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Species protected under the Habitats Directive

Species under the Habitats Directive

In order to ensure the survival of Europe’s most endangered and vulnerable species, EU governments adopted the Habitats Directive in 1992 (Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora). Together with the Birds Directive, it sets the standard for nature conservation across the EU and enables all 27 Member States to work together within the same strong legislative framework in order to protect the most vulnerable species and habitat types across their entire natural range within the EU.

The Habitats Directive protects around 1200 European species other than birds which are considered to be endangered, vulnerable, rare and/or endemic.  Included in the Directive are mammals, reptiles, fish, crustaceans, insects, molluscs, bivalves and plants.  The protection provisions for these species are similar to those in the Birds Directive. They are designed to ensure that the species listed in the Habitats Directive reach a favourable conservation status within the EU. 

The Habitats Directive species and sub-species are protected in various ways:

  • For those listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive (ca  900 in total) core areas of their habitat – designated as Sites of Community Importance - must be protected under the Natura 2000 Network and the sites managed in accordance with the ecological requirements of the species
  • For species and sub- species listed in Annex IV (over 400 species, including many that are also listed in annex II) a strict protection regime must be applied across their entire natural range within the EU, both within and outside Natura 2000 sites 
  • For species and sub-species listed in Annex V (ca 94) Member States shall, if deemed necessary as a result of surveillance work, take measures to ensure that their exploitation and taking in the wild is compatible with maintaining them in a favourable conservation status.

The European Commission has issued a guidance document on the species protection provisions of the Habitats Directive in order to ensure their correct implementation and has supported a number of strategic initiatives to improve the knowledge of the threatened species in Europe (the IUCN European Red Data list) and the management of certain groups of species, such as the large carnivores.

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