EU Nature Protection Legislation – Focus on Species Protection




Evaluation of the existing EU Nature Protection Legislation
EU Nature Protection Law Assessment


Regarding the effectiveness of the Directives, the evaluation showed that the general objectives of the Directives have not yet been met and it is not possible to predict when they will be fully achieved. However, it is clear that the status and trends of bird species as well as other species and habitats protected by the Directives would be significantly worse in their absence and improvements in the status of species and habitats are taking place where there are targeted actions of sufficient scale. Although there are still gaps for the marine environment, the terrestrial part of the Natura 2000 protected areas network is now largely established. National systems of species protection and sustainable use are in place. Progress on habitat conservation and delivery of ecosystem services beyond Natura 2000 is more limited.

With regard to the costs involved in the implementation of the aforementioned Directives, they are considered to be reasonable and in proportion to the benefits achieved. Namely, compliance costs of designating, protecting and managing Natura 2000 sites have been estimated to be at least € 5.8 billion annually across the EU. The multiple benefits of the Directives, estimated at € 200-300 billion per year, significantly exceed identified costs. Their implementation contributes to local economies through job creation and tourism, especially in rural areas. Unnecessary administrative burdens can result from national or regional implementation approaches (e.g. permitting procedures that are more complicated than necessary). However, there is a growing body of good practice on smart implementation approaches, such as early screening of plans and projects, streamlining of permitting procedures, improving the quality and sharing of data.

Furthermore, according to the examination of relevance, the Birds and Habitats Directives continue to be relevant for tackling the key pressures on habitats and species. Their general and specific objectives remain valid, setting out what is to be achieved and leaving the responsibility for identifying and responding to specific threats to the Member States. Annexes to both Directives have been amended on a number occasions, most recently linked to the accession of new Member States. Over 1200 species and sub-species as well as 231 habitat types are currently listed under the Habitats Directive. Moreover, the Nature Directives are coherent with each other but there is continued need to promote implementation solutions that optimise the attainment of their conservation objectives while having full regard to the socio-economic context in which they operate, working with different stakeholders. Besides, the Nature Directives and the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy constitute an integrated and fully coherent policy approach.

Finally, based on the analysis of EU added value of the Directives, it is apparent that there is a broad recognition that they have established a stronger and more consistent basis for protecting nature that existed in Europe before their adoption. The needs and rationale for EU level action through the Nature Directives also remain valid with a view to achieving the multiple ecosystem service benefit that they deliver to society.

All in all, the evaluation has shown that the general objectives of the Directives have not yet been met and it is not possible to predict when they will be fully achieved since a very high proportion of species and habitat types protected under the Directive are still in an unfavourable conservation status, some of which are continuing to decline or remain endangered. Click here for more information!

This can be attributed to insufficient progress in delivering the specific objectives as well as the fact that many of the pressures and threats that have led to declines such as land use change, habitat loss and degradation and pollution continue to persist. Besides, the implementation of the Directives has also taken place at a time of accelerating rates of urbanisation, changing demographic and diet patterns, technological changes, deepening market integration, and climate change, all of which place unprecedented demands on land.