EU Directives

The conservation of biodiversity in Ireland has been strengthened and expanded by EU law, most notably by the following EU Directives:

  • Habitats Directive – Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora
  • Birds Directive – Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds
  • EIA Directive – Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment amended by Directive 2014/52/EU
  • SEA Directive – Directive 2001/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment

Habitats Directive

The Habitats Directive contributes to ensuring biodiversity in the European Union by conserving natural habitats and wild fauna and flora species.

It sets up the ‘Natura 2000’ network, the largest ecological network in the world. Natura 2000 comprises special areas of conservation designated by EU countries under this directive and special protection areas classified under the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC).

See EU Guidance on Managing Natura 2000 sites.

Special areas of conservation

The Annexes I and Annex II to the Habitats Directive list the types of habitats and the animal and plant species whose conservation requires the designation of special areas of conservation. Some are defined as ‘priority’ habitats or species in danger of disappearing and for which there are specific rules.

Conservation objectives and measures

Once special areas for conservation are designated, EU countries must introduce appropriate conservation objectives and measures. They must do everything possible to:

  • guarantee the conservation of habitats in these areas
  • avoid their deterioration and any significant disturbance to species

Appropriate Assessment of plans and projects

Any plan or project that is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site must be subject to appropriate assessment under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. Competent authorities may only agree to a plan or project after having ascertained that it will not have a significant impact on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site.

Some projects that will cause significant negative impact may still be permitted, in the absence of other alternatives, for imperative reasons of overriding public interest (including those of a social or economic nature). Where this arises, EU countries must introduce compensatory measures to ensure the overall coherence of the Natura 2000 network. This procedure is regulated under Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive.

Protection of species

EU countries must also establish systems of strict protection for animal and plant species which are particularly threatened, which are listed in (Annex IV).  of the Directive.
 

Birds Directive

The Birds Directive seeks to conserve all wild birds in the EU by setting out rules for their protection, management and control. The Directive covers birds, their eggs, nests and habitats.

EU countries must take action to maintain or restore the populations of endangered species to a level, which is in line with ecological, scientific and cultural requirements, while taking into account economic and recreational needs.

Measures must be set in place to preserve, maintain or re-establish a sufficient diversity and area of habitats for all bird species. These measures mainly involve the:

  • creation of protected areas
  • upkeep and management of habitats inside and outside the protected areas, and
  • re-establishment of destroyed biotopes, and the creation of new ones

Special protection areas

EU countries must create special protection areas for threatened species and migratory birds, with conditions favourable to their survival, situated in the birds’ natural area of distribution (i.e. where they naturally occur). Particular attention is paid to wetlands. The special protection areas form part of the Natura 2000 network of protected ecological sites.

This Directive also puts in place general protection for all species of wild birds in the EU. In particular the following are banned:

  • deliberate destruction or capture of wild birds
  • damage to nests
  • taking or keeping eggs
  • deliberate disturbance which put conservation at risk, and
  • trading or keeping live or dead birds, the hunting of which is banned

Appropriate Assessment of plans and projects

Article 7 of the Habitats Directive extends the scope of its Article 6(2), 6(3) and 6(4) to the Birds Directive. Therefore, any plan or project that is likely to have a significant effect on a special protection area must be subject to appropriate assessment under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. Competent authorities may only agree to a plan or project after having ascertained that it will not have a significant impact on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site.

Some projects that will cause significant negative impact may still be permitted, in the absence of other alternatives, for imperative reasons of overriding public interest (including those of a social or economic nature). Where this arises, EU countries must introduce compensatory measures to ensure the overall coherence of the Natura 2000 network. This procedure is regulated under Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive.

EIA Directive

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive relates to the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment. It aims to ensure a high level of environmental protection and that environmental considerations are integrated into the preparation and authorisation of projects.

This objective is achieved by ensuring that environmental assessment of certain public and private projects listed in Annex I and II to the Directive (airports, nuclear installations, railways, roads, waste disposal installations, waste water treatment plants, etc.) is carried out prior to their authorisation.

The EIA Directive applies to a wide range of public and private projects.

Amending legislation (Directive 2014/52/EU) was adopted in 2014. In line with the drive for smarter regulation, it:

  • helps reduce administrative burden
  • improves the level of environmental protection to permit sounder, more predictable and sustainable business decisions on public and private investments

The amendment takes into account threats and challenges that have emerged since the original rules came into force 30 years ago. This means paying more attention to aspects like resource efficiency, climate change and disaster prevention, which are now better reflected in the assessment process.

SEA Directive

The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive aims to ensure a high level of environmental protection in that environmental considerations are taken into account when preparing, adopting and implementing public plans and programmes. It promotes sustainable development by ensuring that environmental assessment is carried out of certain plans and programmes likely to have significant effects on the environment. 

This Directive applies to the public plans and programmes (as well as their amendments) which have been prepared and/or adopted by a competent authority and which are subject to legislative, regulatory and administrative rules:

  • plans and programmes which are prepared for specific sectors (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, industry, transport, waste management, water management, telecommunications, tourism, town and country planning and land use) and which set the framework for development consent of projects under the EIA Directive
  • plans and programmes for which an assessment is required under Articles 6 and 7 of the Habitats Directive
  • plans and programmes which set the framework for future development consent of projects other than those under the EIA Directive (not limited to the sectors listed above) and which EU countries have identified as likely to have significant environmental effects. EU countries can determine this either through case-by-case examination or by specifying types of plans and programmes or by combining both approaches.
Last updated: 27 June 2019