In May 1992 European Union governments adopted legislation designed to protect the most seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe. This legislation is called the Habitats Directive and complements the Birds Directive adopted in 1979. At the heart of both these Directives is the creation of a network of sites called Natura 2000. The Birds Directive requires the establishment of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds. The Habitats Directive similarly requires Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to be designated for other species, and for habitats. Together, SPAs and SACs make up the Natura 2000 series. All EU Member States contribute to the network of sites in a Europe-wide partnership from the Canaries to Crete and from Sicily to Finnish Lapland.
Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are classified under the Birds Directive to help protect and manage areas which are important for rare and vulnerable birds because they use them for breeding, feeding, wintering or migration.
Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are classified under the Habitats Directive and provide rare and vulnerable animals, plants and habitats with increased protection and management.
More information: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/index_en.htm