Birds Directive

About the Birds Directive

The Birds Directive is the EU’s oldest piece of nature legislation and one of the most important, creating a comprehensive scheme of protection for all wild bird species naturally occurring in the Union. It was adopted unanimously by the Members States in 1979 as a response to increasing concern about the declines in Europe’s wild bird populations resulting from pollution, loss of habitats as well as unsustainable use. It was also in recognition that wild birds, many of which are migratory, are a shared heritage of the Member States and that their effective conservation required international co-operation.

The directive recognises that habitat loss and degradation are the most serious threats to the conservation of wild birds. It therefore places great emphasis on the protection of habitats for endangered as well as migratory species (listed in Annex I), especially through the establishment of a coherent network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) comprising all the most suitable territories for these species. Since 1994 all SPAs form an integral part of the NATURA 2000 ecological network.

FACE & The Birds Directive

FACE was formally founded in 1977 as a result of national hunting associations engaging with the process which resulted in the adoption in 1979 of the Birds Directive.

Since those early days, FACE has remained very close to its roots by continuing to work on issues related to birds and in particular migratory birds.

This work has continued to be carried out within the framework of the EU Birds Directive but also as part of international agreements such as the Bern Convention and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). 

As a part of this work, FACE Members together with the CIC (International Council for Game & Wildlife Conservation) and the OMPO Institute were integral in the establishment of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) in the 1990s.

This extensive involvement in the conservation of migratory birds reflects the sincere commitment hunters make to safeguarding the future of these species,


The Birds Directive has undergone considerable extension in its bio-geographical scope since its adoption; it covers 28 Member States with a network of 5,347 Special Protection Areas (over 10% of the EU’s land surface). The next era of the Birds Directive will be one of implementation and management of sites. The question to be asked is how effective is this legal instrument in delivering conservation for wild birds and their habitats, and how can we measure progress? Target 1 of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy aims that under the Birds Directive 50% or more species assessments will show a secure or improved status. This roughly translates as 80% of species’ assessments being either secure or improving by 2020 (now 52% secure according to BirdLife International 2004).

Whilst FACE joins in celebrating the success of the Birds Directive it argues that greater recognition should be made of the socio-cultural diversity within the EU. People should not be left out of the equation as it is ultimately the citizens that turn policy into action on the ground.

Sustainable Hunting Initiative

In 2001 the European Commission launched the Sustainable Hunting Initiative to generate constructive dialogue between governmental and non-governmental organisations concerned with the conservation and sustainable use of our wild birds under the EU Birds Directive, 2009/147/EC

The aim of this initiative is to improve understanding of the legal and technical aspects of the Directive’s provisions on hunting as well as developing a programme of scientific, conservation and awareness raising measures to promote sustainable hunting under the Directive. This was well captured in the production of a Guidance Document on Hunting and the Birds Directive, translated into the 22 official EU languages.

The Sustainable Hunting Agreement – FACE & BirdLife International

In October 2004, as part of the Sustainable Hunting Initiative, FACE and BirdLife International signed an Agreement with Environment Commissioner M. Wallström. 

In her words, “I would like to extend warm congratulations to BirdLife International and FACE on the signing of this important Agreement which is greatly welcome. This represents a central achievement of the Sustainable Hunting Initiative, which the Commission has promoted for the past 3 years. The constructive and cooperative work shown by both your organisations in reaching this valuable Agreement is appreciated by all the Commission services concerned.”

A key principle of the Agreement is that BirdLife International and FACE recognise the value of the Directive for maintaining wild birds (including huntable species) and their habitats in a favourable conservation status at the EU level - with application of the Directive being based on the Commission’s Guidance document on Hunting. 

The organisations also agreed to work together to promote strategic conservation priorities, such as halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010, the protection of important sites for birds, and setting out an acceptable timetable for phasing out lead shot use in wetlands. Constructive dialogue on these issues continues today.

See the Sustainable Hunting Agreement Text: 

See the Sustainable Hunting Agreement: 

See the Guidance Document on hunting under the Birds Directive: 

More on the Birds Directive: