Natura 2000 is the EU-wide network of nature protection areas established under the 1992 Habitats Directive, which aims to safeguard Europe’s most important wildlife areas. It is comprised of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) designated by Member States under the Habitats Directive, and also incorporates Special Protection Areas (SPAs) which they designate under the 1979 Birds Directive. The establishment of this network of protected areas where special measures are taken to conserve biological diversity also fulfils a clear Community obligation under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The Habitats Directive identifies some 200 habitat types and 700 species of plants and animals of EU importance. The Birds Directive lists 181 vulnerable species for which habitat protection through site protection is required. It also recognises the need to protect areas of importance for migratory bird species, especially wetland habitats. The long-term conservation of these habitats and species cannot be achieved by protecting isolated pockets of nature however great their individual value. By establishing a network of sites across the full distribution of these habitats and species Natura 2000 is intended to be a dynamic and living network providing a guarantee for their conservation. Natura 2000 is not a system of strict nature reserves where all human activities are excluded. Whereas the network will certainly include nature reserves most of the land is likely to continue to be privately owned and the emphasis will be on ensuring that future management is sustainable, ecologically, economically and socially.
It was in recognition of the importance of safeguarding biodiversity that the European Council in Göteburg in June 2002, set the objective of halting bio-diversity decline within the Union by 2010. The achievement of this objective is identified as one of the priority themes under the EU’s 6th Environmental Action Programme. EU biodiversity policy has two main complementary approaches. Firstly, it aims to integrate biodiversity considerations into all the relevant policy sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, and transport as well as into policy instruments such as environmental liability, ecolabelling etc; This is an important focus of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy and its sectoral integration plans, which have recently been approved. Secondly, targeted measures are needed to ensure the survival of many species and habitats that are already under threat. This is the role played by Natura 2000, which aims to assure the long-term survival of Europe's most vulnerable species and habitats, by ensuring that a sufficient number and area of their most important sites are adequately protected and positively managed. These site conservation measures are complemented by other species protection provisions of the nature directives