Protected Species & Habitats

Many European habitats and species as well as all birds naturally occurring in Europe are covered by the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. As one its the central objectives, the Natura 2000 network aims to protect comprise these 233 habitats, 1 389 non-bird species and the over 460 wild birds.

Key messages

  • The Nature Directives comprise 233 habitats, 1 389 non-bird species and the over 460 wild birds occurring in the EU territory
  • Forest make up for 35 % of the habitats covered under the EU Habitats Directive, equaling 0.5 million km2 in area
  • With 47 %, the largest taxonomic group under the EU Habitats Directive are vascular plants; passerines cover 40 % of the birds covered by the EU Birds Directive

European countries have different environmental protection rules, on national and regional level. In addition to their national laws and policies, EU Member States need to implement the EU Birds and Habitats Directives that give protection to EU’s most vulnerable habitats and species. Based on the current Nature Directives reporting period 2013-2018, the State of Nature Report 2020 assessed the reach of the two directives, among many other assessments. This section takes up the results, which – due to the time frame – still includes EU28. In this context, the overarching goal of the Natura 2000 network is to achieve a good conservation status for all the habitat types and species protected under the directives across their entire range within the EU.

Natura 2000 protects species and habitats across their entire range in the EU

Natura 2000 protects species and habitats across their entire range in the EUOver one third of the total number of habitat types covered by the directive are forests, making up nearly 0.5 million km2 in area (Table 3.1). In the case of forests, this makes up approximately 27 % of the total forested area in the EU. Another 14 % of all habitats correspond to natural and semi-natural grasslands, which make up around 0.23 million km2. For species, almost half are vascular plants, while molluscs and non-vascular plants represent 3 % each.

The Habitats Directive covers a wide range of habitats types and species that are included in the directive’s annexes. Annex I of the Habitats Directive comprises 233 different habitat types, 224 of which are terrestrial and nine marine. The reported terrestrial habitats cover almost one third of the terrestrial area of the 28 Member States (EU-28; 1 July 2013 to 31 January 2020), equivalent to 1.3 million km2. Marine habitats cover an additional 0.4 million km2 of EU waters. Annexes II, IV and V of the Habitats Directive list 1 389 species of European interest.

The Birds Directive protects all wild bird species that are naturally present in the European territory of the EU Member States, including over 460 species. The species included species are common as well as rarer, threatened, near-threatened and other species requiring particular attention because of the specific nature of their habitat. Protection measures aim to cover the entire species lifecycle, including breeding, wintering and migration, and the areas where they occur.

The Nature Directives comprise 233 habitats, 1 389 non-bird species and the over 460 wild birds occurring in the EU territory

Annexes I and II of the Birds Directive are important in terms of decision-making and policy, in particular when it comes to classifying protected areas or regulating the hunting of species in each Member State. The annexes contain a mix of taxonomic levels, depending on which of these was deemed appropriate to be included in each annex. Annex I of the Birds Directive lists 197 threatened taxa. Member States must establish targeted conservation measures, such as avoiding any significant disturbance, and designate Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for their survival. Annex II lists 86 taxa that are permitted to be hunted, either in the entirety of their range within the EU or just in particular Member States. The Birds Directive protects these species from being hunted during their return migration to their breeding grounds and during their breeding season. Some overlaps exist between the annexes.

Share of taxonomic groups covered by Article 12 of the Birds Directive

Member States report on regularly occurring breeding and wintering species and on some migrating birds. There are, however, many more species present in the EU, including marginal and vagrant species. The Birds Directive covers a wide range of taxonomic groups, the largest of which is passerines, followed by the waders, gulls and auks group. Together, these groups represent over half of the species reported under Article 12 of the Birds Directive.