The implementation of international nature conservation agreements in Europe: the case of the Netherlands

G. Bennett, S.S.H. Ligthart

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Nature conservation policy in European countries is increasingly determined by the requirements of a wide range of international agreements. The most important are two EU directives (the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive) and four conventions(the Ramsar Convention, the Bern Convention, the Bonn Convention and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity). The main foci of these instruments are habitats and species that are of international importance or require international cooperation to secure their effective conservation. Despite the importance of these habitats and species, implementation of the instruments has been uneven. The Netherlands provides a interesting example of implementation issues. The legislation necessary to enable the government to legally designate areas that have to be protected under the Birds Directive was only adopted in 1998, 17 years after the deadline fixed by the directive. This legislation has enabled the government to nominate areas for designation under the Birds and Habitats Directive. However, not all the sites that fall under the criteria of the Directives have been included in the list, and the legislation does not include the required provision concerning compensation for areas that are protected under the Habitats Directive and then damaged by activities that are authorized in the public interest. In the case of the Ramsar Convention, the government is planning to increase the number of designated sites, but the total number of sites will still represent inadequately the types of wetland of international importance that are found in the Netherlands. Despite this uneven implementation, the instruments - particularly the EU Directives - are having far-reaching effects on nature conservation in Europe. The most important consequences are that ecological considerations are the sole and absolute criteria for determining whether a site should be protected under the EU Directives and that many areas that until now only enjoyed limited protection under the spatial planning system now have to be legally protected from virtually all forms of damage. However, in practice many development plans take only limited account of the biodiversity conservation requirements implied by international conventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-150
JournalEuropean environment
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001

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