How is favourable conservation status being defined across the EU?

The Birds and Habitats Directives provide a robust framework for the protection of habitats and species of European importance. The core objective of both Directives is to achieve a favourable conservation status of these habitats and species - in other words, that habitats have sufficient area and quality and species have a sufficient population size to ensure their survival into the medium to long term, along with favourable future prospects in the face of pressures and threats. An understanding of how these criteria for conservation status have been interpreted and implemented across the Member States is important as greater uniformity in the interpretation could improve the quality of biodiversity reporting at the European level.

Natural England commissioned IEEP to carry out a study to better understand how the concept of favourable conservation status is being implemented within the European Union and to identify examples of good practice that could benefit the approach in England. The study looked at ten Member States, namely Austria, Belgium (Flanders), Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden. We examined how these Member States interpret Favourable Conservation Status and establish associated Favourable Reference Values for habitats and species of Community interest inside and outside protected sites. We also sought to understand how Member States determine appropriate population levels and wider habitat requirements for wild birds in compliance with the Birds Directive.

The study revealed important differences in the way that Favourable Conservation Status is interpreted amongst the Member States as well as the manner in which associated Favourable Reference Values are established. The absence of a binding requirement to report on the conservation status of birds has resulted in several Member States not setting appropriate population levels of wild birds despite existing research on the topic, and there is little consistency in the manner in which these were established and adopted. We conclude that Member States should set out their methodologies clearly and make them available so that greater harmonisation of reporting on biodiversity can be achieved. The report will assist England in developing its own approaches and advice relating to implementation and reporting under the Birds and Habitats Directives.

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