Member State must compile a list of the best wildlife areas containing the habitats and species listed in the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive. This list must then be submitted to the European Commission, after which an evaluation and selection process on European level will take place in order to become a Natura 2000 site.
Natura 2000 protects 18% of land in the 15 countries that formed the EU before the expansion in 2004. The size and number of protected sites is currently being negotiated for each of the twelve new member states. The European Commission has already warned thirteen EU member states over non-compliance with the bloc's environmental directives. The European Commission started an "infringement procedure" against Poland in April 2006, which could result in Poland facing legal action and EU penalties.
Members of the European Parliament in the plenary session of February 3, 2009 backed a report calling for further protection of Europe's wilderness. "The report also calls for more European funding to protect existing sites and "re-wild" ones that are currently being used by humans or agriculture. At present 13% of the forest zone of the 27-member EU is designated as Natura 2000 sites under the existing Birds and Habitats directive."
Natura 2000 locality in Slovakia.
Sign identifying a Natura 2000 listed site in Belgium.
The Foloi oak forest in Greece is a Natura 2000 protected area.
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