Skip to main content
European Commission logo

Marine Natura 2000 areas and Maritime Spatial Planning


This report examines and summarizes the role of the Natura 2000 nature protection framework in MSP. The report reviews the Natura 2000 framework from two perspectives 1) summarizing the Natura 2000 process at a general level for planning authorities: why, who, how and when to select, implement, manage and assess the Natura 2000 sites and 2) how the process interacts legally with MSP.

Application in MSP:
Type of Issue:
Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Coherence with other processes:
Key words:

Questions this practice may help answer:

How are nature protection areas integrated into the Maritime Spatial Planning process? 

Implementation Context:

This report was prepared as part of Plan4Blue to recognize high natural value areas in the Natura 2000 framework during the maritime spatial planning process. 

Aspects / Objectives:

The report aims at making the Natura 2000 process more transparent and predictable for those involved in MSP by facilitating the recognition of Natura 2000 sites.  


This report was developed through a literature review addressing the interactions between the Natura 2000 framework and MSP. In addition, information was gathered during two workshops organized by the Plan4Blue project and involving MSP stakeholders in Estonia and Finland. After the first workshop, supplementary stakeholder interviews were conducted in Estonia and Finland. The workshops were held in September 2018 and March 2019. 

The guiding steps for analysis were the following:

  1. Identifying the key conservation objectives (protected species and natural habitat types) of each Natura 2000 site 
  2. Identifying the critical human activities that have important interactions with the key conservation objectives (step 1) and the interaction processes 
  3. Identifying appropriate spatial data of the key conservation objectives (step 1) and the critical human activities (step 2) 
  4. Identifying appropriate geospatial analysis methods for quantifying the interaction processes (step 2) 
  5. Performing, documenting and reporting the analysis and visualising the results on maps 
  6. Weighting the spatial results of human-nature-interactions based on different criteria, e.g. rareness of a species or natural habitat type 
  7. Combining the analyses of individual Natura 2000 sites into a cumulative impact surface 
  8. Transforming the analysis results into spatial recommendations: implications of the interaction between human activities and conservation objectives in the Natura 2000 site 

The following figure illustrates application of these steps to a demonstration site:

Main Outputs / Results:

The study presents two conclusions:

1) Two processes and their linkages

  • Identifying new areas for Natura 2000 site proposals during the MSP process 
  • Modifying the boundaries of existing Natura 2000 sites during the MSP process, to better represent the distribution of nature values and Natura 2000 conservation objectives 
  • Preparing management plans (including regulations for the main human activities) for the existing Natura 2000 sites during the MSP process 
  • Determining single-function areas for nature protection based on the Natura 2000 network (potentially allowing strictly regulated and sustainable sea use that does not compromise favourable conservation status) 
  • Determining restriction areas (with total ban or regulations) for specified sea uses by taking the Natura 2000 sites into account 
  • Determining general (applying to the entire planning area or Natura 2000 sites only) restrictions for specified sea uses by taking the Natura 2000 conservation objectives into account 
  • Designating sea space or determining favourable conditions for the establishment of human activities with positive influence on Natura 2000 conservation objectives inside or beyond the existing Natura 2000 sites 
  • Not specifying any actions in the MSP based on the Natura 2000 framework but instead handling all human-ecosystem-conflicts case-specifically through other processes (such as re- gional planning or environmental impact assessment or the Espoo Convention hearing) 

2) Key messages for planners, MSP processes and other decision-makers on Natura 2000

  • Natura 2000s value in MSP: The Natura 2000 network offers MSP an existing framework for efficiently protecting important nature values, since it covers a wide range of rare species and natural habitats and notable parts of the marine territories of EU states. Natura 2000 sites have good influence on marine sectors like blue tourism, bird watching and fishing (e. g. protecting spawning areas). Taking the existing Natura 2000 network into account in the national MSP process ensures that an important aspect of nature values is incorporated into the planning. However, it is important to note that there are also important nature values outside the Natura 2000 site network – there are nature values that are not evaluated and protected within the Natura 2000 framework. These must also be considered in spatial planning. 
  • Uniqueness of each Natura 2000 site: Each Natura 2000 site is different. In general, there are two kinds of Natura 2000 sites: based on either the Habitats Directive or the Birds Directive. Third site type is when the site is established based on both directives mentioned above. Each Natura 2000 site is different as they have different conservation objectives, i.e. different natural habitats and species. Thus, each site sets different restrictions for sea use and must be con- sidered individually in MSP. 
  • Natura 2000 as a network: The individual Natura 2000 sites should be considered as part of the site network and of the environment surrounding them, since connectivity between popula- tions and threats from outside the site boundaries need to be examined. Global changes, like climate change, need to be considered when dealing with Natura 2000 areas and preparing new Natura 2000 areas. Natura 2000 as a network is important especially for migratory species. 
  • Influence from outside: MSP should consider the impact of human activities originating both from within and beyond the Natura 2000 sites, since local actions may have far-reaching influ- ence on the surrounding sea. It is hard to define certain safety or buffer distance for all Natura 2000 sites because it is always different depending on conservation objectives, activities and location. Some rough buffer zones may be developed for specific sea uses. 
  • Involve Natura 2000 from the beginning: Whatever planned, it is important to see if there are Natura 2000 sites in the surrounding area. And if there are, the sites and their conservation objectives should be taken into account in the planning process from the very beginning. the process. 
  • Natura Assessment: In case a planned activity is expected to have significant negative im- pact on the favourable conservation status of the Natura 2000 site(s) and its conservation ob- jectives, an Appropriate Assessment according to Art. 6 of the Habitats Directive (Natura 2000 assessment), should be carried out.
  • Human pressures to be considered in MSP: Disturbance or damage to seabed, linked to physical loss, from different activities can be considered in MSP. The activities damaging the seabed or causing disturbance include dredging, deposition of material, industrial and ferry ports. 
  • Spatial analysis: Spatial data and spatial analysis methods offer an opportunity to quantify human-nature-interactions and, specifically, the impact of human activities on the conservation objectives within the Natura 2000 sites. Compared to verbal descriptions of the human-nature- interaction processes, spatial analysis provides the results as a map: easy to communicate and compatible with the overall spatial planning process. While the results are strongly dependent on the quality of the spatial data and subjective methodological choices, spatial analysis offers a useful starting point for more detailed examination. 
  • Analysis of human interactions to conservation objectives: The implications of the Natura 2000 framework on a marine activity should be examined by accounting for the individual 
  • Cumulative impacts: Cumulative impacts of all planned activities within and beyond the Natura 2000 sites should be taken into account. More coherent planning and permitting pro- cesses would help to see the cumulative impacts more clearly. 
  • Data: High-resolution spatial environmental data of the Natura 2000 sites (including distribution of natural habitats and protected species) would improve the possibilities for analysing and accounting for human-nature interactions in MSP. 


The report is mainly targeted for planners in Estonia and Finland. However, majority of the report applies to the member states of the European Union in general. In Estonia and Finland, there is a notable network of marine and coastal Natura 2000 sites, but there are distinct differences in the practices of applying MSP. Thus, the area is well-suited for illustrating the connections between Natura 2000 and MSP. 

Responsible Entity:

University of Turku

Costs / Funding Source:

EU / ERDF / Interreg Central Baltic

Contact person:

Heidi Lusenius

Regional Council of Southwest Finland (heidi[dot]lusenius[at]varsinais-suomi[dot]fi)