Saving threatened habitats worldwide

EU Habitats and Birds Directives: have your say!

21 May, 2015 - 16:51 -- World Land Trust
Turtle Doves David Tipling

Andrew Barnes is a long standing supporter of World Land Trust (WLT). In this guest blog he calls on other WLT supporters to join the debate about protecting European habitats and birds.

Unusual as it may sound, the European Union (EU) is asking for your opinion. The EU Habitats and Birds Directives are under review and the period of public consultation has started.

In place since 1992 and 1979 respectively, the two directives form the cornerstone of conservation legislation; they protect our plants, wildlife and marine life. In essence, the directives place an obligation on member states to preserve certain species and to protect the habitats where they are found.

Habitats identified as important to ensure the long term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species are recorded on the Natura 2000 list. There are some 800 Natura 2000 sites in the UK, among them well known places such as the Flow Country in Scotland, the New Forest and The Wash.

Natura 2000 is in effect the centrepiece of EU nature and biodiversity policy. It is an EU wide network of nature protection areas established under the 1992 Habitats Directive. The aim of the network is to assure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats. It is comprised of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) designated by member states under the Habitats Directive, and also incorporates Special Protection Areas (SPAs) which are designated under the 1979 Birds Directive.

Natura 2000 applies to Birds Sites and to Habitats Sites, which are divided into biogeographical regions. It also applies to the marine environment. The Natura 2000 Barometer gives updated statistical information on the progress in establishing the Natura 2000 network, both under the Birds and the Habitats Directives.

The directives are far from perfect and have been criticised by some for not being stringent enough. For example the Birds Directive protects 194 particularly threatened species of wild bird but allows for the hunting of 82 species. Those which can be hunted include Godwits, Lapwing, Common and Jack Snipe, Garganey, Skylark, Quail and Turtle Dove. The visual differences between some of the protected species and those legally hunted would challenge an ornithologist armed with state of the art optics let alone hunters armed with shotguns aiming at birds appearing out of the mist.

The cost of implementing the directives (estimated at €5.8 billion per year) compared to the financial benefits is another argument put forward against the directives. The requirements to regularly report data to test the efficacy of the directives coupled with the cost of enforcement can be expensive. However studies suggest that the benefits amount to €200-300 billion per year. 

In support of the review the EU has said that the Birds and Habitats Directives are undergoing a REFIT under the European Commission's Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme. According to the Commission, the purpose of REFIT is ‘to make EU law simpler and to reduce regulatory costs, thus contributing to a clear, stable and predictable regulatory framework supporting growth and jobs.’

Clearly, there are financial reasons for reducing the scope and effectiveness of the directives. But, so too, there are strong arguments for preserving and even strengthening all the conservation frameworks that we have, both for ourselves and those yet to be born. We all have an opportunity to express an opinion before the public consultation ends on 24 July 2015. Please take it.

Andy Barnes is a keen hiker and worldwide traveller with an interest in the natural world and maintaining its wonders for future generations to enjoy.

More information

Feedback on the directives can be submitted to the EU via an online questionnaire »

Some conservation organisations have prepared a version of the questionnaire with suggested responses. One of the most useful and user friendly can be found at the Nature Alert website. This is a site formed by the Joint Links Group representing more than 100 charitable organisations interested in the natural world. To preview the answers already populated click to scroll down the page.

The Joint Link Group is connected to the Wildlife and Countryside Link, which is an umbrella body of voluntary organisations. More information on the Joint Links Group and its response can be found here »

Suffolk Wildlife Trust also has a web page that describes in more detail what is at stake, with a link to Nature Alert.  


Submitted by Richard Wayre on

Protection of biodiversity should be a cornerstone policy of all governmental bodies, whatever level they function at, including the EU. Any attempt to reduce the strength of the existing Birds and Habitats Directives, for whatever reason, will be objected to by the people you purport to represent. In these times of relentless development and pressure for economic growth, biodiversity protection should be strengthened, not reduced.

Submitted by Davila Scott on

It is very important that the existing EU legisation in relation to biodiversity, in particular the Birds and Habitats directive is not in any way reduced in strength. With increasing human populations and increasing pressure for development, biodiversity legislation needs to be strengthened.

Submitted by Peter Foster on

If you care about conservation, please submit a response to the EU consultation questionnaire. It takes barely 60 seconds to complete the questionnaire via the Nature Alert website ( The deadline for responses has been extended to midnight on Sunday 26 July 2015 due to frequent technical problems encountered during the consultation period, and in particular the unavailability of the questionnaire for a significant period of time on 11-12 July. So far, more than 489,000 people have responded via the Nature Alert website. That figure could be half a million by the end of the consultation period (midnight on Sunday) - if more people are prepared to stand up for nature conservation.

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