Birds Directive

EC Birds Directive: Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds

The European Union Wild Birds Directive and Habitats Directive establish a legislative framework for protecting and conserving Europe’s wildlife and habitats.

In 1979 the European Community adopted the Council Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (79/409/EEC). This Directive is usually referred to as the Birds Directive. It provides for the protection, management and control of all species of naturally occurring wild birds in the European territory of Member States. In particular it requires Member States to identify areas to be given special protection for the rare or vulnerable species listed in Annex I (Article 4.1) and for regularly occurring migratory species (Article 4.2) and for the protection of wetlands, especially wetlands of international importance. These areas are known as Special Protection Areas (SPAs)

Natura 2000

At the centre of the policy is the creation of a coherent ecological network of protected areas across the EU. This is known as the Natura 2000 network (external link). These protected areas are for habitats and species considered to be of outstanding international significance. Their purpose is to maintain or restore the habitats and species at a ‘favourable conservation status’ in their natural range. The network comprises:

  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs) – classified to protect rare and vulnerable birds and regularly occurring migratory species.
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) – designated for their important contribution to the conservation of natural habitats and species of the plants and animals they support.

In addition Natura 2000 sites some species of plants and animals are given additional protection. These are known as ‘European Protected Species’ (EPS). European Protected Species of animals – their breeding sites and resting places – are protected against disturbance and harm. EPS plants are also protected. You can obtain a licence from NRW to avoid breaking the law. See also the information on European Protected Species Licensing in this legal encyclopedia.

The European Union meets its obligations for bird species under the Bern Convention and Bonn Convention and more generally by means of Directive 2009/147/EC (Birds Directive) on the conservation of wild birds (the codified version of Council Directive 79/409/EEC as amended).

The Directive

The Directive provides a framework for the conservation and management of, and human interactions with, wild birds in Europe. It sets broad objectives for a wide range of activities, although the precise legal mechanisms for their achievement are at the discretion of each Member State (in the UK delivery is via several different statutes). The Directive applies to the UK and to its overseas territory of Gibraltar.

The main provisions of the Directive include:

The maintenance of the populations of all wild bird species across their natural range (Article 2) with the encouragement of various activities to that end (Article 3).
The identification and classification of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for rare or vulnerable species listed in Annex I of the Directive, as well as for all regularly occurring migratory species, paying particular attention to the protection of wetlands of international importance (Article 4). (Together with Special Areas of Conservation designated under the Habitats Directive, SPAs form a network of European protected areas known as Natura 2000).
The establishment of a general scheme of protection for all wild birds (Article 5).
Restrictions on the sale and keeping of wild birds (Article 6).
Specification of the conditions under which hunting and falconry can be undertaken (Article 7). (Huntable species are listed on Annex II of the Directive).
Prohibition of large-scale non-selective means of bird killing (Article 8).
Procedures under which Member States may derogate from the provisions of Articles 5-8 (Article 9) — that is, the conditions under which permission may be given for otherwise prohibited activities.
Encouragement of certain forms of relevant research (Article 10 and Annex V).
Requirements to ensure that introduction of non-native birds do not threatened other biodiversity (Article 11).

The Directive has facilitated much co-operative conservation action across the European Union. Many initiatives have increased understanding of conservation needs, including the development of international action plans for the most threatened species (including – with implications for the UK, bittern, white-headed duck, roseate tern, corncrake, aquatic warbler and Scottish crossbill). Recent years have seen a major review of the timing of migration and breeding of quarry species listed under Article II of the Directive, EU management plans for huntable bird species in unfavourable status, as well as a guidance on hunting issues.

A major conference to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Directive in 2004 agreed important strategic priorities for the implementation of the Directive.

JNCC acts as the technical advisor to Defra regarding the UK’s implementation of the Birds Directive, and coordinates relevant actions across the country agencies. A major task was the coordination of the UK’s review of Special Protection Areas, published in 2001.

Transposition to UK Legislation

In the UK, the provisions of the Birds Directive are implemented through the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), the Conservation (Natural Habitats, & c.) Regulations 2010 (as amended); the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985; the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985; the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1995 (as amended) the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats & c.) Regulations 2007 as well as other legislation related to the uses of land and sea.

A very wide range of other statutory and non-statutory activities also support the implementation of the Birds Directive in the UK. This includes national bird monitoring schemes, bird conservation research, and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan which involves action for a number of bird species and the habitats which support them.

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