Natura 2000

Natura 2000 is the Europe-wide network of protected areas developed under the European Commission’s Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and Birds Directive (79/409/EEC). It forms the cornerstone of the European Union’s biodiversity policy.

The Natura 2000 Network is made up of:

  • Special Areas of Conservation (SAC): these support rare, endangered or vulnerable natural habitats and species of plants or animals (other than birds) of European importance, and are designated by Scottish Ministers under the Habitats Directive
  • Special Protection Areas (SPA): these support significant numbers of wild birds and their habitats, and are designated by Scottish Ministers under the Birds Directive

Scotland provides the largest part of the UK contribution to the Natura 2000 network, with 15% of its land designated under the Birds and Habitats Directives. The UK figure is 8.5%. and the average across the EU is 18%.

As of July 2018, Scotland has 394 protected Natura 2000 sites, comprising 241 SACs and 153 SPAs. These sites protect 79 bird species, including golden eagle and capercaillie; 18 other types of animal species, including seal, dolphin and wild Atlantic salmon; and 56 types of habitat, including reefs, uplands and machair.

Most SPAs and SACs are co-designated as SSSIs to secure the necessary management to ensure effective conservation.

We are committed to ensuring there will be no loss of protection for European protected sites and species in Scotland, and to maintaining this protection at least at EU levels, following the UK’s planned exit from the EU in March 2019.

Development on Natura sites

Natura sites are given strict protection under European Law, and these requirements are transposed into Scots Law by the Conservation (Natural Habitats Etc.) Regulations 1994. This means that authorities may only grant consent for development proposals that may affect Natura sites if they can demonstrate by means of an appropriate assessment that a proposal will not have an adverse effect on the integrity of a Natura site in regard to its conservation objectives.

Exceptions can be made only in situations where there is no alternative or where there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest, and then only if suitable compensatory measures are implemented to ensure the integrity of the Natura network is maintained.

To date, the only exceptions in Scotland have been:

  • to widen the road from Arisaig to Mallaig
  • to address concerns about the structural integrity of an embankment supporting the West Coast Main Line near Wishaw

Find more information on Natura sites on

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