The European Union is celebrating the 40th year of existence of the European Birds Directive. It is the most powerful nature legislation that helped to protect birds and important habitats in Europe. Let us take a moment to appreciate the accomplishments so far, and identify the challenges ahead.
Please also read: Wilderness and the Birds and Habitats Directives evaluation study
Growing stronger over time
The Birds Directive as we know it is not the original legislation that started back in 1979. During the 1970’s people were killing millions of migratory birds every year, especially around the Mediterranean. National legislations did not manage to solve the challenge, as birds migrated across borders. By 1979, the Council of Environment Ministers signed the Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds.
During the following 30 years, the Council Directive on the conservation of wild birds was adapted and modified several times. The Directive became at some point to unclear, which resulted in the new EU Birds Directive in 2009. The new Directive became a strong legislative framework in its clarity. It aims for the protection of all listed wild birds and designated special protection areas.
Most powerful nature legislation in the world
The EU Birds Directive, together with the Habitats Directive, are the main legislations for nature protection in Europe. The Habitats Directive came into force in 1992, containing similar rules for the protection of other animals, plants and habitats. The Birds and Habitats Directive together are in fact said to be the most powerful nature legislation in the world.
All EU Member States have to incorporate the Birds and Habitats Directives in their national law. The States have to ensure that everybody in the EU copies with the legislations.
By far the biggest success to which the Birds Directive contributed, is the EU Natura 2000 ecological network, the biggest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. Thanks to the Birds Directive, there are more than 5 650 protected sites for birds, covering more than 843 000 km2 of the EU’s land and seas.
Another success is the stop of excessive hunting of birds and eggs. The Birds Directive now forbids many catch or killing techniques. This way, the Birds Directive aims to minimise the killing and capturing of birds, collection of eggs, as well as destruction of nests. Nevertheless, people can hunt several bird species. For example the wild duck and pigeon. Member States can chose whether to allow hunting on these species, under certain restrictions. As long as the objective of the Birds Directive is not negatively impacted, as the species not threatened, hunting of a few species is allowed.
Back in 2016, experts evaluated the Birds Directive on its effectiveness and impact. The challenges are clear. Many Member States still do not correctly incorporate the Birds Directive in their national law. As a result, too many illegal bird-killing practices take place. Many bird species are therefore still on the red list of threatened species. In many places, populations continue to decline instead of being stable.