The most important legislation underpinning biodiversity and nature conservation in Ireland is the Wildlife Act, 1976 the Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000 and the European Union (Natural Habitats) Regulations, SI 94/1997, which have been amended twice with SI 233/1998 & SI 378/2005. The 1997 Regulations and their amendments were subsequently revised and consolidated in the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011.

The Wildlife Act, 1976 provided a good legislative base for nature conservation. The species protection provisions, including those regulating hunting, are quite comprehensive, to the extent, for example, that they largely foresaw similar aspects of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. However, the habitat/site protection measures in the 1976 Act were relatively weak, and were almost completely limited to measures which could be introduced in agreement with landowners. There was very limited power to ensure protection, even in the case of outstanding habitats or sites, where agreement of landowners was not forthcoming.

Nature conservation legislation was substantially enlarged and improved by the Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000 and the Birds and Natural Habitats Regulations.

Update July 2017: Minister Heather Humphreys has amended the 1976 Act with S.I. No. 166 of 2017. These Regulations amend the Second Schedule of the European Communities (Wildlife Act, 1976) (Amendment) Regulations 1986 by the addition of non-lethal means to existing lethal means of controlling certain species of wild birds mentioned in the First Schedule. 

Update 29/07/2016: Details of EU Regulation on Invasive Alien Species 1143/2014 have been added to this section.