Important legal notices
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Guide to the Approximation of European Union Environmental Legislation


Part 2

Overview of EU environmental legislation

E. Nature Protection

EU nature protection legislation consists of two principal directives and two regulations. The directives concern the protection of natural habitats in the European Union and the flora and fauna which inhabit them. The regulations limit the import and trade within the European Union in endangered flora and fauna, and establish a monitoring and inspection system for the protection of Antarctica.

The Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC has become the main mechanism for protecting European species of fauna and flora as well as their habitats. It establishes an EU-wide framework to maintain biological diversity by the conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora. The Birds Directive 79/409/EEC protects wild bird species and sites of importance for the maintenance of populations of wild birds. It establishes a scheme for the protection of all naturally occurring species of wild birds in the Community, their eggs, nests, young and habitats. It requires the identification and adequate protection of breeding sites and sites of importance for migratory species, it regulates hunting seasons and practices.

Regulation EC/338/97 guarantees the fulfilment of EU nature protection obligations under the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It will be regularly amended to implement the decisions taken by the parties to the Washington Convention. Further information on CITES and the text of Regulation EC/338/97 is available on the CITES homepage.

The Seal Pups Directive 83/129/EEC bans the import of products such as shoes and clothes made with the skins of seal pups, except those killed by the Inuit people in a traditional manner.

Regulation 90/3943/EEC on the Protection of the Antarctic implements inspection and observation requirements under the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.


E.1 Habitats

Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora aims for the maintenance of biodiversity within the European territory of the Member States through the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora. Many habitat types in Europe have deteriorated and a growing number of species have become threatened or increasingly rare. The directive aims to establish a 'favourable conservation status' for habitat types and species selected as being of EU interest. This is defined broadly for both habitats and species by reference to factors such as species population dynamics, trends in the natural range of species and habitats, the area of habitat remaining and the proportion in a Member State.

An European ecological network known as 'Natura 2000' will be established. Each Member State must draw up a list of the sites within their territories which are of potential EU importance. The areas listed are in proportion to each Member State's share of the habitat type in need of protection. All sites protected under the Birds Directive 79/406/EEC, are also included in the 'Natura 2000' network.

A single list of sites of EU importance will then be compiled and should be adopted by June 1998 from which time the sites are subject to particular protection obligations. These include taking 'appropriate steps' to avoid deterioration of the habitats and assessing any plans or projects which are likely to have a significant effect on the sites. A plan or project must take conservation requirements into account; in imperative circumstances of overriding public interest a site may be adversely affected, but Member States must then take compensation measures. Member States have six years to designate the sites as Special Areas of Conservation and to put in place the necessary conservation measures, including, where appropriate, the development of management plans.

Land use planning measures should include policies aiming to ensure the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network and to maintain landscape features of importance to wildlife, especially those which enable species migration, propagation and genetic exchange. Member States must also establish a system of strict protection for the listed animal and plant species of EU interest. This prohibits deliberate collection, capture or killing of all such species at any stage in their life cycle or the deterioration or destruction of breeding sites or resting places.

Implementation considerations

Habitats Directive Implementation considerations

National legislative framework
  • Compare directive's requirements to existing national laws.
  • Identify legislative gaps.
  • Options:
    • One national law (Nature Protection Act)
    • Amendments to existing acts (nature protection acts, agriculture act, water management act, etc.)
Competent Authorities (CAs)
  • Determine CAs for legal and administrative purposes.
  • National level CA will likely have role of reporting to Commission on Directive developments, ensuring consistency of habitat protection.
Legal Checkpoints
  • Pay special attention to the criteria used to define and select Special Areas of Conservation (SAC).
  • Incorporate SAC conservation into land use planning decisions.
  • Develop laws for the incorporation of environmental impact assessment processes into decision-making procedures concerning the development proposals for SACs.
The Habitat Protection Process
  • Propose a list of sites based on Annexes 1 and 2.
  • Communicate this list to the Commission..
  • Arrive at agreement with the Commission over the sites to be protected.
  • Establish, where appropriate, management plans for the sites to be protected.
  • Integrate management plans into land use decisions.
  • Ensure that prior to site selection, all parties including local government, affected government departments, industry representatives, land developers and the public are given the opportunity to comment.
  • Make site data publicly available.
  • CAs to assist stakeholders in this regard by making proposed uses for the site (aside from conservation) be made known on a timely basis.
Financial Considerations
  • Government provides administration
  • Landholders could be given financial assistance or tax concessions to maintain conservation sites.

