Species protection and conservation

Page Last modified 12 Sep 2023
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Protecting and conserving Europe’s species and their habitats is critical, not only for their intrinsic value as part of our shared natural heritage, but also for human well-being.

European countries have put in place different rules and schemes to protect animal and plant species. Despite some positive results of conservation action in recent years, our latest assessment shows that only around 27 % of assessed species have a good conservation status. Most protected species in Europe have a poor or bad conservation status as a result of ongoing pressures from changes in land and sea, overexploitation and unsustainable management practices. Pollution of air, water and soil also has an impact on most species.

While more than one quarter of animal and plant species have a good conservation status, most protected species have a poor or bad status.

The European Union’s (EU) Habitats and Birds Directives (also known as the EU nature directives), as well as the Bern Convention include a variety of species protection requirements. Some of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species are protected because core areas of their habitats are designated under the Natura 2000 network or the Emerald network.

Countries are also required to apply a strict protection regime for some species across their entire natural range. These strict rules cover around 1 000 species. As part of this strict protection regime, certain activities such as the killing, capture and disturbance of species as well as the destruction of their breeding sites and resting places are prohibited. 

 Explore more information on the State of Nature


● Only 27 % of protected species indicate a good conservation status, whilst 63 % have a poor or bad status 

● Agricultural activities were the most frequently reported pressures that had a negative impact on the state of species 

● On average, 6 % of all species assessments (mostly mammals, vascular plants and fish) show an improving trend in conservation status 


For the complete analysis, see the EEA’s
latest report on the ‘
State of Nature


Background information 

The species protection requirements can be found in Articles 5 to 8 of the Birds Directive and Articles 12 to 13 of the Habitats Directive. Articles 5 to 8 of the Bern Convention contain very similar provisions, which apply to its 51 Contracting Parties. 

Reporting under the Birds Directive covers all species of naturally occurring wild birds in Europe, while that under the Habitats Directive only covers a selection of species that are considered rare and/or endangered. Given this difference, the species reports under the Habitats Directive have a higher proportion of ‘unfavorable’ status than the reports under the Birds Directive.

The exception to the rule 

Under certain circumstances, countries may grant exceptions from the protection and conservation provisions of the Nature Directives and the Bern Convention. Such exceptions are called derogations (under the EU Directives) or exceptions (under the Bern Convention). Use of these derogations/exceptions is constrained; it must be justified in relation to the overall objectives of the Directives and comply with the specific conditions for derogations described in the relevant articles of the Directives (Article 9 and Article 16 of the Birds and the Habitats Directives respectively and Article 9 of the Bern Convention).

Member States do not need to consult the European Commission before applying derogations but are obliged to report all derogations to the Commission and the Bern Convention. The EEA supports the reporting with the provision of the reporting tool, Habides+. 



Cover photo: ©  Gyorgy Demko, REDISCOVER Nature /EEA


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