The Natura 2000 is a network of protected areas across the European Union; it was created in 1992 under the Habitats Directive, with the long term aim of protecting Europe’s most vulnerable and threatened species and habitats, including both terrestrial and marine sites. Natura 2000 areas are comprised of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) with the emphasis on sustainable ecological and economical management. The Natura 2000 network is considered the largest coherent group of protected areas in the world.
Malta has proposed for designation 39 Natura 2000 sites which mainly include terrestrial sites and also some marine sites. The 34 terrestrial sites cover a total area of 42 square kilometres, which approximately covers 13.5% of the Maltese land area. These sites cover a range of protected habitats listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive, include coastal clay slopes such as those found in Għajn Tuffieħa and Imgiebaħ, coastal lagoons found in places like is-Simar and Ghadira and riparian forests which is a very rare habitat in Malta.
Within the Maltese territory there are also 5 marine sites, however they only occupy 1.63% of the 11,672km2 area of Maltese water. The 5 existing marine sites were proposed for designation as Sites of Community Importance to the European Commission. These five marine SCIs host vast extents of the priority habitat; Posidonia beds (a habitat that is composed of Neptune’s Sea Grass). Hence through the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project new marine protected areas hosting a variety of habitats will be identified and thus will contribute towards the Natura 2000 network.