European Directives

European Directives to all four countries within the United Kingdom and European law has sometimes been the stimulus for the creation of national laws relating to nature conservation:

Birds Directive 1979 (79/409/EEC)

The Birds Directive 1979 (79/409/EEC) is the oldest nature conservation legislation in Europe and establishes a comprehensive scheme of protection for all wild birds.

The directive establishes a comprehensive network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) (SPAs) which since 1994 have formed part of the Natura 2000 network.

The directive bans activities that directly threaten birds, such as the deliberate killing or capture of birds, the destruction of their nests and taking of their eggs, and associated activities such as trading in live or dead birds.

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Habitats Directive 1992 (92/43/EEC)

The Habitats Directive 1992 (92/43/EEC) protects over 1,000 species and 200 habitats and gives special protection Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) which form part of the Natura 2000 network. This directive was transposed into national law under the Habitat Regulations (see Statutory Regulations).

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EIA Directive 1997 (97/11/EC)

The EIA Directive 1997 (97/11/EC) ensures that environmental consequences of projects are identified and assessed before authorisation is given and was transposed into national law under the relevant EIA Regulations for each UK country (see Statutory Regulations).

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Environmental Liability Directive 

The Environmental Liability 2004 (2004/34/EC)

The Directive establishes a framework for environmental liability based on the "polluter pays" principle, with a view to preventing and remedying environmental damage.


Scope and Liability Scheme

Under the terms of the Directive, environmental damage is defined as:

  • direct or indirect damage to the aquatic environment covered by Community water management legislation;
  • direct or indirect damage to species and natural habitats protected at Community level by the 1979 " Birds " Directive or by the 1992 " Habitats " Directive;
  • direct or indirect contamination of the land which creates a significant risk to human health.

The principle of liability applies to environmental damage and imminent threat of damage resulting from occupational activities, where it is possible to establish a causal link between the damage and the activity in question.

The Directive therefore distinguishes between two complementary situations, each one governed by a different liability scheme: occupational activities specifically mentioned in the Directive and other occupational activities.

The first liability scheme applies to the dangerous or potentially dangerous occupational activities listed in Annex III to the Directive. These are mainly agricultural or industrial activities requiring a licence under the Directive on integrated pollution prevention and control, activities which discharge heavy metals into water or the air, installations producing dangerous chemical substances, waste management activities (including landfills and incinerators) and activities concerning genetically modified organisms and micro-organisms. Under this first scheme, the operator may be held responsible even if he is not at fault.

The second liability scheme applies to all occupational activities other than those listed in Annex III to the Directive, but only where there is damage, or imminent threat of damage, to species or natural habitats protected by Community legislation. In this case, the operator will be held liable only if he is at fault or negligent.
The Directive provides for a certain number of exemptions from environmental liability. The liability scheme does not apply in the case of damage or imminent damage resulting from armed conflict, natural disaster, activities covered by the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, national defence or international security activities or activities covered by the international conventions listed in Annex IV.