13th July 2015

Defending Europe’s threatened amphibians and reptiles: Have your say!

The Birds and Habitats Directives have been the cornerstone of nature conservation across Europe. A review by the European Commission (EC) now threatens these Directives, and ARC is urging you to show your support for this important legislation.

You can (if you have hour or so to spare) respond directly the EC’s consultation by clicking below:

Responses must be submitted by 24th July 2015!

For further information see our questions and answers section below


As you may have heard in the media, the European Commission is conducting a review of the Habitats and Birds Directives. This legislation is vitally important for conserving amphibians and reptiles in the UK and elsewhere across Europe. The review gives you a chance to have your voice heard. By responding, you can let the EC know that you care about nature, and that you wish to see the Directives help conserve European wildlife. In this Q&A, we summarise the key issues, what ARC thinks, and suggest how you can help (click a quetion below to jump straight to the answer).

Q: What is the review?

In a nutshell, the European Commission (EC) is reviewing the effectiveness of the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive (together called the “Nature Directives”). This is part of the EC’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), aimed at simplifying and reducing the costs of implementing European legislation.

Q: How does the review work?

The EC is gathering evidence and opinions on the Directives during 2015, including the public consultation we’re discussing in this article. You can read more detail on the review at the Commission’s website:http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/legislation/fitness_check/index_en.htm
The main report will be published in early 2016.

Q: What might happen as a result of the review?

Of course, at present no one can predict the outcome of the review, but ARC and other conservation groups are seriously concerned. The review is framed as a “Fitness Check” and the EC’s documents explain that it will assess effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, relevance and EU added value. Yet there is a strong undercurrent of de-regulation in recent policy discussions. Essentially, some business groups and governments believe that the Directives place an unacceptable burden on economic growth. This has led to growing calls to weaken or merge the Directives.

Q: Why does it matter?

At ARC, our main concern is clearly the state of reptiles and amphibians here in the UK and across Europe. We firmly believe that the Directives, and in particular the Habitats Directive, play a crucial role in conservation. They set out goals to reverse declines in threatened species, prohibit harmful activities, protect important wildlife areas, and require monitoring. The recent “State of Nature in the EU” report (see: http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/state-of-nature-in-the-eu) shows that wildlife still needs our help, and that legislation plays a key role. In the UK, the Habitats Directive has therefore helped herps in numerous ways. The species benefitting most obviously are the “European Protected Species” – natterjack toad, great crested newt, pool frog, sand lizard, smooth snake and leatherback turtle. It’s largely thanks to the Habitats Directive that we have sound controls to protect these species. Proactive conservation such as habitat management and reintroductions are also reinforced by the Habitats Directive. Whilst the Birds Directive may seem less relevant, in fact it too helps herps, for example via the creation of a coherent legal framework and by protecting important sites.

Q: So are the Directives fit for purpose?

ARC’s view is that the Directives themselves are sound. We believe that the Directives have brought fundamental improvements the status of wildlife. They have enhanced the policy and practice of nature conservation in the UK and across Europe. We would, however, like to see the Directives better implemented so that they better protect populations in the long-term. In some aspects, implementation has been poor or has had unintended consequences, but we firmly believe that this is largely due to country-level issues, which do not require the Directives themselves to be altered. There is plenty of scope in the Directives for countries to deliver the aims of the Directives effectively. With sensible interpretation, the Directives can be good for wildlife, people and business.

Q: Does the review affect the lists of protected species?

No, the review is not specifically looking at the species listed on the Directives’ Annexes (“lists”), and our view is that this would not be a good time to do so. Whilst there are debates over species on the Annexes, we think the review should concentrate on more fundamental issues with the Directives.

Q: So what’s ARC’s view on the consultation?

Critically, we don’t think the Directives themselves need amending. Along with many other conservation groups, we believe opening up the Directives would result in them being weakened. The consultation provides a good opportunity for the EC and member state governments to assess how valuable the Directives are, and to highlight ways to improve implementation.

Q: What is ARC doing about all this?

In terms of the EC’s review programme, ARC is working with other NGOs to make a strong case to defend the Directives, so that we have effective wildlife legislation. We were part of 100 organisations coming together to make the case for the Directives (see:http://www.wcl.org.uk/docs/Joint_Links_REFIT_press_release_May15.pdf). Through our project and advocacy work, we emphasise the need for the legislation to be effective at conserving herps whilst avoiding unwanted consequences for people and business. For example, we are working with government, planning authorities and business representatives on implementing the protection regimes more practically and effectively. On our nature reserves, we demonstrate how the Directives are instrumental in achieving conservation outcomes.

Q: What can I do to help?

You can make your voice heard by responding to the EC’s consultation. Please encourage others to do so. Politicians across Europe need to hear that citizens care about legislation to conserve wildlife. The more unique responses the EC receives suggesting that the Directives need defending, the better. You have several choices for responding, and the deadline is 24 July:

If you have an hour to spare, we suggest you complete the EC’s consultation directly on their website:

If you are short of time, you can submit a response much more quickly by using one of the “pre-filled” consultation responses put together by the NGOs. These include:
https://www.naturealert.eu/en [Produced by a coalition of NGOs across Europe]
http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/defendnature [Produced by the Wildlife Trusts]
http://www.rspb.org.uk/joinandhelp/campaignwithus/defendnature/ [Produced by the RSPB]

This EC’s own consultation is rather complex, but we suggest that if you’re a professional or keen volunteer, you might want to spend the time to complete this version. Make sure you click to reveal the more specific questions after question 14. It will help you understand more of the detail behind the review, and for your response to more closely reflect your specific experience. But don’t worry if you only have time to complete the pre-filled consultation – this will still be valuable.

Once you’ve done this, why not post on our Facebook page to say you’ve responded to the consultation?