Natura 2000 is a set of areas in the Member States in which plant and animal species and their habitats must be protected. Protection arrangements are laid down by the "Birds Directive" (1979) and the "Habitats Directive" (1992).
Community legislation lists the species of fauna and flora and the habitats that are of special interest because of their rarity or vulnerability, and especially the species and habitats at risk of extinction. Following proposals from the Member States, the Commission designates areas for protection of these species and habitats, classified under seven biogeographical regions of the EU (Alpine, Atlantic, Boreal, Continental, Macaronesian, Mediterranean and Pannonian).
The network comprises Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for the conservation of over 180 bird species and sub-species and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for the conservation of over 250 types of habitat, 200 animal species and over 430 plant species. Natura 2000 today accounts for over 20% of the land area of the EU.
The Member States are responsible for managing these areas and must ensure conservation of the species and habitats designated by Community law. While human activities, such as farming, are still authorised within these areas, they must be compatible with the aim of conservation.