E.2 Wild Birds

Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds establishes a scheme for the protection of migratory wild birds and their habitats. A general duty is placed on the Member States to maintain the population of all species of naturally occurring birds in the wild state in the EU at a level which corresponds in particular to ecological, scientific and cultural requirements, while taking account of economic and recreational requirements. This is to be done by preserving, maintaining or re-establishing a sufficient diversity and area of habitats; that is, by creating protected areas, managing habitats inside and outside protected areas, re-establishing destroyed biotopes and creating new ones.

Member States are required to take special measures to conserve the habitats of listed vulnerable species as well as migratory species, in particular by designating as Special Protection Areas, (SPAs), the most suitable territories for these species. Special mention is given to wetlands in this regard. The protection regime for the SPAs is now defined under the Habitats Directive

Subject to certain exceptions, Member States must prohibit deliberate killing or capture; the deliberate destruction of/or damage to nests and eggs; the taking of eggs in the wild; deliberate disturbance during breeding and rearing; and the keeping of birds whose hunting and capture is prohibited.

For particularly vulnerable species Member States must designate special protection areas, in particular wetlands. They must inform the Commission so that it can ensure that the different national measures form a coherent whole. The sale of wild birds, including any parts or derivatives of live or dead birds, is generally prohibited.

Implementation considerations

E.3 Trade in Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

Regulation EC/338/96, which came into effect on 1 June 1997, replaces the Regulation 82/3626/EC on implementing the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It aims to protect wild species which are or may be affected by uncontrolled trade, through protection, regulation or monitoring.

It increases the numbers of protected species. To adapt to the changed circumstances resulting from the completion of the single market and the abolition of internal border controls, it applies stricter control measures at the Union's external borders, and includes provisions to improve enforcement such as setting penalties for those who break the law and introducing policies for seizing wildlife. Further information on CITES can be found on the CITES homepage.

Implementation considerations

E.4 Seal Pups

Member States must prohibit the commercial import of certain seal products, such as clothing. The prohibition does not apply to products resulting from traditional hunting by the Inuit people.

Implementation considerations

E.5 Protection of the Antarctic

Regulation 3943/90/EC on the application of the system of observation and inspection established under Article XXIV of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources adopts the observation and inspection procedures called for under the Convention.

E.6 Use of leghold traps

The Regulation EEC/3254/91 is intended to assist the conservation of certain species of wild animals by banning the use of leghold traps and limiting imports of their pelts and related goods.

Implementation considerations
  1. Countries shall monitor the compliance with the requirements laid down in the regulation.
  2. Controls to frontier should be organised.

E.7 Protection of Forests

Against Atmospheric Pollution

Regulation EEC/3528/86 establishes a scheme to protect forests against atmospheric pollution but the aim is more accurately set out as helping Member States to establish a periodic inventory of damage and a network of observation points. It requires the establishment of a periodic Community inventory of damage to forests. It provides for the development of pilot projects and field experiments designed to improve the understanding of atmospheric pollution in forests and its effect; improve methods of observing and measuring damage and establish methods for the restoration of damaged forests.

Implementation considerations
Against Fire

Regulation EEC/2158/92 provides increased protection for forests in order to reduce the number and extend of fire outbreaks and areas burnt. It steps up efforts undertaken to maintain forest ecosystem and to safeguard the various functions which forests fulfil for the benefit of rural areas. It institutes a scheme for the protection of forests against fire.

Implementation considerations