Birds Directive, Habitats Directive, NATURA 2000

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This article provides an introduction to the Birds and Habitats Directives of the European Union and Natura 2000.

Nature Conservation Policy

The EU’s policy on nature concervation consists of two directives:

  1. The Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the protection of wild birds (april 1979)
  2. The Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (may 1992)

All areas that are protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives form an ecological network known as NATURA 2000. The main purpose of this network is to maintain or restore the habitats and species at a favourable conservation status in their natural range.


NATURA 2000 is a network of protected areas across the EU, which was established in 1992.

The network is made up of:

  1. Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are high level protected sites classified in agreement with the Birds Directive. The species which are involved are listed in in Annex I of the Birds Directive and additional regularly occurring migratory species.
  2. Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s); protected sites assigned under the Habitats Directive. The habitat types and species concerned are listed in the Annexes I and II of the Habitats Directive. The list concerns habitat types and species that are considered to be most in need of conservation at the European level.

Birds Directive

The Conservation of Wild Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) was adopted on 2 April 1979.The Birds Directive aspires to:

  • Protect, manage and regulate all bird species naturally living in the wild within the European territory of the Member States, including the eggs of these birds, their nests and their habitats;
  • Regulate the exploitation of these species.


The Member States must create protection zones and biotopes, maintain the existing habitats and restore destroyed biotopes, in order to maintain or restore the diversity and the area of habitats for all species of naturally occurring birds in the wild state.

Additionally it must be prohibited by the Member states to:

  • Deliberately kill or capture the bird species covered by the Directives (Apart from a number of exceptions for certain species that may be hunted);
  • Destroy, damage or collect their nests and eggs;
  • Disturb them deliberately;
  • Detain them;
  • The sale, transport for sale, detention for sale and offering for sale of live and dead birds or of any part of a bird or any product produced from it (Apart from a number of exceptions for certain species that may be hunted).

Special Protection Areas

For certain bird species, which are listed in annex I of the directive and for regularly occurring migratory species, special measures are adopted. Besides Member States shall classify the most suitable territories as special protection areas (SPAs) for the conservation of these species. SPA's are scientifically identified areas which are crucial for the survival of the species listed in Annex I.

Habitats Directive

The Council Directive on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna, the Habitats Directive, 92/43/EEC was adopted on 21 May 1992 and complements and amends the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC). All pre-2004 15 Member States of the European Union are contracting parties to the Habitats Directive. The Habitat Directive is in force within the national borders of the Member States and on the continental shelf.

The aim of the Habitats Directive is to contribute towards ensuring bio-diversity by means of the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora in the European territory of the Member States.

Special areas of conservation

An European ecological network of special areas of conservation is set up under Natura 2000. These special areas of conservation are sites hosting the natural habitat types listed in Annex I and habitats of the species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive. The Special areas of conservation are designated in three stages:

  1. Each Member State must draw up a list of sites hosting natural habitats and wild fauna and flora;
  2. On the basis of the national lists and by agreement with the Member States, the Commission will then adopt a list of sites of Community importance;
  3. No later than six years after the selection of a site of Community importance, the Member State concerned must designate it as a special area of conservation.


If the Member State or the Commission consider a particular habitat or species is endangered, then the Member State must establish a plan or project in order to maintain or restore the special protection area to a favourable conservation status. The Directive provides for co-financing of conservation measures by the Community. The plans or projects must take into account the economic, social or cultural requirements of the area in question.

In addition the Member States must take the following measures:

  • Encourage the management of features of the landscape which are essential for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of wild species;
  • Establish systems of strict protection for those animal and plant species which are particularly threatened (Annex IV) and study the desirability of reintroducing those species in their territory;
  • Prohibit the use of non-selective methods of taking, capturing or killing certain animal and plant species (Annex V).


Every six years, Member States must report on the conservation status for all species and habitats of Community interest and the effectiveness of the measures they have taken pursuant to the Directive.

Timepath Reporting period National report (EU synthesis report) Main focus
Step 1 1994 – 2000 2001 (2003/4) Progress in legal transposition and implementation of the directive; progress in establishing the Natura 2000 network, administrative aspects.
Step 2 2001 – 2006 2007 (2008/9) First assessment of conservation status based on best available data (based among others on trends and ideally in comparison with favorable reference values).
Step 3 2007-2012 2013 (2014/15) Renewed assessment of conservation status, based on established monitoring system. Assessment of effectiveness of measures taken under the directive.

Climate Change and Birds and Habitats Directives, and Natura 2004

Climate change will affect the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives, and Natura 2004. Coastal and marine areas will be impacted changes in water quality and quantity, changes in annual and seasonal precipitation, desertification, erosion and flooding; and this will in turn affect birds, protected habitats and conservation areas included under Natura 2004. A discussion is underway at the EU as to the extent that existing legislation needs to be modified or breadthened to address climate change.

The main author of this article is van Buuren, Jannette
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: van Buuren, Jannette (2021): Birds Directive, Habitats Directive, NATURA 2000. Available from,_Habitats_Directive,_NATURA_2000 [accessed on 28-02-2024]