Birds and Habitats Directives

The Council of Europe signed the Bern Convention in 1979 to give a legal framework for the conservation of biodiversity on the continent (Jones-Walters and Čivić 2013). This was followed by the adoption of the Birds Directive by the nine Member States of the EU in April 1979 (79/409/EC), to respond to worrying decreases in bird populations observed on the continent, and acknowledging that some species of birds are a European heritage and that the conservation of migratory species is a transboundary matter. The Directive was later amended, as new Member States joined the EU and was updated in November 2009 for the EU27 countries (Directive 2009/147/EC).

The directive's articles engage the Member States, inter alia, into maintaining populations at viable levels, creating protected areas and managing bird populations within and outside those areas. Particular attention should be given to bird species in Annex I (193 species), while species in Annex II (82 species) may be hunted under national legislations. The directive resulted in the creation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which number increased steadily, including with the addition of new Member States to the European Union.

The Birds Directive was followed, 13 years later, by the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC), adopted in May 1992. This directive emphasizes the conservation of biodiversity via the conservation of “habitats, wild fauna and flora”, in a context of sustainable development for the continent. A total of over 230 habitat types and over 1000 species of animals and plants were selected. Country specific lists of Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) were then evaluated by the Commission, before being implemented as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) by the Member States (European Commission, 2002; Gaston et al. 2008a). The Habitats Directive further aimed at building a “coherent European ecological network”, the Natura 2000 Network, which would encompass the Protected Areas created under the Birds Directive of 1979, the SPAs, and the newly designated SACs. The contribution of each EU country to the Natura 2000 network depends on the proportion of habitats (in annex I) and habitats for species (in annex II and IV) present within their borders. The management of the Natura 2000 areas is the responsibility of each Member State, which can delegate and decentralize to federal or regional agencies (European Commission 2002). Traditional European landscapes may serve as a conservation baseline (Gaston et al. 2008a), as the guidelines on Natura 2000 site management emphasize the importance of ensuring “the continuation of traditional management regimes, which very often have been critical in creating and maintaining the habitats which are valued today” (European Commission 2002).

The Natura 2000 network is a unique example of a regional, transboundary, and unified network of protected areas (Crofts 2014; Hochkirch et al. 2013). As of 2008, Denmark and the Netherland had reached 100 % of their sufficiency for the Habitats Directive Annex I habitats and Annex II species, meaning that their network of PAs covered at least one instance for 100 % of the habitats and species of the annexes that had a known distribution on their territories (EEA 2009a). The rest of the EU Member States had between 70 and 99 % of sufficiency, with the exception of Lithuania (61 %), Czech Republic (59 %), Cyprus (25 %) and Poland (17 %). The Natura 2000 Network is now shifting from establishing the areas to defining proper coordinated management strategies (European Commission 2013).

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