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European Union Legislation

Most European environmental legislation is in the form of 'Directives', which allow member states fexibility in the way that these are incorporated into national law.

The Sixth Environmental Action Programme establishes the way ahead for European environmental policy in the run-up to 2010. One of the four priority areas addressed is the objective to 'protect and restore the functionality of natural systems and halt the loss of biodiversity in the EU and globally and to protect soils against erosion and pollution'.

The Environmental Liability Directive
The environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC) entered into force on the 30th April 2004. Member states have 3 years to implement the directive into National law. The Directive is based on the “Polluter Pays” principle and has two distinct but complementary liability regimes.

• The first is that operators that conduct risky activities will be liable for damage to the environment, encompassing water (covered by the 2000 Water Framework Directive), land and air pollution.
• The second liability regime applies to operators who cause damage to protected species and natural habitats protected at EU level under the 1992 Habitat and 1979 Birds Directives.

The Habitats Directive
(Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora) complements the EU Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds and covers species other than birds. Habitats and species of 'community interest' are identified, and these must be maintained at 'favourable conservation status', as specified by particular criteria. The mechanism for protection is through designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), both for habitats and certain species.

The Wild Birds Directive
(Council Directive 79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979 on the conservation of wild birds) is designed to protect wild birds, and to provide sufficient diversity of habitats for all species in order to maintain populations. It lists birds of special conservation concern requiring special conservation measures, and includes selection of areas most suitable for them to be designated as Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) together form a network of protected sites across the EU called Natura 2000, which emerged from the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives. These Directives are implemented in the UK by the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulations, 1992. For more information see UK legislation.

The Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats 1979
Was signed by the UK in 1979 and aims to conserve wild flora and fauna and their habitats, promote co-operation between countries, and emphasises endangered and vulnerable species listed in a series of appendices. Article 2 requires parties to maintain or promote populations to levels that correspond with ecological, scientific and cultural requirements. Article 6 prohibits deliberate capture, keeping, killing or disturbance of Appendix II species, trade in dead or live Appendix II animals or their derivatives, deliberate damage or destruction of breeding or resting sites of Appendix II species, with the exception of 'incidental' damage caused by the owner or occupier.

EU Water Framework Directive (2000) sets out the framework for European water policy. The objective has been is to achieve “good status” of marine and river water by 2015 by encouraging good water management and the reduction of 32 dangerous chemicals to within acceptable levels.

EU Nitrates Directive (1991) sets out policy for reducing nitrous compounds in water systems that may contribute to reduction in biodiversity caused by eutrophication and have a negative impact on human health.

EU Groundwater Directive (2003) ensures that ground water quality is monitored and evaluated across Europe in a harmonised way.

Council Regulation No 1590 establishes a Community programme on the conservation, characterisation, collection and utilisation of genetic resources in agriculture and repeals Regulation (EC) No 1467/94.

EC Regulation 2152/2003 concerns the monitoring of forests and environmental interactions in the Community (Forest Focus).

Council Directive 92/43/EEC focuses on the conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora.

Shellfish Waters 79/923/EEC protects the quality of coastal and brackish waters designated for protection or improvement to support particular shellfish populations.

Photo Credit: Peter Wakely/English Nature

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