EU Nature Protection Legislation – Focus on Species Protection




Overview of EU Nature Protection Regime
Common Conservation Objectives


The specific objectives of both Directives aim to create a conservation framework, for species, habitats and sites protected by the Directives:

  • A. Ensuring that the most important sites are protected and managed and form a coherent whole relates to the Natura 2000 network, established for species and habitat types listed in Annex I and II of the Habitats Directive and Annex I of the Birds Directive, as well as for migratory birds. This is made up of Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) adopted by the Commission then later designated by Member States as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the Habitats Directive as well as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) classified by Member States under the Birds Directive.
  • B. The Directives also require and encourage Member States to take habitat conservation measures beyond the Natura 2000 network.
  • C. Member States must establish a strict protection regime for all naturally occurring wild bird species and other endangered species listed in Annex IV of the Habitats Directive, both inside and outside Natura 2000 sites. Certain bird species listed in Annex II may be hunted and other species listed in Annex V of the Habitats Directive may be exploited, but Member States must ensure that this exploitation is sustainable and does not jeopardise conservation efforts.
  • D. Member States must also ensure adequate knowledge, data availability and awareness to underpin implementation of the Directives.

Regarding the enforcement of both Directives, there have been significant challenges with transposition and implementation of their provisions. In response to non-communication of the national transposition measures, the Commission launched 68 infringement procedures, of which 23 concern only the Birds Directive, 14 only the Habitats Directive and 31 both. Conformity checks of the national measures transposing both Directives resulted in 43 infringement procedures related to the Birds Directive, 39 cases to the Habitats Directive and 15 cases concerning both Directives. All of these procedures were closed following legislative measures put in place by Member States to correctly transpose both Directives.

There have been delays in selection of sites to be designated as SCIs and SPAs in all Member States, which has caused delays in the adoption of SCIs by the Commission, according to the procedure laid down in Article 4(2) of the Habitats Directive. This has had a cascade effect also in terms of timing of designation of SACs, according to Article 4(4) as well and to the establishment of the necessary conservation measures according to Article 6(1) of the Habitat Directive.

There have been many complaints addressed to the Commission in relation to alleged poor implementation of some provisions of the Nature Directives, notably in relation to the protection and procedural safeguards applying to Natura 2000 sites under Article 6(2) and 6(3) of the Habitats Directive and to hunting activities under Article 7 of the Birds Directive. Some of those complaints have led to the opening of bad application infringement procedures, in addition to those launched by the Commission acting on its own initiative. More details are given in the following sections, in relation to each of the specific objectives of the Directives.