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News article12 October 2021Directorate-General for Environment2 min read

Habitats Directive: new guidance on protected species

The European Commission has issued a guidance document on the strict protection of animal species under the Habitats Directive, including iconic species such as wolves, bears and dolphins. It aims to help EU Member States improve the implementation of the Directive on the ground. Prepared in close cooperation with Member States and stakeholders, the guidance builds on their rich practical experience and knowledge developed over the last 15 years of implementation. It factors in the latest Court of Justice rulings, thus helping to ensure coherent application of the nature protection rules across the European Union.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said:

This guidance document is a hands-on tool for Member States’ authorities and all the relevant stakeholders who play a crucial role in ensuring protection of Europe’s valuable species. The Guidance gives a wealth of practical tips on how to reconcile the protection of wildlife species with human activities. It clarifies the conditions for applying certain derogations, including in relation to large carnivores. I have no doubt that the Guidance will help EU Member States to better protect nature and give it the space it needs to flourish. This will in turn allow mankind to rely on the valuable services that nature provides us with on a daily basis.

The document explains the obligations arising from Articles 12 (strict protection regime) and 16 (derogations) of the Habitats Directive. In addition to the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on this matter, the guidance builds on experience and examples of species protection systems in EU Member States.

Annex III of the guidance concerns the wolf and provides specific examples of how to apply the above-mentioned rules, highlighting EU level initiatives and funding opportunities to support the coexistence of this protected species with human activities.

The document is a resource for authorities and organisations responsible for, or involved in, the implementation of the Habitats Directive including national, regional and local authorities, and conservation bodies. It is recommended to all stakeholders interested in understanding species protection provisions. Both Member States and stakeholders have been consulted on previous drafts of the document.



The Birds and Habitats Directives are the cornerstones of the EU’s nature and biodiversity policy. They enable all EU Member States to work together, within a common legislative framework, to conserve Europe’s most endangered, vulnerable and valuable species and habitats, irrespective of political or administrative boundaries.

The Habitats Directive requires Member States to implement two main types of measures. The first relates to the conservation of habitat types and of habitats of species (Articles 3–11 of the Habitats Directive) and involves the designation of protected sites as part of the EU network called Natura 2000.

The second type of measures concerns the protection of species (Articles 12–16) and applies across their entire natural range within Member States, both inside and outside Natura 2000 sites. Article 12 requires the protection of the animal species listed in Annex IV(a) of the Directive. It addresses direct threats to the species by prohibiting their deliberate capture, killing or disturbance, deliberate destruction or taking of their eggs, or the deterioration or destruction of their breeding sites or resting places. Annex IV(a) encompasses a wide variety of animal species, from large, wide-ranging species, like wolves and bears, to species with very small home ranges, such as butterflies, beetles or amphibians. Article 16 of the Habitats Directive provides for the possibility to derogate from the above-mentioned strict protection provisions under certain circumstances, if the derogation is justified and all the conditions set by Article 16 are met.


Publication date
12 October 2021
Directorate-General for Environment

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