Protection for indigenous wildlife

There are two European Directives that seek to ensure the protection of indigenous wildlife.

However, in the last few years there have been repeated calls from lobbies of hunters and farmers to reduce protection for some protected species and large carnivores in particular. Such calls want the challenges posed by coexisting with these animals to be tackled by an increase in hunting, and lowered protection.

Large carnivores like wolves and bears are endangered species according to the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC, which is the first of the two Directives that protect European biodiversity. Adopted in 1992, the Habitats Directive protects certain species from exploitation and being removed from the wild. It lists over a thousand species of plants and animals as designated for various levels of protection. 

The second is the Birds Directive 2009/147/EC, a legislation to protect European wild birds, which was adopted in 2009. It amended initial legislation laid down in the 1970s under Directive 79/409/EEC. As a result of the Directive, Special Protection Areas were developed for the protection and survival of designated species. Other protection levels were clarified, including the bird species that can be hunted and when, and the sustainable management of species. Guidance has also been issued for hunting under the Directive.

What does the public think?  

There is support from the public for ensuring the safety and protection of endangered animals, with 71% of respondents in 2019’s biodiversity Eurobarometer survey saying that nature protection areas are ‘very important’ for their conservation. 41% of respondents would like to see existing nature and biodiversity rules strengthened, while one of the most popular actions they’d like to see the EU take is to ‘better implement’ these rules.

However, some sectors continue to urge the European Commission to provide more flexibility to Member States in the management of large carnivore populations.

Policy - current state of play

The European Commission’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), which conducted a fitness review of the Directives in 2016, determined that they were relevant and appropriate, but that there were some issues with their implementation and enforcement. For instance, the study revealed that EU co-funding for Natura 2000, a network of sites which protect species, only covered up to a maximum of 19% of financial needs. The study demonstrated that Member States could not make up for the shortfall. 

Following the fitness review, the EU developed an Action Plan for Nature, People and the Economy to improve the implementation and enforcement of the Directives.

In 2019 the Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed the strict protection of the wolf in Europe, saying that hunting permits should be delivered only in exceptional cases, and as a very last resort after non-lethal measures have been adequately implemented and have failed. 

Eurogroup for Animals

To ensure the continued protection of endangered species, Eurogroup for Animals will advocate to maintain the Annexes of the Directives in their current form, as well as for an improvement to the conservation of protected species. 

Looking to the future, we would like to see better implementation and enforcement of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC and Birds Directive 2009/147/EC. Eurogroup for Animals also advocates for measures to prevent conflicts and increase acceptance and coexistence with large carnivores.