Natura 2000 is the EU-wide network of nature conservation areas, established to ensure the survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened terrestrial and marine species and habitats for future generations. The Natura 2000 network was formed in response to growing public concern over the loss of Europe’s biodiversity. It followed a commitment by Europe’s heads of state in Gothenburg 2001 to “halt the loss of Biodiversity by 2010”.
The setting up of the Natura 2000 network of sites comes from two European Directives that are central to the EU’s policy framework on biodiversity protection. These are the 1979 Birds Directive and the 1992 Habitats Directive (1992). The Natura 2000 network is therefore made up of sites designated by Member States as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) under the Habitats Directive and / or Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive.
The network is based on the broad principle of conservation and sustainable use, where people and wildlife can live together in harmony. It is not a system of strict nature reserves where all human activities are excluded. On the contrary, it recognises the traditional and economic importance of nature to Europeans while respecting local and regional natural values. Natura 2000 is about “people and nature”.
The Natura 2000 network is considered the largest coherent group of protected areas in the world. Terrestrial sites cover approximately 20% of the total land area of the EU (~850,000km2 in ~26,000 sites).
The 34 local terrestrial Natura 2000 sites together cover approximately 13.5% of the total land area of the Maltese Islands (around 42km2). These sites include the minor islands (Kemmuna, Filfla and Selmunett, and their surrounding islets), coastal cliffs (including Rdumijiet ta’ Malta: Ir-Ramla taċ-Ċirkewwa sal-Ponta ta’ Bengħisa), saline marshlands (Is-Salini and Il-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk), sandy beaches and dunes (L-Inħawi tal-Għadira and L-Inħawi tar-Ramla), areas of garrigue and maquis (L-Inħawi ta’ Pembroke and Il-Qortin tal-Magun u l-Qortin il-Kbir), woodland areas (L-Inħawi tal-Buskett u Il-Girgenti and Il-Ballut tal-Wardija), and caves and other geological features (Għar Dalam and Il-Maqluba). There are also five marine sites.