Natura 2000 is a network of ecologically protected areas within 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 incorporates the Birds Directive Birds founded in 1979. These two Directives are the basis of the creation of the Natura 2000 network.
The Birds Directive requires the establishment of Specially Protected 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 network of protected areas.
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 its expansion in 2004. The size and number of protected sites is currently being negotiated for each of the twelve new member states. The European Commission has already warned thirteen EU member states over non-compliance with the bloc's environmental directives. The European Commission started an "infringement procedure" against Poland in April 2006, which could result in Poland facing legal action and EU penalties.
MEPs in the plenary session of 3 February 2009 backed a report calling for further protection of Europe's wilderness. "The report also calls for more European funding to protect existing sites and "re-wild" ones that are currently being used by humans or agriculture. At present 13% of the forest zone of the 27-member EU is designated as Natura 2000 sites under the existing Birds and Habitats directive.
The allocated SAC's are not however no go areas for humans and human activity. Sustainable management is the key to these areas so farming practices are allowed to continue as long as they maintain habitats for birds and animals that rely on them for existence. Likewise marine areas that lye within SAC'S are allowed to be fished in sustainable ways, hence no commercial fishing is allowed but line and spear fishing are allowed, as is lobster pot style catching and other non dredging techniques such as diving for bi-valves.