EU Nature Protection Legislation – Focus on Species Protection




Species Protection under Habitats Directive
Overview of the species protection framework: EU species action plans and EU species Red Lists


Under the Habitats Directive over 1 000 animal and plant species, as well as 200 habitat types, listed in the Directive's annexes are protected in various ways:

  • Annex II species (about 900): core areas of their habitat are designated as Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) and included in the Natura 2000 network. These sites must be managed in accordance with the ecological needs of the species.
  • Annex IV species (over 400, including many annex II species): a strict protection regime must be applied across their entire natural range within the EU, both within and outside Natura 2000 sites.
  • Annex V species (over 90): Member States must ensure that their exploitation and taking in the wild is compatible with maintaining them in a favourable conservation status.

European Red Lists of species
The European Red List of Species is a review of the conservation status of approx 11 000 European species (mammals, reptiles, amphibians, freshwater fishes, butterflies, dragonflies, birds, bees, marine fishes, medicinal plants, grasshoppers, crickets and bush-crickets, and selected groups of beetles, molluscs, and vascular plants).
Developed by IUCN, with financial support from the EU, the European Red List identifies those species that are threatened with extinction at European level – so that appropriate conservation action can be taken to improve their status.

European Red List assessments have so far been made at two geographical levels:

  • 1) EU level: European part of the territory of the EU28, EU27 or EU25 as stated in the specific table (including Canary Islands, Madeira and Azores)
  • 2) Pan-European level: this level includes all European countries (including the entire area in level 1), the European part of Turkey and the European part of Russia up to the Ural, but excluding the Russian Caucasus, Anatolian Turkey and the other Caucasus countries.

Exceptions to this approach have been made for the EU Red List of Freshwater Fishes, where the Pan-European level assessment includes the entire Black Sea basin, the northern Caspian Sea basin and hence the northern Caucasus in general.
For the Red List of Marine Fishes, no distinction has been made between the EU28 and the Pan-European assessment. In addition, for practical reasons, the European Red List of Marine Fishes covers the entire Mediterranean Sea rather than only its European part.

European Union Species Action Plans for selected species
In 2008 the Commission began to support the development of Species Action Plans for selected species listed in the Habitats Directive, such as the Action Plan for the Conservation of the Common Midwife Toad Alytes obstetricians in the European Union. The plans are intended to be used as a tool for identifying and prioritising measures to restore the population of these species across their range within the European Union. They provide information about the status, ecology, threats and current conservation measures for each species and list the key actions that are required to improve their conservation status in Europe.
As well as the European management plans for sustainable hunting within the scope of the Birds Directive, the Species Action Plans are neither binding, nor do they bind the Member States beyond their existing legal commitments under this Directive. They only provide assistance to the Member States in order to conserve the listed species.