Natura 2000 is an ecological network in the territory of the European Union.
In May 1992, governments of the European Union adopted legislation designed to protect the most seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe. This legislation is called the Habitats Directive and complements the Birds Directive adopted in 1979. These two Directives are the basis of the creation of the Natura 2000 network.
The Birds Directive requires the establishment of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds. The Habitats Directive similarly requires Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to be designated for other species, and for habitats. Together, SPAs and SACs make up the Natura 2000 sites.
The Natura 2000 network contributes to the "Emerald network" of Areas of Special Conservation Interest (ASCIs) set up under the Bern Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats. Each EU Member State must compile a list of the best wildlife areas containing the habitats and species listed in the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive. This list must then be submitted to the European Commission, after which an evaluation and selection process on European level will take place in order to become a Natura 2000 site.
Natura 2000 protects 18% of land in the 15 countries that formed the EU before the expansion in 2004.