Environmental protection of nature and biodiversity


Biodiversity is the variety of different plants, animals and micro-organisms, their genes and the ecosystems of which they are a part. Biodiversity is important for our survival and economic development. Food security and the discovery of new medicines are put at risk by the loss of biodiversity. Vital goods and services that are often taken for granted, such as clean air and fresh water, are threatened by the deterioration of ecosystems.

There is EU and Irish law which aims to ensure biodiversity by conserving natural habitats and wild flora and fauna.

Birds Directive

The Birds Directive (that is, Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds) has 3 main elements:

  • It provides for habitat conservation, including a requirement to designate Special Protected Areas (SPAs) for migratory and other vulnerable wild bird species
  • It bans activities that directly threaten birds (such as the deliberate destruction of nests and the taking of eggs) and associated activities such as trading in live or dead birds
  • It establishes rules that limit the number of species that can be hunted, the periods during which they can be hunted and the permitted methods of hunting.

Habitats Directive

The Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna) provides for the creation of a network of protected sites known as Natura 2000. These sites include SPAs (under the Birds Directive) and other sites proposed by EU member states which meet specific scientific criteria. The designated sites must then all be run in accordance with the safeguards set out in the Directive. This means that there must be:

  • Prior assessment of potentially damaging plans and projects
  • A requirement that these plans and projects be approved only if they represent an overriding interest and only if no alternative solution exists
  • Measures for providing compensatory habitats in the event of damage.

The Directive also provides for a ban on the downgrading of breeding and resting places for certain animal species. This legislation is implemented in Ireland by the Wildlife Act 1976, the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 and the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011.

Protected sites

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) publishes lists of sites that are protected under European and national legislation. These include Special Protected Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the Habitats Directive and National Heritage Areas (NHAs) designated under the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000.

Details of the process for designation of protected sites are available on the NPWS website, including information on objecting to a proposed designation; appealing if the objection fails; and compensation provisions for people who lose financially as a result of a site being designated.

A number of raised bogs have been designated as SACs or NHAs. Landowners and holders of turbary rights who are affected by the restriction on turf cutting on these bogs can apply for compensation under the Cessation of Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme.


The European Commission has adopted the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. The 6 targets of the Strategy cover:

  • Full implementation of EU nature legislation to protect biodiversity
  • Better protection for ecosystems, and more use of green infrastructure
  • More sustainable agriculture and forestry
  • Better management of fish stocks
  • Tighter controls on invasive alien species
  • A bigger EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss

The EU is a party to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. This commits the parties (among other things) to creating a network of nature protection and conservation areas to safeguard biodiversity.

The EU is also a party to a number of other Conventions, including the Convention on migratory species (Bonn Convention), the Convention on the conservation of European Wildlife and habitats (Berne Convention) and the Agreement on the conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).

Page edited: 24 May 2016