CORINE Biotopes Sites

Database Status and Perspectives 1995

Topic report 27/96


Dorian Moss, Cynthia Davies and David Roy

European Topic Centre on Nature Conservation


This report was prepared under the supervision of Ulla Pinborg, Project Manager,
European Environment Agency

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The CORINE Biotopes Sites database was developed under the EU CORINE Programme 1985-1990 and maintained by the Commission’s European Environment Agency Task Force from 1991 onwards by the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology (ITE), United Kingdom. The CORINE Biotopes activity was continued by some EU Member States after 1991 and was simultaneously developed with EU PHARE support in several East and Central European states.

The CORINE Programme was a pilot programme set up by the Commission to study possibilities for CO-oRdination of INformation on the Environment. The CORINE Programme thus formed a background for the European Environment Agency to start its work. At the same time the site description concept as well as the CORINE Habitat Classification formed the initial basis for the Commission work on NATURA 2000. The CORINE Biotopes information has been used very differently by Member States as a source of information for the national NATURA 2000 Network processes.

Even if the data were unequal in quality, age and coverage, the CORINE Biotopes data in 1995 still constituted the most comprehensive site based geo-referenced information on biotopes in Europe.

Consequently the European Environment Agency’s Topic Centre on Nature Conservation (ETC/NC) in 1995 delegated the task to ITE of overviewing and analysing the CORINE Biotopes database and process.

This report gives an overview of the status of the database hosted by ITE in 1995, the site selection criteria used by Member States in site descriptions and the contents in terms of information on sites, habitat types and species. The report also contains a proposal for a re-orientation of the database as a background for the future European Nature Information System EUNIS, which is to be developed by ETC/NC for use both for the NATURA 2000 process and for the Agency pan-European reporting on the state of the environment.

The ITE CORINE Biotopes database in 1995 contained details of 7741 sites of major importance for nature conservation in 13 EU Member States, which cover 13 % of the land surface of those countries.

Table of contents

Executive Summary
1. Introduction

1.1. Context of the Current Review
1.2. Brief History of the CORINE Biotopes Site Database
1.3. Development of the Site Database Since 1991

2. Data Collection Procedures and Site Selection Criteria Applied in Each Participating Country

2.1.   Germany
2.2.   France
2.3.   Italy
2.4.   The Netherlands
2.5.   Belgium
2.6.   Luxembourg
2.7.   United Kingdom
2.8.   Ireland
2.9.   Denmark
2.10. Greece
2.11. Spain
2.12. Portugal
2.13. Finland
2.14. Other Countries

3. Content of the Database

3.1. Site Selection Criteria
3.2. Site Distribution and Surface Area
3.3. Habitat Data (Including Relevance to Annex I)
3.4. Species data (Including Relevance to Annex II)
3.5. Site Designation Data
3.6. Other Data fields

4. Use of the Database

4.1. Historical Use
4.2. Recent Use
4.3.CORINE Biotopes and the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC)

5. International Workshop on CORINE Biotopes

5.1. Introduction and Objectives
5.2. Conclusions of the Workshop
5.3. Initial Technical Advice to the European environment Agency for the Implementation of the Above Conclusions

Annex I
Attendees at the CORINE Biotopes Workshop, Paris, 5-6 October 1995
Annex II
Numbers of Biotopes Sites for Which Each Habitats Directive Annex I Tope Is Recorded, By Member State


The chapter on Nature of the report ‘Europe’s Environment - The Dobris Assessment’ published in 1995 gives a good illustration of the great amount of data on species and habitats gathered at a pan-European scale within the CORINE Biotopes sites database. To some extend, it also shows the very pioneer stage of collecting data on nature in a standardised way which would allow comparisons from one country to another.

It is generally accepted that collection of information on nature and biodiversity faces specific difficulties, inherent to the wide diversity of contributors to this information, ranging from individual volunteers, NGOs to professionals, but also to the structuring character of nature: nature is everywhere!

Promoters of the CORINE Biotopes sites database had to face the big challenge of producing relevant information at European level within the period of an experimental programme, e.g. between 1985 and 1990. Trying to get a comprehensive coverage of the distribution of species and habitats, even at a small scale was not realistic, since European Atlases of species were themselves far from being achieved. On the other hand, there was an urgent need for a background information allowing the preparation of the Fauna, Flora and Habitat Directive. This explains why the choice was to develop an inventory based on the selection of sites of major ecological interest in Europe, which necessarily implied a subjective approach since the defined criteria for such a selection were interpreted differently in the various countries and therefore were difficult to apply.

