Conservation

European Directives | England & Wales | Scotland | Northern Ireland

Please note: The legislation described in this section is correct at January 2011

The European Nature Conservation Directives

The Birds Directive protects all wild birds, their nests, eggs and habitats within the European Union. It gives member states the power and responsibility to classify Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to protect birds which are rare or vulnerable, as well as all migratory birds which are regular visitors.

The Habitats Directive builds on the Birds Directive by protecting natural habitats and other species of wild plants and animals. Together with the Birds Directive, it underpins a European network of protected areas known as Natura 2000. This network includes SPAs and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).

The European Landscape Convention (ELC) promotes the protection, management and planning of European landscapes and organises European co-operation on landscape issues. In the context of development of previously developed land (PDL) for open space projects the ELC the following key aims of the Convention are particularly relevant:

  • Identifying and protecting landscapes
  • Putting people at the heart of landscape policy.

The Convention’s purpose is to promote landscape protection, management and planning of European landscapes and to organise European co-operation on landscape issues. It is the first international treaty to be exclusively concerned with protection, management and enhancement of European landscape. It is wide in its scope and applies to natural, rural, urban and peri-urban areas, which includes: land, inland water, and marine areas.

It deals with everyday or degraded landscapes as well as those that can be considered outstanding. In other words, it recognises the importance of all landscapes, and not just of exceptional landscapes, as having a crucial bearing on quality of life and as deserving attention in landscape policy. A great many rural and peri-urban areas, in particular, are undergoing drastic change and merit greater care from the authorities and the public.

A key aspect of the Convention is the active role it assigns the public as regards perception and evaluation of landscape.  Awareness-raising is therefore crucial in order to involve the public in decisions affecting the landscape in which they live.

A specific measure the Convention is engaged in alerting civil society, private organisations and public authorities to the value of landscapes, their role, and changes in them.

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England and Wales

The legislative framework combines to ensure conservation, protection and enhancement of England’s and Wales’ natural features. Legislation protects wildlife and the natural environment, and strict penalties are in place for those who break the law. Consideration of all biodiversity, whether is it statutorily protected or not, is required of planning authorities and all other public sector bodies in their work and activities. Consequently it is an important consideration for any open space project on PDL.
It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb protected species listed on the relevant Schedules of Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

Natural England and the Countryside Council for Wales are the relevant bodies with responsibility to conserve and enhance the natural environment, including landscapes, biodiversity, geology and soils, natural resources, cultural heritage and other features of the built and natural environment.
The Environment Agency (EA) is responsible to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and to the National Assembly for Wales. Its principal aims are to protect and improve the environment, and to promote sustainable development. The EA plays a role in delivering the environmental priorities of central government and the Welsh Assembly Government.

Relevant conservation legislation for England and Wales includes:

 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
This legislation covering endangered species sets out the framework for the designation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). It confers differing levels of protection on species themselves, their habitats or both depending on their conservation status. Species offered protection by the Act are listed in a series of Schedules. These Schedules are subject to a rolling review on a five yearly basis.  Protected species are listed under Section 1 (birds), Schedule 5 (animals other than birds and invertebrates) and Schedule 8 (Plants). The Act bans certain methods of killing, disturbance or taking wild animals, including birds, and restricts the introduction and sale of certain non-native animals and plants. It also sets out the amended laws relating to public rights of way.

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2004
Adds a new definition of ‘wild bird’ to include any species that is native to, or a visitor to, any country in the EU. It specifies which birds may be hunted, and when.

Protection of Badgers Act 1992
Makes it an offence to wilfully kill, injure, take, or attempt to kill a badger and interfere with a sett or disturb a badger whilst occupying a sett, amongst other offences. It also sets out the exceptions, licences, enforcement and penalties for this offence.

Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994
The British response to the Habitats & Species Directive 1992 issued by the European Community (EC). They offer protection to a number of plant and animal species throughout the EC via the designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) & Special Protection Areas (SPA). In the United Kingdom these regulations are implemented through the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). The Regulations for the protection of European Protected Species were strengthened in August 2007.  Key changes include the removal of most of the defences from regulation 40 and regulation 43 including the removal of the ‘incidental result of an otherwise lawful operation’ defence, and the increase in the threshold for the offence of deliberately disturbing a European Protected Species. Proposals that would affect European protected species will be dependent on the successful submission of a licence application to the Wildlife Licensing Unit of the Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (SNCO) upon granting of planning permission. European protected species include all species of bats amongst others.

Environment Act 1995
Establishes the Environment Agency as the regulatory body for contaminated land, control of pollution, conservation or enhancement of the environment and fisheries.

Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000
Sets out rules on countryside access, rights of way, driving vehicles off road, nature conservation and protecting wildlife and areas of outstanding natural beauty. This Act affords a greater level of protection to Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and strengthens wildlife enforcement legislation.  This Act has amended the Wildlife and Countryside Act by the addition of the term ‘recklessly’ to Section 1(5) and Section 9 (4) which has resulted in additional obligations with respect to protected species.  As such, it is now an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb protected species listed on the relevant Schedules of the Act.

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERC)
Establishes Natural England as the main body responsible for conserving, enhancing and managing England’s natural environment. It also covers biodiversity, pesticides harmful to wildlife and the protection of birds.  This Act builds upon and extends the requirements of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.  Under Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC) 2006, planning authorities and all other public sector bodies have to consider biodiversity in their work and activities. Section 40 of the Act states that: “Every public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity.”

Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) (Amendment) Regulations 2007 amend 1994/2716
Regarding the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

The Climate Change Act 2008
Makes the UK the first country in the world to have a legally binding long-term framework to cut carbon emissions. It also creates a framework for building the UK’s ability to adapt to climate change. The Climate Change Bill finished its passage through parliament on 18 November 2008, and was enacted by Royal Assent on 26 November 2008.

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Scotland

The conservation legislative framework in Scotland combines to ensure protection and enhancement of Scotland’s natural features and there is a duty placed on all public bodies to further the conservation of biodiversity. In respect to penalties, rules are in place to force polluters to prevent and repair damage to water systems, land quality, species and their habitats and protected sites. It is an offence to deliberately capture, kill, disturb or trade in protected animals; and to pick, collect, cut, uproot, destroy or trade in protected plants. 

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) was established under the Environment Act in 1995 and is the regulatory body for contaminated land, control of pollution and environmental conservation.  Its main role is to protect and improve the environment by regulating activities that can cause harmful pollution and by monitoring the quality of Scotland’s air, land and water.  SEPA is also responsible for delivering Scotland’s flood warning system, helping to implement Scotland’s National Waste Strategy and controlling, with the Health and Safety Executive, the risk of major accidents at industrial sites.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) as established in 1992 through the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991, from the former Nature Conservancy Council.  SNH is a non-departmental public body, responsible through Ministers to the Scottish Parliament. It is funded by Government and the Board members are appointed by Scottish Ministers. Their mission is to promote ‘all of nature for all of Scotland’, which is done by promoting the care and improvement, responsible enjoyment, greater understanding and appreciation and sustainable use of the natural heritage, now and for future generations.

Relevant conservation legislation for Scotland includes:

Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981
Primary legislation covering endangered species in Scotland and sets out the framework for the designation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). It confers differing levels of protection on species, their habitats or both depending on their conservation status. Species offered protection by the Act are listed in a series of Schedules. These Schedules are subject to a rolling review on a five yearly basis. Protected species are listed under Section 1 (birds), Schedule 5 (animals other than birds and invertebrates) and Schedule 8 (Plants). The Act bans certain methods of killing, disturbance or taking wild animals, including birds, and restricts the introduction and sale of certain non-native animals and plants. Also sets out the amended laws relating to public rights of way. Bans certain methods of killing or taking wild animals, including birds, and restricts the introduction and sale of certain non-native animals and plants. Also sets out the amended laws relating to public rights of way.

Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004
Deals with conserving biodiversity and protecting and enhancing Scotland’s natural features. It also amends rules on protecting certain birds, animals and plants. The Act imposes a wide-ranging duty on Scotland’s public sector to conserve biodiversity and protect the natural heritage. The Act also strengthens protection for SSSIs, with increasing fines for intentional or reckless damage to Scotland’s most important natural land and wildlife habitats.

Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991
Establishes Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) as the main body responsible for securing and promoting the conservation of Scotland’s natural scenery, flora and fauna.

Protection of Badgers Act 1992
Makes it an offence to wilfully kill, injure, take, or attempt to kill a badger. It also sets out the exceptions, licences, enforcement and penalties for this offence.

Environment Act 1995
Establishes the Environment Agency and SEPA as the regulatory bodies for contaminated land, control of pollution, conservation or enhancement of the environment and fisheries.

National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000
Establishes National Parks in Scotland, including setting up National Park Authorities, their powers, finances and “management agreements” between National Park Authority landowners or occupiers.

Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002
Makes it illegal to hunt a wild mammal with a dog – e.g. fox and deer hunting – or for a landowner or occupier to knowingly allow another person to hunt a wild mammal with a dog, or to allow another person to use the dog to hunt a wild mammal.

Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003
Establishes a right to be on land for recreational, educational and some other purposes and cross land if rights are exercised responsibly. Also details how rural and crofting organisations can buy land they are connected with.

Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c) Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2004
Brings the provisions for protection of European ‘Natura 2000’ sites into line with the protection regime set out in the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. Gives further protection to European protected species.

Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) (Amendment) Regulations 2007 Amends 1994/2716
Regarding the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2007
To add further measures for conserving European protected species and extend circumstances when it is an offence to disturb, sell or exhange such species or products derived from them.

Environmental Liability (Scotland) Regulations 2009
Brings into force rules to force polluters to prevent and repair damage to water systems, land quality, species and their habitats and protected sites. The polluter does not have to be prosecuted first, so remedying the damage should be faster.

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Northern Ireland

Legislation in Northern Ireland has also been driven by European Directives and allows for improved protection of wildlife and the environment. As in the other UK nations, it is an offence to deliberately capture, kill, disturb or trade in protected animals; and to pick, collect, cut, uproot, destroy or trade in protected plants. 

The Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 established the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside and sets out the Department of the Environment’s rights and duties to protect and enhance sites of natural beauty or special scientific interest in Northern Ireland.

The Environment and Heritage Service for Northern Ireland (EHS) regulates through a process of permits, consents, licences or management agreements, inspections to check compliance and enforcement action for breaches, including prosecution for serious or repeat offenders. 

Relevant conservation legislation for Northern Ireland includes:

Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995
Protects certain birds, plants, animals, marine life and their habitats, including Natura 2000 sites, through creating criminal offences and changing planning requirements.

Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2004
Amends 1995/380 to make it illegal to trade in protected species of animals and wild plants from any EU country. Amends the definition of ‘wild birds’ to include all EU wild birds.

Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007
Amends 1995/380 with additional measures for conserving natural habitats and wild flora and fauna in Northern Ireland, including modifying the offence of deliberately disturbing wild animals, particularly animals and plants protected by European law.

Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009
Amends 1995/380 to cover monitoring capturing and killing, increasing the protection of wild animals, and reducing the scope of available defences.

Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002
Covers several environmental issues, including pollution prevention control, assessment and management of air quality, and designation of Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs).

Environmental Liability (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009
Brings into force rules to force polluters to prevent and repair damage to water systems, land quality, species and their habitats and protected sites. The polluter does not have to be prosecuted first, so remedying the damage should be faster.

Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985
Establishes the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside and sets out the DoE’s rights and duties to protect and enhance sites of natural beauty or special scientific interest in Northern Ireland.

Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (Amends 1989)
Replaces the Committee for Nature Conservation and the Ulster Countryside Committee with the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside.

Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999
Requires that planning application decisions consider the potential environmental impact of the project. Sets out which developments require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the rules and procedures relating to EIAs.

The Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008
Requires that planning application decisions consider the potential environmental impact of the project. Sets out which developments require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the rules and procedures relating to EIAs.

Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985
Makes it an offence to interfere with certain species of wild animals and plants, with certain exceptions, which require a licence. Specifies open and closed periods for hunting of limited species, with special protection for deer.