The Birds Directive, one of the first pieces of environmental legislation in Europe, celebrates today its 40th anniversary. Protecting over 500 bird species, the directive is as relevant today as it was in 1979, when the Member States came together to address the sharp decline of Europe’s birds. The many conservation achievements of the Directive include the protection of the Great Bustard (Otis tarda), the Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), the White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) and the Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), whose populations in Europe are now secure or improving.
EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella said: “Birds add life, sound and colour to our lives and are a priceless part of our natural heritage while being vital indicators of the health of the environment. Thanks to the high legal standards of the Birds Directive and the tireless efforts of the EU, national governments, stakeholders and volunteers, some iconic species have recovered from the brink of extinction. There are still important challenges to ensure long-term healthy bird populations and the Birds Directive is today remains a solid foundation for EU action in this field.”
Today, thanks to the Birds Directive there are over 5 650 protected sites for birds (Special Protection Areas), covering more than 843 000km2 of the EU’s land and seas. They form an integral part of the EU Natura 2000 ecological network, the biggest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. The Directive recognises the importance of sustainable human activities, such as hunting, fishing and farming, coexisting with nature on both private and public land. The Directive has greatly helped strengthen our knowledge about wild birds and their habitats, which has provided the basis for targeted actions for their conservation, including through the EU LIFE fund and other funds.
The Birds Directive also helps deliver international EU commitments to protect migratory birds. Since many bird species spend part of their lives outside Europe, it is essential to work with other countries along their flyways to ensure healthy bird populations.
Despite progress, the EU wild bird populations still face serious pressures. According to the latest scientific studies, only 52% of Europe’s bird species have today a secure conservation status. There is a need for greater protection of birds dependent on the wider countryside. Unsustainable agricultural practices have led to a worrying decline in farmland birds whose numbers have fallen by around 50% since 1980. More work is therefore needed to better integrate bird protection requirements into agricultural practices to restore important species such as the Skylark (Alauda arvensis) and the Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix).
Source – European Commission