EU Nature Protection Legislation – Focus on Species Protection




Species Protection under Birds Directive
EU Birds Protection Regime


Article 1 of the Directive states that it relates to the

"conservation of all species of naturally occurring birds in the wild state in the European territory of the Member States to which the Treaty applies. It covers the protection, management and control of these species and lays down rules for their exploitation."

The case law of the CJEU confirms that, when implementing the Directive, the Member States have an obligation to protect species of wild birds occurring in the territory of the Community, and not merely those species occurring in their national territories. Click here for more information!

Natura 2000 and Threatened birds
The identification and conservation of key territories (sites) where a species breeds, feeds, roosts and stops-over during migration is a critical requirement in any species recovery effort. In the EU, the establishment of the Natura 2000 Network is the main tool and legal requirement that follows directly from the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. Under the Birds Directive, sites need to be classified for 192 species of birds listed in Annex I of the Directive. Member States must classify sites for other regularly occurring migratory bird species not listed in Annex I, bearing in mind the need to protect their breeding, moulting and wintering areas and staging posts along their migration routes, for example wetlands of international importance. These sites are called Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and are directly included in the European Natura 2000 Network. SPAs must be subject to special habitat conservation measures in order to ensure the survival and reproduction of the migratory and Annex I birds in their area of coverage. Natura 2000 is an ecological network of sites spanning 27 EU countries, which includes over 26 000 sites so far, covering about one-fifth of the EU’s land area. The Natura 2000 Network also extends the marine environment, where the designation of sites is still ongoing.

For the large majority of species, Natura 2000 holds more than half or even up to 100% of their population at any given stage of their life cycle. For other species, which are still more common or are thinly dispersed over large areas, their inclusion in protected areas is lower. Their conservation must therefore be achieved through other means. For example, agri-environmental schemes and improved management of the forests have been vital in implementing the action plans for several species, such as the Spanish and Eastern Imperial Eagles, Great Bustard, Lesser Kestrel among others.