Protecting our Biodiversity

The impact of man on our wildlife and habitats is such that many now need the protection of the law to enable them to survive.  The dramatic increase in the human population, our need for housing and transportation, food and materials, together with the by-products of our industries have caused vast reductions in habitat and the number and range of species, pushing many of them to the limit.  In many cases, it is no longer possible to leave nature to look after itself.

The UK has a number of pieces of wildlife legislation protecting both habitats and species, a summary of which can be viewed on our protected species page.  This legislation has also allowed for the protection of specific, important sites, protecting both habitats and important animals and / or plants.  This legislation also helps to contribute to our international commitments, including the halting of biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020.

All our wild birds and a number of animal and plant species are protected by the Habitats Directive, implemented through the UK Habitats Regulations 2010; and the Birds Directive implemented through the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) 1981.  These are the means by which the UK and other European countries meet their obligations under various international conventions.  They also provide for a suite of protected sites, safeguarding habitat types and areas where protected species may live.  Rare or native species that are not protected under the Habitats Regulations, such as the red squirrel, are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and some species, such as deer, badgers and seals are afforded protection through their own legislation.

Whilst the details may seem complicated, the main points of the law protecting species are quite simple and can be summarised as:

  • Intentional or reckless killing, injuring, taking, selling or advertising for sale or purchase of specifically protected wild animals is against the law;
  • Intentionally or recklessly disturbing protected wild animals or damaging their breeding places or places of shelter is also against the law.  This includes disturbance which is likely to impair their ability to survive, hibernate, migrate, breed or reproduce or to rear or otherwise care for young.
  • All wild birds, their nests and eggs are protected and there are special penalties for harming certain rare species;
  • Wild plants must not be picked or sold.  Uprooting any wild plant is illegal without the landowner’s permission.  Specially protected plants must not be picked, uprooted or sold without a licence.
  • Possession of any protected species is against the law unless it can be shown that it was taken legally.

There are certain instances when the above activities may need to occur and in order to undertake this lawfully, licences must be applied for and granted.  In the case of development, these are obtained from the Welsh Government.  For conservation or other purposes licences are granted by Natural Resources Wales (NRW).  In all instances it must be demonstrated that the unlawful act cannot be avoided and that sufficient measures are in place to minimise disturbance and mitigate for it.

Sites are protected through the control of potentially damaging operations, permission for which has to be sought from NRW.  Development, projects and plans which have the potential to adversely affect the designated features of protected sites also have to be assessed for the likely significant affect on those features through a procedure known as a Habitats Regulations Assessment.  This is usually undertaken by a competent authority (e.g. Local Planning Authority) with consultation with NRW.

For more information about wildlife legislation, the species to which it applies, the licensing process, protected sites and lists of potentially damaging operations, visit the CCW website.


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