Joint Nature Conservation Committee: the Habitats Directive: Selection of Special Areas of Conservation in the UK: International Designations - European database ('Natura 2000')
The Natura 2000 datasets contain UK data for Candidate Special Areas of Conservation (under EU Habitats Directive 1992) and Classified Special Protection Areas (under EU Birds Directive 1979). The former category represents the first 8 datasets, the latter the remaining 3.
This dataset series does not include proposed sites (or extensions to previously submitted sites) where the data has not yet been submitted to Europe. In the final phase of designation or classification of the site listed under either Directive all the ecological information necessary to enable evaluation of the contribution of the site to overall effectiveness and coherence of the NATURA 2000 network must be provided.
The legal basis for providing the data to implement NATURA 2000 is outlined in article 4 of the Habitats Directive which defines that 'information shall include a map of the site, its name, location, extent and the data resulting from application of the criteria specified in Annex III (Stage 1) provided in a format established by the Commission in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 21.' Under Article 4 paragraph 3 of the Birds Directive, Member States are already required to 'send the Commission all relevant information so that it may take appropriate initiatives with a view to the coordination necessary to ensure that the areas provided for in paragraph 1 and 2 (of Article 4) form a coherent whole which meets the protection requirements of these species in the geographical sea and land area where this Directive applies.'
The following represents a summary of the key data types:
- Site identification;
- Site location;
- Ecological information - Habitat Types;
- Ecological information - Species - Animals (Birds, Mammals, Amphibians/Reptiles, Fishes, Invertebrates);
- Ecological information - Species - Plants;
- Ecological information - Other important species;
- Site description - General site character;
- Site description - Descriptive text fields (Quality, Vulnerability, Designation, Ownership, Documentation);
- Site Protection status;
- Relation with CORINE Biotopes;
- Impacts and Activities in and around the site;
- Map/Aerial photographs/Slides of the site;
The one data collection form type was used for all sites included in NATURA 2000 i.e. to cover classified Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and those sites that are eligible as Sites of Community Importance (SCI). There may be cases where a relationship exists between two or more NATURA 2000 sites.
The datasets in this series are available to download. Links to individual datasets can be found at piece level.
Hardware: Network of Compaq PCs.
Operating system: Microsoft Windows 2000.
Application software: Based on Microsoft Access 97. The software comprised regional and national modules for use in data entry by Member States of the European Union, and a central management system which integrated data imported from the national databases. In addition to data entry and central management, Natura 2000 also provided components for data querying, data conversion, and mapping.
User interface: Comprised a number of Access forms based upon the main sections of the standard paper data form. Where appropriate the interface provided access to lookup selection lists containing data from the Annexes of the Birds or Habitats Directives.
Logical structure and schema: The Natura 2000 data transferred comprises two subordinate groupings of datasets: Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) (8 datasets) and Special Protection Areas (SPA) (3 datasets). The data structure for tables was defined at the European level (i.e. generic structure for all EU member states) as either obligatory or non-obligatory. The structure of each dataset has not changed since its inception.
The dataset is dynamic, in the sense that new information is entered into the existing database thus periodically producing a new snapshot.
Constraints on the reliability of the data: Any limitations concerning the selection and designation of SACs and SPAs were discussed in online reports located on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website. With regard to some of the limitations relating to the capture of SAC data, it should be noted that site selection has been limited by an imperfect knowledge of the distribution and relative abundance of many habitat and species types. While designated timescales under the Directives precluded the commissioning of extensive survey work to complement existing knowledge, some additional surveys have since been undertaken to improve knowledge of certain sites. In relation to the identification and classification of SPAs, progress has been hampered by the absence of formally agreed criteria or selection guidelines at the EU level.
In 1992 the then European Community adopted Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora, known as the Habitats Directive. The main objectives of the Habitats Directive are: 'to contribute towards ensuring biodiversity through the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora in the European territory of the Member States to which the Treaty applies' (Article 2.1); and 'to maintain or restore, at favourable conservation status, natural habitats and species of wild fauna and flora of Community interest' (Article 2.2). The 24 articles of the Directive specify a range of measures, including conservation of features in the landscape that are important for wildlife, the protection of species listed in the annexes from damage, destruction or over-exploitation, the surveillance of natural habitats and species, and ensuring that introductions on non-native species are not detrimental to naturally occurring habitats and species. The most stringent obligations relate to the selection, designation and protection of a network of sites - Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).
The creation of the Natura 2000 network is often referred to as the 'cornerstone of Community nature conservation policy' as it is focused upon capturing data with the specific purpose of maintaining the extraordinary diversity of sites and species present within the European Union. In accordance with Council Directive 92/43/EEC each member state of the European Union was required to prepare and propose to the European Commission a national list of sites, which were evaluated in order to form a European network of Sites of Community Importance (SCIs). These were subsequently to be designated by the Member States as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). Furthermore, as per the provisions of the Birds Directive, it is the Member States who designated sites directly as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under Natura 2000. In essence, the SAC network, together with the classified SPAs, is collectively known as Natura 2000.
The main objectives of the database documenting the Natura 2000 network have been identified by the European Commission as follows:
- To provide the necessary information to enable the Commission, in partnership with the Member States, to co-ordinate measures to create a coherent NATURA 2000 network and to evaluate its effectiveness for the conservation of Annex I habitats and for the habitats of species listed in Annex II of Council Directive 92/43/EEC as well as the habitats of Annex I bird species and other migratory bird species covered by Council Directive 79/409/EEC.
- To provide information which will assist the Commission in other decision making capacities to ensure that the NATURA 2000 network is fully considered in other policy areas and sectors of the Commission's activities in particular regional, agricultural, energy, transport and tourism policies.
- To assist the Commission and the relevant committees in choosing actions for funding under LIFE and other financial instruments where data relevant to the conservation of sites, such as ownership and management practice, are likely to facilitate the decision making process.
- To provide a useful forum for the exchange and sharing of information on habitats and species of Community interest to the benefit of all Member States.
The process of Natura 2000 is maintained as a dynamic one which can be adjusted according to the relative success or failure of the resulting protection measures undertaken. Therefore, it is anticipated that sites will continue to be added to the Natura 2000 Network if a species or habitat continues to decline as a result of habitat loss.
The advent of datasets capturing a coherent European ecological network of international designations provided new opportunities to explore the sustainable use and management of areas. For example, by actively utilising the datasets for educational and research opportunities and ensuring that the needs of Natura 2000 are effectively implemented in other Community policies. Overall, the information contained in Natura 2000 datasets is of vital use for supporting efforts aimed at assisting the EU in meeting wider biodiversity conservation targets and in overarching attempts to halt biodiversity decline by 2010.
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