The implementation of the European Union Bird and Habitat Directives in the field of water infrastructure has caused severe project disruptions in the past. The prevalence of negative experience has triggered a new approach, which aims to integrate site-specific characteristics of ecosystem and project objectives during the development of the initial project design. This is termed integrated nature design. In this paper we advance the hypothesis that applying integrated nature design in Natura 2000 areas can increase the chances of a project being approved in case appeal is made to the courts. To test our hypothesis we have carried out a quasi-experimental comparison of two coastal zone development projects in the Netherlands. Our analysis demonstrates that a coastal development project in a Natura 2000 area has a greater chance of success if its design integrates nature, provided that the project administration and scientific findings are favourable.