Wildlife and the law

For information on important legislation in the UK relating to wildlife and the natural environment, we recommend you visit the websites of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

The following are the key pieces of legislation relevant to planning and development decision making.

England and Wales

Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010

Conservation of Habitats and Species  (Amendment) Regulations 2012

Transpose into UK law provisions of the EU Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, including in relation to designation and protection of Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas (‘Natura 2000’ protected sites of European importance), setting out the legal protection for certain species of animal and plant, and also establishing the system for assessment of plans or projects affecting European protected sites.   

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended)

Part 1 establishes legal protection for all wild birds in the UK, and stronger protection for birds listed in Schedule 1 of the Act.  Part 1 also sets out legal protection for wild animals listed in Schedule 5 and wild plants listed in Schedule 8 of the WCA.

Other parts of the Act amend legislation relating to nature conservation, for instance in respect of the designation, protection and management of SSSIs; roles, responsibilities and requirements in respect of National Nature Reserves and Ramsar Sites; and policy on National Parks and public rights of way.

The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (‘NERC Act’)

Section 40(1) places a direct statutory duty on all public authorities to conserve biodiversity:
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.

Section 40(3) clarifies that conserving biodiversity includes, in relation to a living organism or type of habitat, restoring or enhancing a population or habitat.
Section 41 (1) of the NERC Act requires the Secretary of State to publish a list of habitats and species that are of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England, drawn up in consultation with Natural England.  The S41 list is based upon the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) lists of priority habitats and species.

Section 41(3) establishes that the Secretary of State must take and promote the taking by others (such as public bodies) such steps as appear to him to be reasonably practicable to further the conservation of the living organisms and types of habitats included in the S41 list of habitats and species of principal importance.

Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (‘CROW Act’)

Contains various provisions, including amending and strengthening provisions within preceding legislation.

Section 74 places a duty on Government Departments to have regard for the conservation of biodiversity and maintaining lists of habitats and species of principle importance for nature conservation.

Section 75 (Schedule 9) brings into place amendments to the SSSI provision of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and increases powers for their protection and management.

Section 81 (Schedule 12) amends species provisions of the WCA 1981, strengthening legal protection for these species.

The Hedgerow Regulations 1997

Protection of Badgers Act 1992


Birds Directive

Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds

Provides a legal framework for the protection, management and control of human interactions with wild bird species. The directive lists in Article 1 bird species requiring measures to ensure their protection and establishes, for instance, a requirement for member states to designate Special Protection Areas for wild birds.  The Birds Directive is transposed in British Law through the Conservation of Habitats & Species Regulations 2010.

Habitats Directive

Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

Provides a framework for the protection and management of habitats and species of flora and fauna of European importance.  The directive establishes a requirement for member states to designate Special Areas of Conservation, and provisions to control activities affecting these protected areas.  Annex I lists habitat types of community interest and Annex II species of community interest, which should be represented within the SACs.  The directive lists in Annexe IV animal and plant species requiring strict legal protection by member states, known as ‘European Protected Species’.  The Habitats Directive is transposed in British Law through the Conservation of Habitats & Species Regulations 2010.

EIA Directive

Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment.

Establishes a requirement and framework for the assessment of certain projects, for instance large infrastructure developments, for likely significant effects on the environment.  The directive also sets out requirements for consultation of the public and competent authorities (eg. Natural England) on such projects.  Types of project requiring EIA are listed in the Annexes to the Directive.  Transposed into English law by the EIA Regulations (Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999 (“the EIA Regulations”)  and the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2008

SEA Directive

Directive 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment.

Establishes a requirement and framework to ensure that the environmental impacts of policies, strategies, plans and programmes likely to have a significant effect on the environment are assessed.   Transposed into law in England by The Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004

Water Framework Directive (WFD)

Directive 2000/60/EC establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy.

Establishes a framework for the protection of rivers and lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater.  The directive aims to ensure aquatic ecosystems and terrestrial ecosystems and wetlands (with respect to their requirement for water) reach good ecological and chemical status by 2015.  Transposed into law in England and Wales by The Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003.