Indicator Assessment

Sites designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-147-en
  Also known as: SEBI 008
Published 02 Jul 2018 Last modified 11 May 2021
8 min read
This is an old version, kept for reference only.

Go to latest version
This page was archived on 22 Jun 2020 with reason: Other (New version data-and-maps/indicators/sites-designated-under-the-eu-3/assessment was published)

Since the introduction of the Habitats Directive in 1992 and the establishment of the Natura 2000 network, there has been a steady increase in the cumulative area of the network in EU Member States. In 2017, the network covered an area of 1 322 630 km2, encompassing nine terrestrial and five marine biogeographical regions.

The coverage of terrestrial  Natura 2000 areas is 790 213 km2, which is 18.2  % of the EU’s land area, i.e. above the global biodiversity target for protected areas of 17 % (Aichi Target 11).

Trend of sites designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives

Data sources:
Data sources:

Within the legal framework of the Birds and the Habitats Directives, each Member State is required to contribute to the creation of Natura 2000 by designating sites in proportion to the natural habitat types and the habitats of species of European interest present within its territory.

Since the establishment of the Natura 2000 network in 1993, there has been a steady increase in its cumulative area. Terrestrial and marine Sites of Community Importance (SCIs), designated under the Habitats Directive now cover 1 049 871 km2, while Special Protection Areas (SPAs), created under the Birds Directive, cover 756 142 km2 (Figure 1). Many sites are designated under both Directives (as both SCI and SPA). Taking into account this overlap, the overall area of the Natura 2000 network is 1 322 630 km2.

These steady increases have been attributed mainly to the acceleration of designations made under the Bird Directive and an increase in the designation of marine areas, as well as the increase in the number of EU countries.

Progress in designation of terrestrial Natura 2000 sites since 2011 and compared to global Aichi Target 11 of at least 17 % of terrestrial (and inland water) areas are conserved by 2020

Data sources:
Data sources:

Terrestrial Natura 2000 sites cover 18.2 % of the EU’s land area. This is above the global biodiversity Aichi Target 11, which aims to conserve at least 17 % of terrestrial and inland water areas by 2020.

 As of end 2017, 14 Member States had designated more than 17 % of their land area as Natura 2000 sites: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (see Natura 2000 Barometer for more information:

Note: More detailed information about progress in the designation of marine protected areas is provided in the EEA indicator Marine protected areas in Europe's seas (MAR 004).

Supporting information

Indicator definition

This indicator shows the current status of implementation of the Habitats (92/43/EEC) and the Birds Directives (79/409/EEC) by EU Member States. It does this by showing trends in spatial coverage of designated Special Protection Areas (SPAs), proposed Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), as well as the net area of the Natura 2000 network.  

The net percentage of protected areas helps to evaluate progress towards Aichi Target 11.


The units used in the indicator are the square kilometre (km2) for area and percent (%).


Policy context and targets

Context description

Context description

The establishment of designated sites under the Habitats and the Birds Directives is a direct response to concerns over biodiversity loss. An indicator on the change in coverage of these sites is a valuable indication of commitment to conserving biodiversity and reducing its loss.

The EC Habitats and the Birds Directives aim to conserve natural habitats and wild fauna and flora within the European Union. Member States are required to propose sites for protection of the habitats and species listed in the Annexes to the Directives.

Under the Birds Directive, Member States designate SPAs. The sites designated under the Habitats Directive include sites and proposed SCIs and SACs. The Natura 2000 network is composed of both SPAs and SCIs.

The indicator shows the trends in total area covered by SCIs and SPAs as well as the combined Natura 2000 area.


Global Aichi biodiversity target 11:
By 2020, at least 17 % of terrestrial and inland water areas, and 10 % of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.

2020 EU biodiversity targets — Target 1: Fully implement the Birds and the Habitats Directives
Action 1: Complete the establishment of the Natura 2000 network and ensure good management.

Related policy documents

  • EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy
    in the Communication: Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 (COM(2011) 244) the European Commission has adopted a new strategy to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020. There are six main targets, and 20 actions to help Europe reach its goal. The six targets cover: - Full implementation of EU nature legislation to protect biodiversity - Better protection for ecosystems, and more use of green infrastructure - More sustainable agriculture and forestry - Better management of fish stocks - Tighter controls on invasive alien species - A bigger EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss
  • EU Action Plan for nature, people and the economy
    Following a thorough evaluation of the Birds and Habitats Directives, the European Commission has adopted the Action Plan for nature, people and the economy  to improve their implementation and boost their contribution towards reaching the EU's biodiversity targets for 2020. The Action Plan focuses on four priority areas and comprises 15 actions to be carried out by end 2019. The Plan is complemented by detailed factsheets providing more information on each of the 15 actions. Measures will be taken at EU level, but Member States and stakeholders concerned will also need to act, with increased support and assistance from the European Commission.
  • Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including Aichi Biodiversity Targets
    In decision X/2, the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, held from 18 to 29 October 2010, in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, adopted a revised and updated Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, for the 2011-2020 period. This Plan provides an overarching framework on biodiversity, not only for the biodiversity-related conventions, but for the entire United Nations system and all other partners engaged in biodiversity management and policy development.


Methodology for indicator calculation

Trends in proposals for sites designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives

Member States have been given six years following the adoption of the list of SCIs to develop and enforce the necessary measures to protect and manage identified sites and, in doing so, designate them as SACs or SPAs. The sum of the area (km2) of each site is registered in the annual versions of the GIS Natura 2000 database and grouped per year of proposal/designation.

The figures relating to the total area of Natura 2000 sites have been obtained through GIS analysis. This avoids any risk of double counting sites that have been designated under both directives. The calculation of the Natura 2000 area is only available from 2011 onwards. From 2005 onwards, the area calculation for SPAs and SCIs is also based on GIS data, but before this date tabular data have been used. 

Information is collected from national authorities by DG Environment and processed by the European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity (ETC/BD). Further improvements on data flows are under discussion.

Methodology for gap filling

No gap filling is used in this indicator.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.



Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty

The main disadvantage of this indicator is that it only covers EU Member States.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Response
Typology: Policy-effectiveness indicator (Type D)
Indicator codes
  • SEBI 008
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled once per year
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage