Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, resting on grass

Birds Directive achievements

The Birds Directive has helped protect species, habitats and human interest.

Protecting birds

The Birds Directive gives protection to most species and outlaws their mass and indiscriminate killing. 

Adopting the Directive made less difference to bird protection in the UK than most other European countries, because it was based on the British Protection of Birds Act 1954. However, it did lead to strengthened legislation, in the form of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. 

In Northern Ireland, bird protection legislation was fundamentally changed through the Wildlife Order (NI) 1985. The Directive has also been successful in raising standards of bird protection across Europe. Spring hunting, ‘liming’ (using a kind of glue to trap birds on branches and posts) and trapping have been greatly reduced in many places. 

The accession of Cyprus and Malta to the EU is good news for Europe’s migrant birds because, as elsewhere, better wildlife protection laws will have to be introduced – and eventually enforced. The RSPB and our BirdLife International Partners are committed to ending illegal killing.

Avocet close-up of head with check at nest.

Protecting habitats

The Directive’s most important achievement has been to establish a network of around 3,000 protected areas across Europe. 

From May 2004, these will stretch from the grasslands of Spain and Portugal to the marshes of Poland and from the forests of Finland to the seabird colonies of Ireland. 

In the UK, they include coastal sites such as the North Kent Marshes, which the RSPB successfully defended against the proposal to build an airport at Cliffe, and Dibden Bay, in Hampshire, where we await the result of a public enquiry over port development. 

Cliffe Marshes, Kent, May 1997

Protecting human interest

Developers sometimes portray the Directive as favouring birds over people. This is not true. 

The Directive does not block all development - it provides the minimum safeguard necessary to ensure that Europe’s biodiversity is taken properly into account when planning decisions are taken. 

Projects can proceed in those rare cases where there is no alternative and there are imperative reasons of over-riding public interest, but then damage to the site has to be offset by the creation of compensatory habitat. In such cases, the RSPB will work constructively with all parties to secure a positive outcome for wildlife and people.

Sadly, these provisions are sometimes used inappropriately. In such cases, the RSPB maintains its opposition to schemes, and may take legal action to uphold the Directive.

Common or Eurasian crane Grus grus, silhouetted flying from roost site on Zingst peninsula over the Bodden Inlet of the Baltic sea at sunrise, Germany