German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Habitat Types and Species (Targets of Protection) Covered by the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive

The protection areas in the Natura 2000 network serve to protect the natural habitat types and species of Community interest listed in Annexes I and II of the Habitats Directive along with the bird species and regularly occurring migratory bird species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive. Consideration must also be given to flora and fauna of Community interest in need of strict protection (Annex IV of the Habitats Directive) and to flora and fauna of Community interest whose taking in the wild and exploitation may be subject to management measures (Annex V of the Habitats Directive).

The annexes to the Habitats Directive list 231 natural habitat types (Annex I) and more than 1,000 animal and plant species (Annexes II, IV and V). These have been listed as species and natural habitat types of Community interest on account of their Europe-wide endangered status and distribution. Germany has 91 natural habitat types listed in Annex I and some 282 animal and plant species, pdf-file (in German) listed Annexes II (139 species), IV (134 species) and V (110 species). These figures also contain species which Germany’s Red List of Endangered Species lists either as extinct or as having disappeared.

The lists contained in Annexes I and II of the Habitats Directive differentiate according to priority (*) and non-priority species and habitats. Classification is subject to extremely stringent protection requirements to deal with potential impacts (Article 6 of the Habitats Directive).

The aim of the Birds Directive is to preserve some all bird species that occur naturally in EU member state territories and to secure adequate stocks to allow their survival and reproduction over time. BirdLife International (2004) reports 524 bird species regularly found in Europe. Annex I of the Birds Directive lists species that are at special risk and subject to special conservation measures, and currently includes 190 species and subspecies. Almost 100 of these occur in Germany. According to Barthel & Helbig (2005), out of all bird species native to Europe, 244 are regular breeding birds in Germany.

BirdLife International (2004): Birds in Europe: Population estimates, trends and conservation status. Cambridge, U.K: BirdLife International. (BirdLife Conservation Series No. 12).
Barthel, P. H. & Helbig, A. J. (2005): Artenliste der Vögel Deutschlands. - Limicola 19(2): 89-111.

Natural Habitat Types

The EU Commission’s Interpretation Manual of European Union Habitats describes the natural habitat types listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive.

The Interpretation Manual defines the term ‘natural’ as used in the Habitats Directive. Unless expressly stated otherwise in the manual, it refers not to the origin of the habitat type (primary rather than secondary), but to (semi) natural development stages (including secondary habitats with (semi) natural development). The term ‘natural’ is to be applied in a broad sense as is the case with the secondary, anthropogenic habitats in extensive cultural landscapes with developing natural and semi-natural vegetation (meadows, various types of heaths, etc.) described as ‘natural habitats’ in Annex I.

When it comes to selecting sites representing natural habitat types involving climax vegetation, there is a clear preference for primary natural habitats - although representative site selection should also take in secondary sites at semi-natural development stage if the full geographic range of the natural habitat type cannot be secured solely with primary sites and/or a large proportion of the natural habitat types are of secondary origin and coherence of the Natura 2000 network of protection areas cannot be secured solely with primary sites.

In the BfN Handbuch (in German), the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) describes Germany’s natural habitat types and provides distribution maps to show their location.

Follow the link for natural habitat types for excerpts from the BfN guide on interpretation and zonation of natural habitat types in Germany (Ssymank et al. 1998), a special publication on marine and coastal habitats (Balzer et al. 2002), and a publication describing the new habitat types arising from EU expansion in 2004 (Balzer et al. 2004).

Updates to the BfN Guide

For some habitat types, marginal adaptations were needed as regards differentiation and interpretation. These included clarification by the EU Commission at a biogeographic seminar and changes to the Interpretation Manual in response to EU expansion in 2004.

While amending Annexes I and II of the Habitats Directive (97/62/EEC), Natural Habitat Type 6240* Sub-Pannonic steppic grasslandswas added in response to the accession of the new member states in 1995. This habitat type occurs in Germany. The BfN guide still treated habitat type 6240 as sub-type 6211 of habitat type 6210 Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Figure 68: Distribution map).

According to available knowledge and contrary to the BfN guide, habitat type 9430 Subalpine and montane Pinus uncinata forests (* if on gypsum or limestone) does not occur in Germany. This was decided by the Commission at a biogeographic seminar on the Alpine region after realising that the member states had interpreted the Interpretation Manual differently. For Germany, this meant no change to its listing because it would anyway have been required to report the sites in question due to the occurrence of other natural habitat types and species.

Also contrary to the Interpretation Manual, available knowledge and expert opinion see no occurrence of natural habitat type 8330 ‘Submerged or partially submerged sea caves’ in Germany. This means no change to Germany’s listing because it would anyway have been required to report the site in question due to occurrence of other natural habitat types and species.

The Interpretation Manual was amended with the accession of the ten new member states in 2004. One of the changes with relevance for Germany is the addition of ‘occurring in silicate soil’ to habitat type 4070 ‘Bushes with Pinus mugo and Rhododendron hirsutum (Mugo-Rhododendretum hirsuti)’.

Selecting Sites for Species Protection: Annex II of the Habitats Directive

The EU Commission finalised the criteria for site selection for the species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive at a biogeographic seminar and in conjunction with the Habitats Committee Scientific Working Group. The criteria require that proposed sites contain the key partial habitats to accommodate both the annual patterns and lifecycles of the listed species.


While all freshwater fish species are migratory fish to some extent, their migration ranges vary from species to species.

The fish listed in Annex II can be separated into the following categories of migratory species:

  • Spawning migration (e.g. the European river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis) travels from its marine feeding grounds to river estuaries and then further upstream to higher-level gravel beds for spawning)
  • Larval and juvenile migration (e.g. larval and juvenile twaite shads (Alosa fallax) travel downstream following their prey organisms)
  • Food-related migration (e.g. young salmon (Salmo salar) migrate downstream towards the sea to reach their feeding habitats)
  • Winter migration (e.g. blageon (Leuciscus souffia) move to deep river zones in winter and then back to shallower streams in spring)
  • Drift correction migration (e.g. adult bullheads (Cottus gobio) drift with the downstream current then travel upstream to return to their original sites)

Migration periods in larger rivers can involve a number of days, weeks or months. Suitable sites must thus be selected for these periods to take in the mouths of smaller auxiliary streams, blind arms and safe havens in shallow waters behind river islets. Depending on the species involved, harbour basins may also be considered for site selection. Resting areas need a minimum range of between two and three kilometres downstream for drift correction. The distance between the resting areas should not exceed 10 to 20 kilometres (relative to the needs of the species in question).

Site selection must take in species’ habitat-related needs to ensure their survival. This includes areas in which the species remain for longer periods. Site designation is not necessary for areas through which the fish pass relatively quickly (from A to B in a matter of days).

Partial habitats to be taken into account when selecting sites include:

  • Spawning grounds
  • Egg-laying sites (if not identical to spawning grounds – as is the case with Alosa fallax, for example)
  • Larval habitats
  • Habitats of juvenile animals
  • Feeding habitats
  • Winter quarters
  • Resting grounds (involving long-distance migration of adult animals upstream and juvenile animals downstream)

The approach described above should be seen as the minimum requirements under the Directive. The member states are encouraged to consider including entire river systems in their proposals.


In some cases, it may be necessary to designate as components of areas of Community interest any buildings and other anthropogenic structures that serve as the only known habitat.

Last Change: 24/10/2019