In Europe

Natura 2000 is a system of sites created by the European Union and the United States for the protection and conservation of species and habitats considered significant for biodiversity on a European scale. By establishing a network of sites that connect the entire distribution of these habitats and these species, Natura 2000 aims to be a living and dynamic network for its preservation.

The sites of the Natura 2000 network can be of two types :

  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs), in order to protect migratory birds and those listed in Annex I of the Directive 79/409 /EEC , known as 'Birds Directive', adopted in Italy by the Hunting Act n. 157/92.
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), in order to protect habitats and species of plants and animals (birds excluded  in Annexes I and II of the Directive Dir . 92/43/EEC , known as 'Habitats Directive', implemented at national level by DPR n. Presidential Decree 357/97 and subsequent n. 120/03.

The areas that constitute the network are not strictly protected places where human activities are excluded; then Natura 2000 gives the opportunity to match the purpose of nature conservation with those of economic development of local communities thus becoming "sustainable".

In pursuing this goal, the Habitats Directive leaves to the Member States a great freedom in the choice of the best management tools to be adapted to local realities.

In Italy the identification of sites is under the responsibility of the Regions and Autonomous Provinces, but while SPAs are declared from the date of submission to the Commission, the ZSC follow a more complex process: they are first offered to the European Commission in the form of SCI (proposed Site of Community Importance), then approved by the European Commission itself as Sites of Community Interest (SCI) and then designated as SACs by ministerial decree, following the Regional declaration of conservation site with a specific habitat and specific species.

The designation of SACs is a critical step towards full implementation of the Natura 2000 network as it ensures the full entry into service of specific site conservation measures and provides a greater security for network management and for its strategic role aimed at the achievement of an overall goal of halting biodiversity loss in Europe by 2020.