As part of the 1995 workplan of the European Environment Agency (EEA) Topic Centre for Nature Conservation (ETC/NC) a pan-European CORINE Biotopes Workshop was held in Paris in October 1995. The conclusions pointed to the need to learn as many lessons as possible from the CORINE experience and to incorporate all the relevant data for the further development of an EEA Information System on Nature in Europe (EUNIS). Considering the needs for the assessment of European biodiversity and in particular the implementation of the Natura 2000 Network, the new System should cover both data on the wide countryside and more specific sites.

The present report was obviously to be written by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (Natural Environment Research Council), Monks Wood, Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, PE17 2LS, United Kingdom, due to its long involvement in the CORINE Biotopes programme. It gives a good overview of the present status of the database and the necessary historical background for further collection of data on nature at European level. It was produced under a subcontract with ETC/NC for EEA.

Juan-Manuel de Benito
Project Leader of the European Topic Centre
on Nature Conservation

Executive Summary

  1. The 1995 Work Programme of the European Environment Agency’s Topic Centre on Nature Conservation (ETC/NC) includes a task, which required the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE) to review the content of the CORINE Biotopes Sites database and the site selection criteria used in the different EU Member States, and to propose a reorientation of the daabase as an instrument for European nature policy implementation at national and/or community level, in accordance with the need of the European Environment Agency (EEA).

  2. The CORINE Biotopes Sites database was developed under the EU CORINE Programme from 1985-1990 and maintained by the European Environment Agency Task Force from 1991 onwards. It contains details of 7741 sites of major importance for nature conservation in 13 EU Member States, which cover 13 % of the land surface of those countries.

  3. The aims and methodology of the database are outlined in brief. Developments within the EU and to neighbouring areas to the east and north since 1991 are described. Data sources, collection procedures and selection criteria used in each participating country are discussed.

  4. The database contents are analysed. Site selection criteria have not been specified in every country : in total they are known for 44% of sites, ranging from 0% to 100% in different countries. 22% of sites are selected for habitats, 19% for bird species, and smaller numbers for other species groups.

  5. The data on habitats include 1530 different habitat types, and over 57000 site-habitat records. 63% of sites have habitat types listed on Annex I of the Habitats Directive, representing over 15000 of the site-habitat records. Percentage habitat cover is recorded for 46% of sites.

  6. Data on species include almost 10000 mammal records on 203 species, 71000 bird records on 616 species and subspecies, 12000 amphibian and reptile records (188 species), 3500 fish records (404 species), 10000 invertebrate records (2845 species) and 112000 plant records (10000 species). Habitats Directive Annex II species are recorded at 20% of sites (mammals), 12% of sites (amphibians/reptiles), 5% of sites (fish), 4% of sites (invertebrates), and 9% of sites (plants), and Birds Directive Annex I species at 62% of sites.

  7. 26% of sites are unprotected by national or international legislation, 13% are protected in part, and 45% fully protected. Protection status is unknown for 16% of sites.

  8. Historical and recent uses of the database are discussed, and particular attention is given to the relationship with the development and implementation of the Habitats Directive.

  9. An international workshop involving 76 scientists and scientific administrators from 24 countries was held to discuss the goals for a reoriented database. The workshop concluded that :

  • the ultimate aim is a scientifically objective record of the presence and status of habitats and species across the EU and in collaborating states

  • in reaching this goal, the experiences gained in CORINE Biotopes, and where appropriate the existing structures and data, should be taken into account

  • the revised system should be distinguised from the NATURA 2000 Network, but should share data structures and systems

  • its immediate aim should be in support of NATURA 2000 through validation of the completeness and integrity of the NATURA 2000 Network, and should lead to appraisal in the longer term of the effectiveness of the Habitats Directive in achieving its objectives, and to provision of information which might guide the evolution of its Annexes

  1. Further conclusions of the Workshop point to the ways in which the database could evolve from the incomplete CORINE product to a tool which would form an integral component of the European Information System for Nature (EUNIS), to be developed under ETC/NC.

  2. Initial technical advice is offered to the EEA in the present Report on the immediate implementation of the conclusions of the Workshop, in line with the emphasis placed on establishing effective support to the NATURA 2000 Network.

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