Europe and Central Asia
11 May 2015

Four good reasons to defend the Nature Directives

By Wouter Langhout

By the time the 1970s hit Europe, one had to go to remote corners to be surrounded by nature and see spectacular wildlife such as eagles, pelicans and large mammals. Centuries of persecution and habitat loss had taken its toll. But over the last decades the landscape has changed dramatically and species that were low in number are coming back. Why? The Birds and Habitats Directives.

Over the last decades, the European landscape has changed dramatically, from one devoid of animal life, to one where species that were low in number are coming back, and even some that completely disappeared, or stayed safely hidden in the shadows, are being seen again. Why? It’s largely because of the Nature Directives, also called the Birds and Habitats Directives, which are the cornerstone of nature protection in Europe.

The Nature Directives are at the heart of BirdLife Europe’s work, and we’ve seen time and time again the efficiency and need for these laws to protect nature and wildlife. Sure, it hasn’t been all roses, and the lack of implementation in many EU countries means that things could be improved even more. But the proof that they have not only prevented the degradation and entire loss of rare and iconic species and habitats, but have permitted high economic returns for Europeans, is overwhelming. We’ve shared all this information with the European Commission to be sure they have their facts straight while answering some questions for the fitness check.

Are the Nature Directives effective?  Yes, many of our iconic species like beavers, wolves, cranes and white tailed eagles, have made a comeback largely in thanks to the Directives. Also, since the Directives were implemented, species with protection status have increased in number. Finally, the legislation has given migratory bird’s greater protection along EU flyways because it brought in a much needed framework for hunting. The Directives make it illegal to use cruel unselective killing methods like limesticks and poisoned baits, and spring hunting is now history in most of the EU.

Are the Nature Directives efficient?  Yes, especially when it comes to administration and finances. The Directives are very efficient when it comes to administration compared to other pieces of legislation from other sectors. And when we talk Euros, the Directives bring in substantial amounts of money. Just through the Natura 2000 Network alone, protected areas established under the Habitats Directive, can bring in about 300 billion Euros to the European economy if managed properly. This is on top of the other benefits that nature provides, like protection against natural disasters, clean air to breathe and water to drink, and better overall health for EU citizens.

Are the Nature Directives coherent with other EU legislation?  Yes, they work very well with other legislation. The Directives have been accompanied by Commission Guidance and extensive stakeholder consultations which help to resolve real or perceived conflicts. The Directives have also been very effectively integrated into other pieces of EU environmental legislation, to complement them, including the Water Framework Directive

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How relevant are the Directives to EU citizens?  Every single day BirdLife interacts with people and organizations across Europe. There is no question that the overwhelming majority of EU citizens are seriously concerned about nature and the ongoing losses in biological diversity, so why dismantle legislation that is giving Europeans what they want?

European citizens have a basic right to explore natural places where wild mammals and birds roam. All the evidence clearly shows that the Nature Directives are doing their job and dismantling them now would only be a catastrophe for nature and wildlife. BirdLife, other NGOs, and all people who care about this issue, are waiting to find out what the Commission will decide. 

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.