Target 1

Fully implement the Birds and Habitats Directives: “To halt the deterioration in the status of all species and habitats covered by EU nature legislation and achieve a significant and measurable improvement in their status so that, by 2020, compared to current assessments: (i) 100% more habitat assessments and 50% more species assessments under the Habitats Directive show an improved conservation status; and (ii) 50% more species assessments under the Birds Directive show a secure or improved status.”

A 2016 Fitness Check evaluation of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives found that considerable progress has been made in the implementation of the Directives’ measures, particularly the terrestrial component of the Natura 2000 network, the legal protection of Natura 2000 sites and the protection and sustainable use of species. As a result, the Natura 2000 network provides coverage for most terrestrial species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive. However, the implementation of some measures has been slower than anticipated, especially the establishment of the marine Natura 2000 network (although progress has since sped up), the development of site conservation measures (including management plans), and providing adequate financing. There is little evidence of effective measures being taken for the management of landscape features that help to support the coherence of the Natura 2000 network.

The main factor that has affected progress has been the availability of funding, which was stimulated by the Directives’ requirements, but has remained insufficient to enable full implementation, especially in the establishment of conservation management measures. Other important factors influencing implementation have included the degree of political support for the Directives, levels of biodiversity knowledge, the unintended effects of certain incentives and subsidies in other policy sectors and the capacity of competent authorities.

Robust evidence shows that, where properly implemented, the Directives have reduced pressures on biodiversity, slowed declines and, with time, led to some recoveries of habitats and species. However, their overall impacts to-date are not yet sufficient to meet the aims of the Directives. While 52% of bird species have a secure population, 17% are threatened, with a further 15% near threatened, declining or depleted. Only 16% of the assessments of Annex I habitats have a favourable conservation status, while 47% of the assessments have an unfavourable-inadequate status or unfavourable-bad status (30%). Of the Annex II non-bird species, 23% of the assessments indicate a favourable conservation status, with most of the assessments having an unfavourable-inadequate status (42%) or unfavourable-bad status (18%).

There are particular problems with halting declines of common species outside Natura 2000 sites. Although the decline of all common birds has levelled off slightly since 2000, the decline in common farmland birds that has been evident since at least 1990, and has continued with a further decline of 16% between 2000 and 2015. Similarly, grassland butterfly monitoring data, for 19 European countries where butterfly population monitoring schemes exist, show a consistent decline since 1990, with a decline of 17% in the EU countries between 2000 and 2015.

The Commission concluded from the 'Fitness Check' evaluation of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives that, within the framework of broader EU biodiversity policy, they remain highly relevant and are fit for purpose. However, full achievement of the objectives of the Nature Directives will depend on substantial improvement in their implementation in close partnership with local authorities and different stakeholders in the Member States. To take this forward, in 2017 the Commission produced an Action Plan for Nature People and the Economy. This includes 15 actions to be completed by 2019 under the following 4 priority headings:

1. Improving guidance and knowledge and ensuring better coherence with broader socio-economic objectives

2. Building political ownership and strengthening compliance

3. Strengthening investment in Natura 2000 and improving synergies with EU funding instruments

4. Better communication and outreach, engaging citizens, stakeholders and communities

Indicators used in this assessment

SEBI 001: Abundance and distribution of selected species (common birds and grassland butterflies)

SEBI 003: Conservation status of European species

SEBI 005: Conservation status of European habitats

SEBI 008: Sites designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives

Relevant websites, links, and files

Commission Staff Working Document (2015), EU Assessment of Progress in Implementing the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020

Technical report on State of Nature in the EU

Fitness Check of the Birds and Habitats Directives (2016)

Action Plan on Nature, People and the Economy (2017)

Natura 2000 network viewer