Europe’s cornerstones for nature conservation policy are for sure the Birds and Habitats Directive. They are the oldest European pieces of legislation on the environment. These Directives protect over 1,000 species and more than 200 habitats, and are binding for all Member States. Due to habitat destruction, degradation, pollution, negative anthropogenic effects and invasive species, the importance of enforcing Directives has become more vital.

The Birds Directive provides a legal framework for birds protection, including their nests, eggs and habitats. Through five Annexes, Directive has covered designation of protected areas, habitats for wild birds, species protection and hunting regulations.

  • Annex 1: 194 species and sub-species are particularly threatened. Member States must designate Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for their survival and of all migratory bird species.
  • Annex 2: 82 bird species can be hunted. However, the hunting periods are limited, and hunting is forbidden when birds are at their most vulnerable stages: during their return migration to nesting areas, reproduction and the raising of their chicks.
  • Annex 3: overall, activities that directly threaten birds, such as their deliberate killing, capture or trade, or the destruction of their nests, are banned. With certain restrictions, Member States can allow some of these activities for 26 species listed here.
  • Annex 4: the directive provides for the sustainable management of hunting, but Member States must forbid all forms of non-selective and large-scale killing of birds, especially the methods listed in this Annex.
  • Annex 5: the Directive promotes research to underpin the protection, management and use of all species of birds covered by the Directive, which are listed in this Annex.

Habitat loss and degradation are the most serious threats to the conservation of wild birds. The Directive therefore places great emphasis on the protection of habitats for endangered and migratory species. It establishes a network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs), including all the most suitable territories for these species. Since 1994, all SPAs are included in the Natura 2000 ecological network, set up under the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC.

The Member States unanimously adopted the Directive 79/409/EEC in April 1979, being the oldest piece of EU legislation on the environment. Amended in 2009, it became the Directive 2009/147/EC.

For more information visit the European Commission website:

The Habitats Directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species. Some 200 rare and characteristic habitat types are also targeted for conservation. Five Annexes to this Directive have covered designation of protected areas, Natura 2000 network, site protection and species protection legislation.

  • Annex I lists the specific habitats (over 233 nowadays including 71 priority) which have been designated as the a Special Area of Conservation, to which a common EU-wide legislation applies. Certain habitats among those are furthermore designated as “priority habitat types”.
  • Annex II lists the 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 III explains the criteria which are used to select sites which are eligible to be recognised as important for Europe, or as Special Areas of Conservation. The process consists of two stages. The first stage is to assess the importance at a national level, based on the habitats and species listed in Annexes I and II. The second stage is to assess the importance for Europe as a whole, again based on the two earlier Annexes.
  • Annex IV list the 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 list the species (over 90) which Member States must ensure that their exploitation and taking in the wild is compatible with maintaining them in a favourable conservation status.

Adopted in 1992, the Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora aims to promote the maintenance of biodiversity, taking account of economic, social, cultural and regional requirements. It forms the cornerstone of Europe’s nature conservation policy with the Birds Directive and establishes the EU-wide Natura 2000 ecological network of protected areas, safeguarded against potentially damaging developments.

For more information visit the European Commission website: