Indicator Assessment

Natura 2000 sites designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-147-en
  Also known as: SEBI 008
Published 22 Jun 2020 Last modified 07 Feb 2022
8 min read
This page was archived on 07 Feb 2022 with reason: Other (New version:

Since the adoption of the Habitats Directive in 1992 and the creation of the Natura 2000 network, the cumulative area of the network has steadily increased in EU Member States. In 2019, the network covered an area of 1 358 125 km2, encompassing nine biogeographical regions.

The coverage of terrestrial Natura 2000 areas was 784 994 km2 in 2019, which is 18 % of the EU’s land area. This is more than the global biodiversity target for protected areas, which aims to conserve at least 17 % of terrestrial and inland water areas by 2020 (Aichi Target 11).

Area of Natura 2000 sites designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives

EU-27 + UK
Data sources:
Data sources:

Within the legal framework of the EU Birds and 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 Natura 2000 network was set up in 1992, its cumulative area has steadily grown, encompassing nine biogeographical regions. Terrestrial and marine sites of Community importance (SCIs), proposed SCIs and special protection areas (SACs) designated under the Habitats Directive now cover 1 068 197 km2, while Special Protection Areas (SPAs), created under the Birds Directive, cover 854 465 km2 (Figure 1). Many sites are designated under both Directives. When taking into account this overlap, the Natura 2000 network covers an overall area of 1 358 125 km2.

Natura 2000 has stimulated a remarkable increase in the area protected in Europe and in 2019 the network covered 18 % of the combined terrestrial area of the 27 EU Member States plus the United Kingdom, with around 28 000 sites. 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 2019, 14 Member States — Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain — had designated more than 17 % of their land area as Natura 2000 sites (see Natura 2000 Barometer for more information).

There are various benefits from having Natura 2000. Common methodology and criteria adopted across the EU for setting up sites ensure better ecological coherence than if the network were organised within each Member State only. This is beneficial, for example, to migratory species and makes it easier to designate sites that cross national borders.

An important feature is that Natura 2000 sites are not necessarily pristine areas, stripped of human impact. Their aim is not to exclude economic activity. In fact, around 40 % of their total area is farmland, with forests making up almost 50 %. The main objectives of Natura 2000 sites are to avoid activities that could seriously disturb the species or damage the habitats for which the site is designated and to take positive measures, if necessary, to maintain and restore these habitats and species in order to improve conservation. While this approach encourages sustainable management, the network can still be subject to significant pressures, such as the intensification or abandonment of traditional, extensive farming practices or even land abandonment, in particular in areas with natural constraints. Natural, old-growth forests are also subject to management intensification, and their unique biodiversity and structural features are irreversibly lost. Management of the sites is therefore a decisive factor in achieving the conservation aims; however, we currently lack comprehensive information on how efficiently these sites are managed. Incorporating Natura 2000 objectives into spatial planning is crucial. In particular, maintaining or improving connectivity between sites is of utmost importance.

Note: More information about progress in designating 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 Directive (92/43/EEC) and the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) by EU Member States. It does this by showing trends in spatial coverage of special protection areas (SPAs) designated under the Birds Directive, sites and proposed sites of Community importance (SCIs) and special areas of conservation (SACs) designated under the Habitats Directive, as well as the net area of the Natura 2000 network.  

The net percentage of Natura 2000 areas helps to evaluate progress in reaching Aichi Target 11.


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


Policy context and targets

Context description

Context description

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

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

Under the Birds Directive, Member States designate special protection action areas (SPAs). The sites designated under the Habitats Directive include proposed sites of Community importance (pSCIs), sites of Community importance (SCIs) and special areas of conservation (SACs). The Natura 2000 network is composed of SPAs, pSCIs, SCIs and SACs. Once the lists of SCIs have been adopted, Member States must designate them as SACs as soon as possible and within six years at most.




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.
  • EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030
    The European Commission has adopted the new  EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and an associated Action Plan (annex)  - a comprehensive, ambitious, long-term plan for protecting nature and reversing the degradation of ecosystems. It aims to put Europe's biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030 with benefits for people, the climate and the planet. It aims to build our societies’ resilience to future threats such as climate change impacts, forest fires, food insecurity or disease outbreaks, including by protecting wildlife and fighting illegal wildlife trade. A core part of the  European Green Deal , the Biodiversity Strategy will also support a green recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 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

The sum of the area (km2) of each site is registered in the annual versions of the Geographic Information System (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 has only been available since 2011. Since 2005, the area calculation for SPAs and SCIs has also been based on GIS data, but before this date tabular data were 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


Document Actions