German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Legal basis of nature conservation in Germany

(© Jochen Borchert/BfN)

The ability to implement nature conservation approaches, tools and measures depends to an important degree on the legal framework. Nature conservation law itself must have at its disposal an effecient an effective set of rules.

An important part is also played by general environmental law, such as the Environmental Impact Assessments Act, the Environmental Appeals Act and the Environmental Infomation Act. 

Nature conservation objectives must also be taken into account in other areas of the law. These include planning, energy, mining, farming, hunting and genetic engineering law. This corresponds with the horizontal clause in Article 11 TFEU, under which environmental protection requirements must be integrated into all policy areas with a view to promoting sustainable development.

In its capacity as a scientific agency, the Federal agency for Nature Conservation initiates and funds research projects for the analysis and onward development of nature conservation law and other areas of law relevant to nature conservation.

Nature conservation law

Germany is party to key international nature conservation treaties such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and CITES. Among the most important European directives relating to nature conservation are the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC).

The primary source of nature conservation law in Germany is the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG), which also implements the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive in national law. Alongside on species provisions protection and protected areas, the Act includes provisions on landscape planning, interventions in nature and landscape, biotope networks, marine nature conservation, access to nature and landscape for recreational purposes, and the participation of recognised nature conservation associations in certain decision making processes.

The Federal Nature Conservation Act is supplemented in each of the sixteen German states by Länder-level legislation that may vary in detail. It is therefore essential to consult the relevant nature conservation act in each of the Länder.  

In contrast, EU regulations such as the Wildlife Trade Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 338/97) apply with direct effect for all citizens without having to be transposed into national law.

With few exceptions, enforcement of nature conservation law in Germany is the exclusive responsibility of the Länder. This is not least based on practical considerations, as Länder authorities can best assess local circumstances. Protected areas are mostly designated by the Länder for the same reason.

The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) only has executive powers in a few exceptional areas and is not a superior authority to Länder-level agencies. BfN notably has executive powers with regard to the import and export of species and in marine nature conservation in the Exclusive Economic Zone beyond German territorial waters. 


Nature conservation responsibilities are allocated in Germany along federal lines. Besides international cooperation, the federal government’s main responsibility when it comes to protecting the natural resources is legislative. The constitutional basis for this changed significantly with a 2006 federalism reform.

Under a major revision of nature conservation and landscape management law, Germany adopted a new Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) from 2010. Based on the competing federal legislating powers for nature conservation and landscape management, the reform thus transferred the previous framework legislation into directly applicable federal law. The structure of the new act largely follows the previous major revision of the Federal Nature Conservation Act in 2002. The new act entered into force on 1 March 2010.


Publications issued by BfN with ordering instroctions, together with other publications on the subject (in German).

Last Change: 24/02/2021