Natura 2000 is a European Union wide network of protected areas. It was initiated in 1992 under the European Unions Habitats Directive with the aim to establish a coherent European ecological network of special areas of conservation. It aims at enabling the natural habitat types and the species' habitats concerned to be maintained or, where appropriate, restored at a favourable conservation status in their natural range.
The Natura 2000 network is composed of sites hosting the natural habitat types listed in Annex I and species listed in Annex II. The Natura 2000 network includes special areas of conservation (SAC) set up under the Habitats Directive and special protection areas (SPA) set up under the 1979 Birds Directive. Together SACs and SPAs cover about 20 % of the EU's terrestrial area. Natura 2000 contributes to the "Emerald network" of Areas of Special Conservation Interest (ASCIs) set up under the Berne Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats. The Berne Convention applies to all European countries inside and outside the European Union.
Contrary to what is often believed, Natura 2000 is not a system of strict nature reserves where all human activities are excluded. Apart from strictly protected areas, the network also includes privately owned land where the emphasis is on ensuring that future management is sustainable, both ecologically and economically.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the European nature conservation Directives and to assess the state of biodiversity in the EU, each Member State is obliged to submit a report every six years describing the status of species and habitats of conservation concern on their territory. Therefore the countries need to implement regular biodiversity monitoring.
In spite of the high percentage of area protected under Natura 2000, there are still some species and habitats, which are not adequately covered. This is partly due to an ad-hoc selection process where sites were chosen without taking account of representativeness or network structure. Despite some gaps in representativeness the Natura 2000 network is a key feature for biodiversity conservation in Europe, a main contributor to the 2010 target of halting the loss of biodiversity, and one of the largest biodiversity conservation area networks globally.