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Managing and protecting Natura 2000 sites

Rules and guidance for everyone involved in managing Natura 2000 sites. This includes the legal requirements of national governments, and guidance for local landowners and site managers.


The Birds and Habitats Directives set out the overall legal framework for protecting and managing Natura 2000 sites. Each EU country decides how best to implement them.

Every site is unique. It is important that landowners and site managers work together to find local solutions to best manage the sites.

EU countries must first set site-specific conservation objectives. These should reflect the ecological needs of the species and habitats. This will determine the type of management that is required.

Conservation measures can then be implemented to meet these objectives using a variety of tools and agreements with landowners and users. EU funds are also available to support the management of Natura 2000 sites.

Setting conservation measures

Article 6 of the Habitats Directives defines how EU countries must protect and manage their Natura 2000 sites. They should take several factors into account: economic, social and cultural requirements and regional and local characteristics. There are three main sets of provisions.

  • Article 6(1): positive conservation measures. These involve management plans, and statutory, administrative or contractual measures, which correspond to the ecological requirements of the natural habitat types in Annex I and the species in Annex II present on the site.
  • Article 6(2): preventative measures. This requires EU countries to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as significant disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated,
  • Article 6(3) and (4) set out a series of procedural and substantive safeguards governing plans and projects likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site.

Implementing Article 6(1) requires EU countries to set site-specific conservation objectives and measures. This ensures that the Natura 2000 site is managed effectively and contributes to reaching the overall objectives of the Nature Directives – achieving a favourable conservation status for the species and habitats protected under the directive across their natural range within the EU.

Site-specific conservation objectives and measures should correspond to the ecological requirements of the habitats and species present on the sites. They should be comprehensive, realistic, quantifiable and measurable. Natura 2000 management plans are a way to set objectives and measures in an open and transparent manner.

Guidance on managing Natura 2000

Marine Natura 2000 sites

Under the Habitats Directive, Natura 2000 sites must be designated for nine marine habitat types and 16 species. The Birds Directive lists a further 60 bird species whose conservation requires marine site protection under Natura 2000. 

More than 3000 marine Natura 2000 sites have been designated, covering more than 9% of the total EU Member States' marine area.

The Marine Expert Group helps to implement marine Natura 2000. The Group was set up by the Commission to promote the exchange of experience, information and best practices in site designation and management.

The Commission is working on an EU methodology to assess and report on the management effectiveness of Natura 2000 sites and other protected areas.

Marine Natura 2000 and other policies

The Habitats and Birds Directives and Marine Strategy Framework Directive all include aspects of marine biodiversity conservation. See the Frequently Asked Questions on the interactions, differences and potential areas for greater coordination between these instruments to conserve marine biodiversity.

Fishing and the harvesting of marine aquatic resources are the most common and significant pressures facing marine ecosystems. The revised Common Fisheries Policy sets out the rules for adopting conservation measures necessary to comply with EU environmental law.

Socio-economic benefits of marine Natura 2000

European seas are amongst the most productive in the world. They offer a wide range of ecosystem goods and services. These support the livelihoods of over 5 million Europeans and generate a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year.