Maintaining bird populations in Special Protection Areas in the European Union

White-tailed Eagle, © Chris Gomersall (

There is a significant positive correlation between the percentage of land area designated as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) in the original 15 European Union Member States and the mean population trends of the bird species that SPAs are designed to protect.

Relationship between percentage of land area designated as SPAs and mean population trends of Annex I bird species in the original 15 EU countries
Key to countries: 1: Austria, 2: Belgium, 3: Denmark, 4: Finland, 5: France, 6: Germany, 7: Greece, 8: Ireland, 9: Italy, 10: Luxembourg, 11: Netherland, 12: Portugal, 13: Spain, 14: Sweden, 15: UK. Donald et al. (2007).

Since 1979, all wild birds in the European Union (EU) have been protected under the Birds Directive. Annex I of the Directive lists rare and threatened birds for which Member States are obliged to take special conservation measures, such as designating the most suitable areas as Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Together with Special Areas for Conservation (SACs), which are designated for other forms of biodiversity under the Habitats Directive, SPAs form part of the EU’s NATURA 2000 ecological network. Data collected by thousands of amateur and professional ornithologists across Europe were collated by BirdLife International (2004) to show national trends of all breeding bird species in each European country between 1990 and 2000. Donald et al. (2007) analysed these data in relation to the proportion of land designated as SPAs in each of the original 15 EU Member States. The study found a statistically significant positive correlation between the area of SPAs and the mean national population trends of Annex 1 species (see figure)—the higher the percentage of land area covered by SPAs, the more positive the mean national population trend of Annex I species. This supports the theory that targeted conservation measures, such as SPA designation through the Birds Directive, can improve the status of biodiversity, in this case increasing bird populations.

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BirdLife International (2004) Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. Cambridge, U.K.: BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series No. 12).
Donald, P. F., Sanderson, F. J., Burfield, I. J., Bierman, S. M., Gregory, R. D. and Waliczky, Z. (2007) International conservation delivers benefits for birds in Europe. Science 317: 810–813.

Compiled: 2008   

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife International (2008) Maintaining bird populations in Special Protection Areas in the European Union. Downloaded from on 06/12/2023