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EU Nature Legislation

Birds Directive (1979)

Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds (this is the codified version of Directive 79/409/EEC as amended). This Directive ensures far-reaching protection for all of Europe's wild birds, identifying 194 species and sub-species among them as particularly threatened and in need of special conservation measures. There are a number of components to this scheme:

Member States are required to designate Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for 194 particularly threatened species and all migratory bird species. SPAs are scientifically identified areas critical for the survival of the targeted species, such as wetlands. They are part of the Natura 2000 ecological network set up under the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC.

A second component bans activities that directly threaten birds, such as the deliberate killing or capture of birds, the destruction of their nests and taking of their eggs, and associated activities such as trading in live or dead birds (with a few exceptions).

A third component establishes rules that limit the number of bird species that can be hunted (82 species and sub-species) and the periods during which they can be hunted. It also defines hunting methods which are permitted (e.g. non-selective hunting is banned).

Habitats Directive (1992)

The Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC was adopted in 1992. The main aim of this Directive is to promote the maintenance of biodiversity, taking account of economic, social, cultural and regional requirements. While the Directive makes a contribution to the general objective of sustainable development; it ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic species, including around 450 animals and 500 plants. Some 200 rare and characteristic habitat types are also targeted for conservation in their own right.

The Directive provides for a ban on the downgrading of breeding and resting places for certain strictly protected animal species. Exceptions to the strict protection rules can be granted under very specific conditions. The Habitats Directive also establishes the EU wide Natura 2000 ecological network of protected areas. For these areas it provides a high level of safeguards against potentially damaging developments. Together with the Birds Directive, the Habitats Directive forms the backbone of EU nature protection legislation.

Brochure: The EU Birds and Habitats Directives in a nutshell
Date of publication: 2014

Birds and habitats directives

Case Law

Nature and Biodiversity Cases - Ruling of the European Court of Justice

Fitness Check of EU Nature Legislation

As part of its Smart Regulation policy the Commission has initiated a Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT). Under the first stages of this programme, the Commission has reviewed the entire stock of EU legislation and decided on follow-up actions, one of which is to undertake a Fitness check of EU Nature legislation.