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Training package on EU Nature Protection Legislation – Focus on Site Protection

Module 1: The legal framework of EU Nature Protection

Introduction (1/2)

Biodiversity constitutes the core idea within the framework of the nature protection regimes elaborated in the EU law landscape. The term “biodiversity” or “biological diversity” refers to the variety of living beings on Earth. In short, it is described as the degree of variation of life on our planet. Biological diversity encompasses microorganisms, plants, animals and ecosystems such as coral reefs, forests, rainforests, deserts etc. Biodiversity also refers to the number, or abundance of, different species living within a particular region. It represents the wealth of biological resources available to us. It is all about sustaining the natural area comprising the community of plants, animals and other living things that is beginning to be reduced at a steady rate as we plan human activities which will result in habitat destruction.

The concept of biodiversity may be analysed on three different levels:

  1. Ecosystem Diversity, which means the richness and complexity of a biological community, including tropic levels, ecological processes (which capture energy), food webs and material recycling.
  2. Species Diversity, which describes the number of kinds of organisms within individual communities or ecosystems.
  3. Genetic Diversity, which constitutes a measure of the variety of versions of the same gene within individual species.

Biodiversity is measured by two major components: species richness, and species evenness. Species richness is similar to species diversity, however it simply measures the total number of species in an ecosystem. The second component is species evenness, which gauges the proportion of species at a given site, e.g. “low evenness indicates that a few species dominate the site”.
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Biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity where each species, no matter how small, has its own important role to play. The significance of biodiversity in human life is multidimensional, since humans utilise the natural capital to satisfy their physiological needs including food, shelter, clothing, air, water, and energy. Among the valuable natural resources are forest, grazing land, ground, inorganic and organic materials, stones, streams, petroleum and trees. Other than the benefits to human beings, it is also important for vegetation, animal life and agronomy.

In 1992 the United Nations (UN) held a Conference on Environment and Development. At this conference, 192 nations plus the European Union came together to create the “Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)” (More information: by highlighting that “at least 40 per cent of the world’s economy and 80 per cent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. In addition, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to such new challenges as climate change”. (More information: This quote succinctly sums up the value of biodiversity to our economy, our health, and our Earth.

For the presentation on "Introduction to the EU Nature law" see the video podcast of Valerie Fogleman:

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Biodiversity plays an important role in ecosystem functions which provide supporting, provisioning, regulating, and cultural services. These services are essential for human well-being, as they are directly related to food needs, human health, economic growth and social progress. In particular, the role of biodiversity is directly connected to fundamental functions on the Earth, such as maintaining balance of the ecosystem (i.e. recycling and storage of nutrients, combating pollution, stabilising climate, forming and protecting soil), provision of biological resources (i.e. provision of medicines and pharmaceuticals, wood products, breeding stock and diversity of species, ecosystems and genes) and social benefits (i.e. recreation and tourism, cultural value, education and research).

In the present era, the Earth’s biodiversity is in grave danger. The main cause of the loss of biodiversity can be attributed to the influence of human beings on the world’s ecosystem, In fact human beings have deeply altered the environment, and have modified the territory, exploiting the species directly, for example by fishing and hunting, changing the biogeochemical cycles and transferring species from one area to another of the planet. The threats to biodiversity can be summarised in the following main points: (More information: alteration and loss of habitats, introduction of exotic species and genetically modified organisms, pollution, human overpopulation, climate change, overexploitation of resources.

Given that biodiversity loss is described, alongside climate change, as the most critical global environmental threat, in 2010 the EU Heads of State and Governments set themselves the following target for biodiversity conservation in the EU: "To halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020, restore them in so far as feasible, while stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss." The Commission’s EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, (More information: Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 (COM (2011) 244, 3.5.2011) adopted in May 2011, sets out six main targets to ensure this overall objective is achieved by 2020. One of the targets is to fully implement the Birds and Habitats Directives.

The Birds and Habitats Directives, sometimes jointly called “Nature Directives”, are the cornerstones of the EU’s biodiversity policy; the heart of European nature conservation is the protection of biodiversity. They enable all 27 EU Member States to work together, within a common legislative framework, to conserve Europe’s most endangered and valuable habitats and species across their entire natural range within the EU, irrespective of political or administrative boundaries.


Developed by the Academy of European Law (ERA)