Advocates for nature conservation and NATURA 2000

Perhaps the key role that NGOs have to play is as independent advocates for the aims of the Habitats and Birds Directives. While national and EU authorities are responsible for implementing NATURA 2000, they also must implement other policy which in some cases may conflict with the aims of and often override nature conservation.

NGOs have a key role to play in helping balance some of these pressures and ensuring that the best solution is found for nature conservation and development.

Site selection and designation

NGOs have played an important role in the biogeographic seminars at which proposed sites are reviewed and agreed with the European Commission. In many countries, NGOs have put together their own “shadow list” of NATURA 2000 sites, which they have used very effectively to address gaps of missing sites in government proposals.


Once the NATURA 2000 network is established in your country, you can help ensure that the nature values are not damaged by for example participating in and contributing to assessments of infrastructure and other projects and their possible impacts on the sites.

Projects that are likely to affect NATURA 2000 species or habitats must undergo a special assessment according to Article 6 of the Habitats Directive. While these assessments must involve relevant national authorities responsible for nature conservation, they do not require a process of public consultation. However, by bringing technical expertise, NGOs and individuals may be able to provide input to formal assessment procedures. Further, where there is a disagreement with the results of an official NATURA 2000 assessment, it can be argued before national courts and the European Commission, especially where priority habitats and species are concerned.

Official complaints

One important tool available to NGOs is the possibility to submit an official complaint to the European Commission. The European Commission can take – and has taken – EU Member States to the European Court of Justice on the basis of complaints from NGOs and others, and can apply pressure on governments to take action in the interim.

Keep in mind in submitting a complaint that it must concern a specific breach of EU law by a MemberState – make sure that this is clearly stated.

EU Financing

EU funding programmes provide a good opportunity for supporting sustainable development and nature conservation. But it is up to each MemberState to define the use of these funds. Poorly designed and targeted funding programmes can result in significant harm to the environment. NGOs can support national authorities in preparing these funding programmes by participating actively in the programming process – ensuring that potential threats to nature are limited, while maximising positive use of funding opportunities for nature conservation.

Providing support for implementation of NATURA 2000

NGOs can provide valuable support for authorities in preparing for and implementing of NATURA 2000. They have played a key role especially in the newest EU member states in supporting authorities with data collection and analysis for the identification of NATURA 2000 sites. They also have been active in providing technical support and training for relevant officials and stakeholders.

Experience from all countries has shown that informing the public and especially key stakeholders such as farmers, land owners, foresters and community leaders about NATURA 2000 in a timely fashion can avoid unnecessary misunderstandings and conflicts. Here NGOs have played a leading role with public awareness campaigns as well as targeted information.

Raising financial support

One role of NGOs is in helping raise financial and other support for implementation of NATURA 2000. Eligibility for EU and other funds varies – some can only be tapped by public authorities, while others may be only available to civil society organisations.

While many foundations focus their support on grassroots organisations, larger-scale public sector support in many cases can be so large and difficult to administer that they are practically not open to NGOs.

EU Funding for nature conservation and NATURA 2000

While implementing the NATURA 2000 network is first and foremost the responsibility of each of the EU member states, the EU has recognised the fact that Europe’s natural wealth is unevenly distributed and that some solidarity is needed in caring for these riches. There are therefore a number of potential funding sources related to NATURA 2000 contained within EU funding programmes in the current financial period (2007-13).

These funds will be further developed for the next financial period 2014-20 and will become available to Croatia following its accession to the European Union.

Funds relevant for NATURA 2000 and nature conservation for which NGOs can apply projects currently include: Financial Instrument for Environment (LIFE+), Rural Development funds, Regional Development funds, Fishery Funds and Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA).

Whether or not these funds are in fact available for NATURA 2000 and nature conservation in each country depends to a considerable extent on programming for the funds that is done at national level. NGOs can help ensure that funding is not only available but also well targeted for the specific needs of nature conservation in their country by participating in and contributing to the programming for use of EU funds.


For further information read our brochure "NATURA 2000 and NGO in Croatia"