Habitats Directive

The Habitats Directive contributes to ensuring biodiversity in the European Union by conserving natural habitats and wild fauna and flora species.

It sets up the ‘Natura 2000’ network, the largest ecological network in the world. Natura 2000 comprises special areas of conservation designated by EU countries under this directive and special protection areas classified under the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC).

See EU Guidance on Managing Natura 2000 sites.

Special areas of conservation

The Annexes I and Annex II to the Habitats Directive list the types of habitats and the animal and plant species whose conservation requires the designation of special areas of conservation. Some are defined as ‘priority’ habitats or species in danger of disappearing and for which there are specific rules.

Conservation objectives and measures

Once special areas for conservation are designated, EU countries must introduce appropriate conservation objectives and measures. They must do everything possible to:

  • guarantee the conservation of habitats in these areas
  • avoid their deterioration and any significant disturbance to species

Appropriate Assessment of plans and projects

Any plan or project that is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site must be subject to appropriate assessment under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. Competent authorities may only agree to a plan or project after having ascertained that it will not have a significant impact on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site.

Some projects that will cause significant negative impact may still be permitted, in the absence of other alternatives, for imperative reasons of overriding public interest (including those of a social or economic nature). Where this arises, EU countries must introduce compensatory measures to ensure the overall coherence of the Natura 2000 network. This procedure is regulated under Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive.

Protection of species

EU countries must also establish systems of strict protection for animal and plant species which are particularly threatened, which are listed in Annex IV of the Directive. Please see further information here.