Nature Conservation

Nature Conservation in Europe

European Nature Conservation

Europe is a relatively small continent, but it is home to a wide range of plants and animals, geology and landscapes, many of which are found nowhere else on the planet. The 27 Member States of the European Union (EU) cover almost half the total area of the continent. The EU has a key responsibility to protect the environment, which, according to the EU Barometer almost all Europeans consider to be highly important. Nevertheless, European lifestyles and the associated economic and social demands continue to have a negative impact on the environment in general and on biodiversity in particular.

Nature Conservation European Union Legislation

The EU plays a crucial role in developing policy and legislation to protect the environment and meet its objective for sustainable development. The EU has specific targets for biodiversity conservation with legislative protection for key habitats and species.

EU legislation relates to a wide range of issues, including biodiversity, farming and forestry, fisheries, air pollution, waste and climate change. As a Member State, the UK Government provides evidence and expertise to develop policies and is responsible (together with the other Member States’ Governments) for agreeing and implementing EU legislation.

The EU and global biodiversity targets are partly delivered through a range of legislative measures, which place obligations on Member States to protect biodiversity and the natural environment. The EU and Member States have shared legal competence – shared responsibility – in forming and implementing legislation for the environment.

In relation to wildlife and nature conservation, two key Directives have been adopted by the European Union, namely:

  • Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds (the codified version of Council Directive 79/409/EEC as amended) (Birds Directive) and
  • Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Habitats Directive).

These Directives provide for the protection of animal and plant species of European importance and the habitats which support them, particularly through the establishment of a network of protected sites, called Natura 2000.

Further relevant legislation includes Directive 92/43/EEC (Water Framework Directive), under which Member States are required to protect and improve their inland and coastal waters, and Directive 2008/56/EC (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) to achieve good environmental status in their marine environment by 2020.

The EU’s environmental legislation is complemented by a variety of other non-binding policy instruments such as strategies, programmes and action plans to address the wider use of terrestrial and marine resources. By these means, the EU also aims to fulfill its international commitment under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Conservation status assessment

The reporting format set by the European Commission requires a separate analysis for each species and each habitat listed on the annexes to the Habitats Directive in each biogeographic zone which that country covers.

The Habitats Directive defines when the conservation status of the habitats and species it lists is to be considered as favourable. The definitions it uses for this are specific to the Directive; in summary, they require that the range and areas of the listed habitats, and the range and population of the listed species, should be at least maintained at their status when the Directive came into force in 1994 or, where the 1994 status was not viable in the long term, to be restored to a position where it would be viable.

The assessment of conservation status does not only relate to that component of the habitat area or species population to be found in Special Areas of Conservation, but to the totality of the habitats and species throughout the Member State. The 2007 Article 17 report prepared under the Habitats Directive is the second six year report, but it is the first in which Member States have reported on the conservation status of the listed habitats and species. The European Commission and Member States have agreed standards for classifying the status of these habitats and species. This is to ensure that all Member States report on a similar basis.

When assessing the conservation status of habitats, four parameters are considered. These are: range, area, structure and function (referred to as habitat condition) and future prospects. For species, the parameters are: range, population, habitat (extent and condition) and future prospects. Each of these parameters is assessed as being in one of the following conditions: Favourable, Unfavourable-inadequate, Unfavourable-Bad, or Unknown. The European Commission and Member States have agreed standards for these assessments, and the European Commission has also produced supplementary guidance to assist in the assessment process.

In addition to assessing the individual parameters referred to above, Member States are also required to make an overall assessment of the conservation status of each of the habitats and species. This overall assessment is determined by reference to the conclusions for the individual parameters, and, in general, reflects the least favourable of the individual parameter conclusions.

The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats

The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (the Bern Convention) was adopted in Bern, Switzerland in 1979, and came into force in 1982. The principal aims of the Convention are to ensure conservation and protection of wild plant and animal species and their natural habitats (listed in Appendices I and II of the Convention), to increase cooperation between contracting parties, and to regulate the exploitation of those species (including migratory species) listed in Appendix III. To this end the Convention imposes legal obligations on contracting parties, protecting over 500 wild plant species and more than 1,000 wild animal species.

As a signatory, the European Union meets its obligations under the Convention by means of the Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds (the Birds Directive) (the codified version of Council Directive 79/409/EEC as amended) and the Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (the Habitats Directive).

The UK government ratified the Bern Convention in 1982. The obligations of the Convention is transposed into national law by means of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981 as amended),Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 (as amended), Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, and the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.

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