The EU Habitats Directive
Nature conservation provisions enshrined in the EU Habitats Directive:
The Natura 2000 network comprises sites designated under the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992) and the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979). Sites protected under the Habitats Directive are classed as sites of Community importance (SCIs) and as special areas of conservation (SACs). Areas protected under the Birds Directive are described as special protection areas (SPAs). They are selected according to EU standards and then placed under protection. See the section on site designation for further information.
The protection of areas of Community importance is governed by Article 6 of the Habitats Directive rsp. by Article 3 of the Birds Directive. Under the Habitats Directive member states are called upon to establish the necessary conservation measures and, if need be, appropriate management plans (Article 6 (1) of the Habitats Directive). They are also required to take appropriate steps to avoid, in the special areas of conservation, the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated, insofar as such disturbance could be significant in relation to the objective of this Directive (Article 6 (2) of the Habitats Directive).
Measures taken under the Directive to protect natural habitats and species may, for example, be set out in management plans and must take account of the ecological needs of the habitats and species involved. Identification of the measures and conservation objectives initially focuses on the nature conservation objectives of the Natura 2000 network (Annex I Natural Habitat Types, Annex II Species).
The Directive also requires regular monitoring to assess the effectiveness of the conservation measures taken.
Article 3 of the EU Birds Directive calls upon Member states to take the requisite measures to preserve, maintain and re-establish a sufficient diversity and area of habitats. Bird habitats must be preserved and maintained both inside and outside of protected zones. Destroyed habitats must be re-established and new habitats created. Under Article 6 (2) of the Habitats Directive, ‘appropriate steps’ must be taken in special areas of conservation (which includes SPAs) to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated, insofar as such disturbance could be significant in relation to the objectives of the Directive.
Given their functional relationships, measures to re-establish favourable conservation status may also be taken outside Natura 2000 sites if they have a positive impact on the targets of protection.
If other management plans exist, say under the Water Framework Directive, their objectives and measures must be compatible with those of the Habitats Directive.
Under Article 6 (3) of the Habitats Directive, an impact assessment is required in cases where any plan or project, either by itself or in combination with other plans or projects, is likely to have a significant effect on a given site. See the section on impact assessments for further information.
Promotion and Funding
Article 8 of the Habitats Directive governs funding of the Natura 2000 network of protected sites. For the most part, the provisions of the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive (as regards their financial impacts) target the member states. The Directive does however provide for co-financing and cost assessment by the European Union, with direct financial contributions from the European Union possible for areas hosting priority species and priority natural habitat types. See the section on funding for further information.
To improve the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network, Articles 3 (3) and 10 of the Habitats Directive call on member states to encourage the management of landscape features that are essential for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of wild species and so improve the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network of protection areas and beyond. See the section on coherence for more information.
Articles 12 to 16 of the Habitats Directive and Articles 5 to 9 of the Birds Directive set out provisions on species protection. These include measures to establish a system of strict protection for the flora and fauna and flora listed in Annex IV (Articles 12 and 13 of the Habitats Directive), measures governing the taking and use of flora and fauna listed and flora listed in Annex V (Article 14) and provisions on the capture and transport of species listed in Annexes IV and V (Article 15).
Exceptions are governed by the Directive’s Article 16.
The provisions on species protection in the Birds Directive include bans on trading in and hunting of specific species and a ban on certain methods of capture. Exceptions are set out in Annexes II and III and in Article 9.
Article 11 of the Habitats Directive requires member states to monitor natural habitats and species of Community interest.
Natural habitats of Community interest are listed in Annex I to the Directive. Species of Community interest include all fauna and flora referred to in Annexes II, IV and V (Articles 1c and 2 of the Habitats Directive).
Monitoring activities must also take place beyond Natura 2000 sites as they are designed to monitor the conservation status of natural habitat types and species in general while giving special consideration to priority natural habitat types and species independent of their location. See the section on reporting and monitoring for further information.
One of the key obligations the Habitats Directive places on member states is the six-yearly reporting requirement on the status of the Natura 2000 network sites under their jurisdiction. This is the first-ever far-ranging legislative requirement designed to monitor the success of nature conservation activities. The reporting obligation is governed by Article 17 of the Directive. The European Commission uses the national reports to compile a composite report.
Apart from the information on conservation measures taken under the Habitats Directive, the reports must also describe the impacts on the conservation status of the species and natural habitat types listed in Annex II of any measures taken in Natura 2000 sites, as set out in Article 6 of the Directive. The reports must also provide the key findings of monitoring activities conducted to assess the conservation status of species and natural habitat types of Community interest, as called for under the Directive’s Article 11.
Article 12 of the Birds Directive requires member states to report every three years on implementation of national provisions taken under the Directive. The Commission completes a composite report based on the information contained in the national reports.
See the section on reporting and monitoring for further details.
Article 17 of the Habitats Directive places particular importance on informing the public. It requires that every six years, national reports be drawn up and made accessible to the public. The same applies for the EU Commission’s composite report.
Advancing research and technical knowledge is vital in implementing the Habitats and Birds Directive. The Article 18 (Habitat Directive) and 10 (Birds Directive) require the member states and the EU Commission to promote the necessary research and scientific work.
The Directive requires that research be performed to:
- Ensure biodiversity through the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Article 2 (1)).
- Design measures to maintain or restore, at favourable conservation status, natural habitats and species of wild fauna and flora of Community interest (Article 2 (2)).
- Monitor the conservation status of the natural habitats and species referred to in Article 2 with particular regard to priority natural habitat types and priority species (Article 11).
- Select and propose suitable sites for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network of protected areas (Article 4).
- Secure ecological coherence by maintaining, and where appropriate developing, features of the landscape (including those crossing national borders) which are of major importance for wild fauna and flora.
In connection with the designation of protected areas, Article 19 of the Directive requires that Annexes I, II, IV and V be adapted to technical and scientific progress based on research conducted on the Europe-wide threat to species and natural habitats. Examples include the national red lists of endangered habitats and species.
Article 10 of the Birds Directive encourages member states to conduct the research and other work required as a basis for the protection, management and use of all species of wild birds and their natural habitats governed by the Directive. Particular attention must be paid in respect of the species listed in Annex V.
Amending the Annexes to the Habitats Directive
The Habitats Directive is designed to protect species and habitats of Community interest, meaning natural habitats and wild species that are either endangered or extremely rare. This status can change for the better (e.g. as a result of measures taken under the Directive) or the worse (e.g. due to the impact of agricultural activities). This is why Article 19 of the Habitats Directive provides for the annexes to the Directive to be adapted (amended) to ‘technical and scientific progress’. Amendments may only be made at fairly long intervals and require a unanimous decision by the European Council. At the same time the species lists can be amended to take account of advances in taxonomy and systematic classification.
Article 15 of the Birds Directive provides for Annexes I and V to be adapted (amended) to technical and scientific progress. Amendments may only be made at fairly long intervals and require a majority decision by the European Council. The amendment procedure is set out in the Directive’s Article 17.
Implementation Committee and Organisation
At EU level, implementation of the Habitats and Birds Directive is supported by the Habitats Committee (under Articles 20 and 21 of the Habitat Directive) rsp. by the Ornis Committee (under Article 16 of the Birds Directive) which comprise representatives from all member states and the EU Commission. Decisions are made with a qualified majority (using weighted votes). In its capacity as a scientific and technical advisory committee, the Habitats Committee also includes the Habitats Scientific Working Group.