Brussels, 31 March 2009
The EU’s first nature law, the Birds Directive, celebrates its 30th anniversary on 2 April. The legislation is one of the greatest achievements of European environmental policy and is central to the EU's strategy for halting biodiversity loss. The Birds Directive has played a key role in reversing the decline of some of Europe’s most threatened birds, particularly through its network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Thanks to targeted action by the European Union, national governments, conservationists and volunteers to implement it on the ground, many birds now face a much brighter future. These include the Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) and Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti). Today there are nearly 5,000 SPAs, covering more than 10% of the EU’s land mass. They form an integral part of the Natura 2000 ecological network. The Birds Directive is an excellent example of shared responsibility and cooperation among the 27 EU Member States.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “The Birds Directive is one of the great success stories of EU environmental policy. It is a practical expression of our commitment to global biodiversity conservation. Birds are not only intrinsically beautiful and a priceless part of our natural heritage, they are also vital indicators of the health of the environment. Europe's wild birds have greatly benefited from the high standards provided by the directive. There are still important challenges to be met to ensure long-term healthy bird populations. The Birds Directive is as relevant today as it was 30 years ago and has a key role to play in delivering our biodiversity policy for many years to come.”
The Birds Directive – a success story
Thirty years after its adoption, the Birds Directive remains the most important piece of EU legislation for the protection of Europe’s birds. It is also one of the EU's most successful environmental policies.
A study published in the journal Science has confirmed that it has made a significant contribution to halting the decline of some of Europe's most threatened birds. The improvement in the fortunes of birds such as Zino's Petrel (Pterodroma madeira), the Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) and the Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmaeus) has been largely due to the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). A network of almost 5,000 SPAs covers more than 10% of Europe’s land mass, as well as substantial inshore marine areas.
The Birds Directive is an excellent example of successful international cooperation. When it was adopted in 1979, the EU was composed of just nine Member States. Today cooperation is spread across the enlarged EU, with SPAs in all 27 countries. The same rules on bird protection apply throughout the EU and the Commission is rigorous in its implementation of these, pursuing Member States in the courts if necessary.
The Birds Directive has recognised the importance of human activities, such as hunting, fishing and farming, coexisting alongside nature. Much of the land covered by the Natura 2000 network is likely to continue to be privately owned, with emphasis on ensuring that future management is sustainable, both ecologically and economically.
Despite this progress, the EU's rich diversity of over 500 wild bird species still faces serious pressures. According to the latest scientific studies, 43% of Europe's bird species are threatened or facing serious declines. This presents a major challenge for the completion of the Natura 2000 network, including the marine component.
There is also a need for greater protection of common birds dependent on the wider countryside. Changes in agricultural policies have led to a worrying decline in farmland birds. Numbers have fallen by around 50% since 1980. Although these are now stabilising, more work is needed to better integrate bird protection requirements into agricultural and other policies to restore important species such as the Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) and the Corncrake (Crex crex).
The health of wild birds is symptomatic of the wider pressures facing biodiversity, such as climate change. There is already evidence of a shift in the distribution of some bird populations. Ensuring adequate space for nature and adapting bird conservation to a changing climate is a key challenge for the future.
The Birds Directive is also helping deliver international EU commitments to migratory birds. Since many species spend part of their lives outside Europe, it is essential to work with other countries along their flyways to provide the necessary protection to ensure healthy bird populations.
The Birds Directive was adopted in response to increasing concern about the declines in Europe's wild bird populations resulting from pollution, loss of habitats and unsustainable activities. It was also in recognition that wild birds, many of which are migratory, are a shared heritage of the Member States and that their effective conservation required international cooperation.
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