German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


The EU Habitats Directive

Site Selection

The Natura 2000 network comprises sites designated under the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992) and the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979). Sites protected under the Habitats Directive are classed as sites of Community importance (SCIs) and as special areas of conservation (SACs). Areas protected under the Birds Directive are described as special protection areas (SPAs). They are selected according to EU standards and then placed under protection. See the section on site designation for further information.

Impact Assessments

Under Article 6 (3) of the Habitats Directive, an impact assessment is required in cases where any plan or project, either by itself or in combination with other plans or projects, is likely to have a significant effect on a given site. See the section on impact assessments for further information.

Species Protection

Articles 12 to 16 of the Habitats Directive and Articles 5 to 9 of the Birds Directive set out provisions on species protection. These include measures to establish a system of strict protection for the flora and fauna and flora listed in Annex IV (Articles 12 and 13 of the Habitats Directive), measures governing the taking and use of flora and fauna listed and flora listed in Annex V (Article 14) and provisions on the capture and transport of species listed in Annexes IV and V (Article 15).

Exceptions are governed by the Directive’s Article 16.

The provisions on species protection in the Birds Directive include bans on trading in and hunting of specific species and a ban on certain methods of capture. Exceptions are set out in Annexes II and III and in Article 9.

Public Relations

Article 17 of the Habitats Directive places particular importance on informing the public. It requires that every six years, national reports be drawn up and made accessible to the public. The same applies for the EU Commission’s composite report.


Advancing research and technical knowledge is vital in implementing the Habitats and Birds Directive. The Article 18 (Habitat Directive) and 10 (Birds Directive) require the member states and the EU Commission to promote the necessary research and scientific work.

The Directive requires that research be performed to:

  • Ensure biodiversity through the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Article 2 (1)).
  • Design measures to maintain or restore, at favourable conservation status, natural habitats and species of wild fauna and flora of Community interest (Article 2 (2)).
  • Monitor the conservation status of the natural habitats and species referred to in Article 2 with particular regard to priority natural habitat types and priority species (Article 11).
  • Select and propose suitable sites for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network of protected areas (Article 4).
  • Secure ecological coherence by maintaining, and where appropriate developing, features of the landscape (including those crossing national borders) which are of major importance for wild fauna and flora.

In connection with the designation of protected areas, Article 19 of the Directive requires that Annexes I, II, IV and V be adapted to technical and scientific progress based on research conducted on the Europe-wide threat to species and natural habitats. Examples include the national red lists of endangered habitats and species.

Article 10 of the Birds Directive encourages member states to conduct the research and other work required as a basis for the protection, management and use of all species of wild birds and their natural habitats governed by the Directive. Particular attention must be paid in respect of the species listed in Annex V.

Amending the Annexes to the Habitats Directive

The Habitats Directive is designed to protect species and habitats of Community interest, meaning natural habitats and wild species that are either endangered or extremely rare. This status can change for the better (e.g. as a result of measures taken under the Directive) or the worse (e.g. due to the impact of agricultural activities). This is why Article 19 of the Habitats Directive provides for the annexes to the Directive to be adapted (amended) to ‘technical and scientific progress’. Amendments may only be made at fairly long intervals and require a unanimous decision by the European Council. At the same time the species lists can be amended to take account of advances in taxonomy and systematic classification.

Article 15 of the Birds Directive provides for Annexes I and V to be adapted (amended) to technical and scientific progress. Amendments may only be made at fairly long intervals and require a majority decision by the European Council. The amendment procedure is set out in the Directive’s Article 17.

Implementation Committee and Organisation

At EU level, implementation of the Habitats and Birds Directive is supported by the Habitats Committee (under Articles 20 and 21 of the Habitat Directive) rsp. by the Ornis Committee (under Article 16 of the Birds Directive) which comprise representatives from all member states and the EU Commission. Decisions are made with a qualified majority (using weighted votes). In its capacity as a scientific and technical advisory committee, the Habitats Committee also includes the Habitats Scientific Working Group.

Last Change: 02/02/2021