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Legislation :: European legislation

The European law in the field of the environmental protection and the nature conservation is linked to two institutions: Council of Europe (СЕ) and the European Union (EU).

The Council of Europe is an intergovernmental organization, established five years before the European Union. These are all country members of the EU, as well as the new democratic states in Europe, including also Bulgaria. Being an intergovernmental organization, the EU can undertake actions only after a consensus is reached among its members. Although the Council could also serve as a forum in the elaboration of the laws and their enforcement, it has no real power to sanction if any country violated its international obligations.

The most important document of the EU, in terms of the biodiversity is the Bern Convention

The character of the European Union (EU) is above national and has great legislative, juridical and executive power in the fields of its competence. The larger part of its day-to-day administrative activities do not require the consensus agreement of the member countries. The EU has a number of instruments for the elaboration and enforcement of the norms in the field of the biodiversity – the Commission, the European Court, the Parliament of Europe.

The fundamental documents of the EU in the field of the biodiversity are the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive, as well as many others.

Ministry of Environment and Water
Nature and biodiversity law

In a nutshell

At EU level, nature and biodiversity are protected by several laws. To read or refer to the official law texts (available in all EU languages) or to access the case law, you will find links and references below.

In practice

The EU has been committed to the protection of nature since the adoption of the Birds Directive in April 1979. It provides comprehensive protection to all wild bird species naturally occurring in the Union.

The Habitats Directive was adopted in 1992 to help maintain biodiversity. It protects over 1000 animals and plant species and over 200 types of habitat. It also established the EU-wide Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

More recently, new legislation has been developed. In 1999, the EU reinforced the role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity and, in the wake of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, committed to protect native biodiversity and ecosystem services against invasive alien species. We also have legislation regulating certain aspects of wildlife trade.

We also provide more information on the impact of the various enlargements on the Birds and Habitats Directives and about the current fitness check of the nature legislation.

The Birds Directive

In a nutshell

Europe is home to more than 500 wild bird species. But at least 32 % of the EU's bird species are currently not in a good conservation status. The Birds Directive aims to protect all of the 500 wild bird species naturally occurring in the European Union.

In practice

Often migratory, wild bird species can only be protected by cooperating across borders. Urban sprawl and transport networks have fragmented and reduced their habitats, intensive agriculture, forestry, fisheries and the use of pesticides have diminished their food supplies, and hunting needed to be regulated in order not to damage populations. Concerned with their decline, Member States unanimously adopted the Directive 79/409/EEC in April 1979. It is the oldest piece of EU legislation on the environment and one of its cornerstones. Amended in 2009, it became the Directive 2009/147/EC .

Habitat loss and degradation are the most serious threats to the conservation of wild birds. The Directive therefore places great emphasis on the protection of habitats for endangered and migratory species. It establishes a network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) including all the most suitable territories for these species. Since 1994, all SPAs are included in the Natura 2000 ecological network, set up under the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC.

Species protection under the Birds Directive

The 500 wild bird species naturally occurring in the European Union are protected in various ways:

  • Annex 1: 194 species and sub-species are particularly threatened. Member States must designate Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for their survival and all migratory bird species.
  • Annex 2: 82 bird species can be hunted. However, the hunting periods are limited and hunting is forbidden when birds are at their most vulnerable: during their return migration to nesting areas, reproduction and the raising of their chicks.
  • Annex 3: overall, activities that directly threaten birds, such as their deliberate killing, capture or trade, or the destruction of their nests, are banned. With certain restrictions, Member States can allow some of these activities for 26 species listed here.
  • Annex 4: the directive provides for the sustainable management of hunting but Member States must outlaw all forms of non-selective and large scale killing of birds, especially the methods listed in this annex.
  • Annex 5: the directive promotes research to underpin the protection, management and use of all species of birds covered by the Directive, which are listed in this annex.

The Commission provides guidance on hunting practices, some of the key concepts of the Birds Directive and on the sustainable management of cormorant populations. The EU first sustainable hunting initiative was launched in 2001. The Commission also aims to eradicate the illegal killing, trapping and trade of birds in the European Union.

All Member States have to submit reporting on the status and trend in bird populations (article 12) as well as on derogations (article 9) they may apply to the directive's obligations.
Learn more about the EU's 500 wild bird species, the threatened bird species listed in the directive's annex 1, which ones are a priority for LIFE funding or benefit from a Species Action Plans.

The annexes of the Birds Directive have been adapted each time new countries joined the European Union. Find out more about the impact of enlargement on nature law.

ORNIS Committee

The ORNIS Committee assists the Commission in the implementation of the Birds Directive.

Register of Commission expert groups and other similar entities
Comitology Register

For more information

Why do we have to take care of our birds

Designation of protected Natura 2000 sites

Status of all bird species at the European level in the EU (Birdlife International)

International Conservation Policy Delivers Benefits for Birds in Europe: (research paper published in the Science journal, August 2007) has shown that the Birds Directive has significantly helped protect Europe's most threatened birds from further decline, partly through the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs)

The Habitats Directive

In a nutshell

The Habitats Directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species. Some 200 rare and characteristic habitat types are also targeted for conservation in their own right.

In practice

Adopted in 1992, the Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora aims to promote the maintenance of biodiversity, taking account of economic, social, cultural and regional requirements. It forms the cornerstone of Europe's nature conservation policy with the Birds Directive and establishes the EU wide Natura 2000 ecological network of protected areas, safeguarded against potentially damaging developments.

The Birds and Habitats Directives have had to evolve to reflect successive enlargements of the European Union. We provide a summary of the changes made to the two directives in order to reflect the impact of enlargement. A consolidated version of the directive includes the latest versions of the annexes.

The Interpretation Manual of European Union Habitats - EUR28 aims to help clear any ambiguities in the interpretation of the Annex 1 of the directive by developing common definition for all habitat types.

Species protection under the Habitats Directive

All in all, over 1.000 animal and plant species, as well as 200 habitat types, listed in the directive's annexes are protected in various ways:

  • Annex II species (about 900): core areas of their habitat are designated as sites of Community importance (SCIs) and included in the Natura 2000 network. These sites must be managed in accordance with the ecological needs of the species.
  • Annex IV species (over 400, including many annex II species): a strict protection regime must be applied across their entire natural range within the EU, both within and outside Natura 2000 sites.
  • Annex V species (over 90): Member States must ensure that their exploitation and taking in the wild is compatible with maintaining them in a favourable conservation status.

The European Commission has published guidance on species protection to help Member States implement correctly the directive's provisions. EU Species Action Plans are developed to restore the populations of certain species across their range within the EU. The European Commission also promotes the conservation of Europe's 5 species of large carnivores and supports the European Red Lists of Threatened Species, developed by the IUCN to provide an overview of the conservation status of c. 6,000 European species, so that appropriate action can be taken to protect those threatened with extinction.


Certain articles of the Habitats Directive (Art. 6, 12, 16 and 17) require Member States to report on the conservation status of habitats and species, on compensation measures taken for projects having a negative impact on Natura 2000 sites or on derogations they may have applied to the strict protection measures. (Access the Member States reporting)

Habitats Committee

The Habitats Committee assists the Commission in the implementation of the ‘Habitats’ directive and delivers an opinion on the draft list of LIFE-Nature projects to be financed each year.

Register of Commission expert groups and other similar entities
Comitology Register

For more information

Find out more about the designation of protected Natura 2000 sites.

Search for proposed SCIs (pSCIs), Sites of Community Importance (SCIs), and Special Areas of Conservations (SACs) in the Natura 2000 viewer.


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