The objective of the Habitats and Birds Directives is the creation of a European ecological network for nature conservation: the most ambitious initiative carried out at Community level to protect the natural heritage at risk of disappearance in the European Union. The aim is to guarantee a favourable conservation status to the threatened natural habitats and wild species, compatible with human activities.
The network is composed of the sites, called Sites of Community Importance (SCI), where the habitats of annex I and the species of annex II of the Habitats directive are present. Each SCI becomes Special Area of Conservation (SAC) within six years from its selection. From that moment the site is officially part of the Natura 2000 network. The network also includes the Special Protected Areas (SPA), designed by member states pursuant to the Birds directive, to protect the areas where the rarest wild bird species live and breed. Member states selected the SPAs on the base of the list of the Important Birds Areas (IBA), realised by Birdlife International during the 80s on request of the European Commission, in order to have homogeneous and reliable criteria for the identification of the SPAs.
In Italy 2.255 SCIs and 559 SPAs, of which 311 coinciding, have been individuated. Their dimension varies from half an hectare to hundreds of hectares. The Natura 2000 network covers about 17% of the national Italian territory, in part overlapping with other typologies of protection (parks, reserves, etc.). The great part of the community resources dedicated to Natura 2000 comes, until now, from LIFE Nature, which has financed the designation process of the sites and allowed the realisation of the first management experiences.
In Italy, the protection regulations relative to the Natura 2000 network are more flexible than those included in the Framework law on protected areas 394/91, as the management bodies are free to choose the best strategies and the modality to manage the sites.
The iter for the identification of the sites, started at the beginning of the 90s, was long and more difficult than it was expected. The official lists of sites for each of the biogeographical regions is now completed. This open up new opportunities for the management and for the development of the sites, compatible with the conservation of the natural heritage. The Natura 2000 network is in fact among the priorities of the European Commission, which is promoting the use of different EU financial instruments to finance the network. Moreover, 40% of the new instrument for the environment, LIFE+, which should be operative from early 2007, will be destined to actions within the Natura 2000 sites.