Natura 2000 Network

Objectives of an ambitious European network

The Natura 2000 Network is at the heart of the policy of conservation of the European Union and is a key element of the objective aiming to halt the decline in biodiversity.
This Network implemented following the application of the Birds Directive from 1979 and the Habitats Directive from 1992 aims to ensure the long- term survival of species and habitats of special concern, with high stakes of conservation in Europe. It is constituted It consists of a set of natural, terrestrial and marine sites, identified for their rare or fragile species of flora and fauna and natural habitats they shelter.

The structure of this network includes-:

  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for the conservation of wild birds species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive or which serve as breeding, moulting, wintering or staging areas for migrating birds;
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for the conservation of habitat types and plant and animal species listed in Annex I and II of the Habitats Directive.

Regarding the designation of SACs, each member State expresses its proposals to the European Commission, in the form of pSCI (proposed Site of Community Interest). After approval by the Commission, the pSCI is registered as a Site of Community Interest (SCI) for the European Union and included in the Natura 2000 Network. A ministerial order subsequently appoint the site as SAC.

The designation of SPAs is a national decision, resulting in a ministerial order, without prior consultation with the European Commission.

Beyond the implementation of a consistent ecological network of representative areas, the "Habitats" Directive provides:

Site Natura 2000 FR5300018 Ouessant-Molène © P. Rouveyrol & Forêts alluviales à Alnus glutinosa et Fraxinus excelsior © P.Rouveyrol


This ambitious European plan aims to preserve endangered species and maintain habitats while taking into account human activities and practices that have allowed to protect them until today

To achieve this objective, the member States are free to use regulatory, administrative or contractual measures under the general principle of subsidiarity.

MNHN role in the implementation of the Natura 2000 Network

The scientific expertise of the "Habitats" and "Birds" Directives in France constitutes for the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle a priority for action for many years.

The Museum as a National Reference Centre for Nature (Article L 411-5 of the Code of the Environment), intervenes and supports the entire process of implementation of the Natura 2000 network and provides technical and scientific monitoring:

  • Development on the basis of available information (including inventory ZNIEFF), of the preliminary list of proposals from France.
  • Contribution to the designation phase-
    • Orientation of all the scientific and technical aspects of this European program as the expert of the Ministry in charge of Ecology;
    • Involvement in the European seminars assessing the consistency of the Network;
    • Database management of the national geographical and attribute Natura 2000 data.
  • Scientific expertises and publications of reference materials.
  • Involvement in the implementation of a strategy of knowledge on the Marine environment which will help to refine the relevance of the current network.

Following a joint request of the Ministries of Ecology and Agriculture, the MNHN coordinated the writing of -Habitat manuals. These works provide an updated summary of scientific knowledge and a comprehensive analysis of the conservation management methods of habitats and species in the French ecological network (Annex I and II)

The conservation status of species and habitats of Community interest is a major part of the overall assessment of the Natura 2000 network. In order to meet commitments of the "Habitats" Directive, the Ministry in charge of Ecology entrusted the MNHN the coordination of the periodic assessment of the conservation status of habitats and species of Community interest present on the territory (Annex I, II, IV and V).

This system has mobilized many scientific and management organisations and expert (the ONCFS, the ONF, National Botanical Conservatories) coordinated by the MNHN.

A first assessment of the conservation status of species and habitats of community interest has been sent to the European Commission in February 2008. It covers the 2001-2006 period and concerns 131 Habitats and 290 species of community interest present on the metropolitan territory.

It was established according to the assessment method developed at the community level and took place in three phases under the coordination of the MNHN:

  • Drafting of each assessment data sheet by an expert;
  • Collective proofreading of the data sheets by thematic groups of scientific-expert;
  • Validation of the data sheets by the Ministry with the support of a validation committee involving scientists, managers and members of the National Monitoring Committee of Natura 2000.

Once all the data sheets validated by the European Topic Centre for Nature and the final report sent to the Commission in 2008, the Museum achieved a summary report of the results in France

This status report on the implementation of the Directive should be updated every six years, which will clarify the evolution of different parameters.

Hyla meridionalis Boettger, 1874 © P.Rouveyrol & Rosalia alpina (Linnaeus, 1758) © N.Gouix

The French contribution to the Natura 2000 network

Given the diversity of its landscapes and the richness of the fauna and flora they shelter, France plays an important role in the construction of this European network. It is thus sprayed over four of the nine European biogeographical regions: Alpine, Atlantic, Continental and Mediterranean.

Under the "Habitats" (HD) and "Birds" (OD) Directives, the French network houses:

  • 131 habitats (Annex I of the HD), ie 57% of the habitats of Community interest;
  • 159 species (Annex II of the HD), ie 17% of the species of Community interest;
  • 123 species (Annex I of the OD), ie 63% of the birds in Annex I.

These lists are likely to be updated according to the evolution in the knowledge of the terrestrial and marine metropolitan territory.

The network being considered as levelled, efforts are now focused towards site management to maintain the favourable conservation status of habitats and species.

To allow the implementation of sustainable management of natural areas within the Natura 2000 network, France opted for a contractual policy. The loyalty of the local partners and especially the owners and managers is in fact a guarantee of long-term success of the network.

This contractualisation allows to harmonize the practices of the territory (agricultural, forestry, sports...) with the objectives of biodiversity conservation set for each site in a reference document called "Objective Document" (DOCOB).

Petite Camargue © P.Rouveyrol & Moyenne vallée de l'Ardèche et ses affluents © P.Rouveyrol

The situation in Europe

Europe has a variety of climates, landscapes and cultures that induces high levels of biodiversity. Natura 2000 is a European network of sites, representative of this diversity, where the preservation of natural habitats and species of the European Union is assured.

The network shelters about 230 types of natural habitats and nearly 1,200 animal and plant species recognized as of Community interest and which justify the designation of sites by the Member States under the 'Habitats' and 'Birds' Directives.

The situation in each European country is rather diversified to the extent which Europe does not impose any objective in term of surface. Each country sets its own sites designation and management method.

The assessment by the European Commission of the network of SACs and SPAs does not follow the same validation process. The network of SACs is the subject of an analysis carried out for the Commission by the European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity. The conclusions drawn by biogeographical realm are discussed through seminars that involve all the States concerned.

For the assessment of SPA network, the European Commission adopted a different approach and relies on several scientific material, including national inventories and data from publications of BirdLife International and especially IBAs-(Important Bird Areas).

The Habitats Directive aims, eventually, to reach a "favourable conservation status" for all habitats and species of Community interest. The monitoring of the conservation status is mandatory under Article 11 of the "Habitats" Directive for all habitats (listed in Annex I) and species (listed in Annex II, IV and V) of Community interest. Therefore, this provision is not limited to Natura 2000 sites and the data must be collected both in and outside the Natura 2000 network to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the conservation status. Pursuant to Article 17, Member States must establish every six years a report on the progress made ​​in the implementation of the "Habitats" Directive.

Cooperation between Member States and the European Commission has allowed to achieve the first systematic assessment of the conservation status of habitats and species based on a common protocol.

Click to see the methodological program pattern