Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) are the pre-requisite step for establishing Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) form the Natura 2000 network. In turn, the Natura 2000 network forms part of the Emerald Network of Areas of Special Conservation Interest (ASCIs) and is considered the EU’s contribution to the Emerald Network.
Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) are established under the European Union Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC). Article 1(k) of the Habitats Directive defines an SCI as “a site which, in the biogeographical region or regions to which it belongs, contributes significantly to the maintenance or restoration at a favourable conservation status of a natural habitat type or of a species and may also contribute significantly to the coherence of Natura 2000, and/or contributes significantly to the maintenance of biological diversity within the biogeographic region or regions concerned.” 1
According to the Habitats Directive, the area of the European Union contains 9 biogeographical regions: 2
- Alpine (which includes the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Carpathian mountains and parts of Scandinavia)
- Boreal (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and parts of Sweden)
- Macronesian (Madeira, Azores and Canary Islands)
- Pannonian (Hungary and parts of the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia)
- Black Sea region (parts of Bulgaria and Romania)
The Habitats Directive includes criteria for the selection of habitats and species of interest. Based on those criteria, Annex I and Annex II of the Habitats Directive contain a list of habitats and species that are considered to be of “community interest”. Member States of the European Union assess their territories scientifically in order to identify SCIs which would contribute to the conservation of the habitats and species of Annexes I and II, which they then suggest to the European Commission. The European Commission holds scientific seminars for each biogeographical region, where the proposed sites are evaluated and the final list of SCIs are approved.
As soon as an SCI is approved, it becomes subject to Articles 6 (2), (3) and (4) of the Habitats Directive. These Articles require Member States to: 1
- Avoid the deterioration of the habitats and species of the site
- Undertake appropriate assessments for projects which may have a significant effect on the habitats and species site
- Take all compensatory measures necessary if a project with negative effects must be carried out for reasons of overriding public interest.
Once the SCI is approved, the Member State must designate it as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) ‘as soon as possible and within six years at the most’ (Article 4.2) 1. Changing the status of the site from an SCI to an SAC enforces Article 6 (1) of the Habitats Directive onto the site, which states that Member States shall establish the necessary conservation measures for the habitats and species of Annexes I and II which are present in the given SACs 3. Therefore, while SCIs have a degree of protection based on Articles 6(2) – 6(4), the designation of SACs triggers the implementation of Article 6.1, sites must be designated as SACs in order for the full conservation measures of the Habitats Directive, i.e. all of Article 6, to be applicable. 4
SCIs are the pre-requisite step for establishing SACs. Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) form the Natura 2000 network. In turn, the Natura 2000 network forms part of the Emerald Network of Areas of Special Conservation Interest (ASCIs) and is considered the EU’s contribution to the Emerald Network.
- Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Habitats Directive)
- European Commission. Environment. Natura 2000 sites - Habitats Directive
- European Commission. Commission Note on the Designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) 2012.
- European Commission. Managing Natura 2000 sites: The provisions of Article 6 of the ‘Habitats’ Directive 92/43/EEC (2000)