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UK Legislation

There are various UK laws and acts of parliament that regulate business impact on biodiversity. The UK Government's commitment to the conservation of biodiversity ensures the increasing relevance of the subject to business. The legal systems in England and Wales follow broadly the same principles but in Scotland and Northern Ireland there is a difference in detail. Devolution is causing the system to diverge further.


The primary UK legislation can be viewed below:

Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (amended 1991)

The Planning and Policy Guidelines
Operating Financial Review
Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations 1994
Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act for England and Wales 2000
Protection of Badgers Act 1992
Wild Mammals Protection Act 1996
Hare Preservation Act 1892
Ground Game Act 1880
Conservation of Seals Act 1970
The Town and Country Planning (Trees) Regulation 1999
Other British legislation

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (amended 1991)
Refers to the treatment and management of protected species listed as Schedule 1 (birds), 5 (mammals, reptiles, fish and invertebrates) and 8 (plants). The most relevant legislation is under Section 9. It is an offence to intentionally kill, injure, or take a scheduled species that is living wild at the time; to possess a scheduled species; to damage, destroy or obstruct access to the place of refuge used by the protected species. The 1981 Act can be obtained from HMSO.

The Planning and Policy Guidelines (October 1994, Nature Conservation, DoE, PPG9) make the presence of a protected species a material consideration when a local planning authority is considering a development proposal, which if carried out, would be likely to result in harm to the species or its habitat.

Operating and Financial Review (OFR) is the UK implementation of the EU Accounts Modernisation Directive. The OFR is a statement that will have to be included in the reports and accounts of companies based on a review of the company’s performance, factors that affect it, environmental, social and economic and factors that are going to affect the company’s performance. The OFR regulations are due to come into effect from January 2005 for more information and draft guidelines visit: www.dti.gov.uk/cld/financialreview

The Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulations 1994
Enact the European Union's (EU) Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) in the UK. The Habitats Directive was designed to contribute to the maintenance of biodiversity within the European member states by the conservation of sites containing habitats and species selected as being of EC importance. These sites will make up the Natura 2000 network. Member states are required to take measures to maintain or restore these natural and semi-natural habitats and wild species at a favourable conservation status. The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations impose restrictions on planning permissions likely to affect Special Protection Areas or Special Areas of Conservation. The Regulations also require the effects of existing authorisations and consents to be reviewed.

The Countryside and Rights Of Way Act for England and Wales 2000
Amends the law relating to nature conservation and protection of wildlife, and makes a number of changes to the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act to afford greater protection to SSSIs. It also makes new provision for public access to the countryside - the right to roam - in England and Wales. The CROW Act places a statutory duty on Government Departments and the National Assembly of Wales to have regard to biodiversity conservation and to promote conservation action by others. Section 74 of the Act requires the preparation and maintenance of lists of priority species and habitats. It also places a statutory duty on public bodies to conserve SSSIs and enhance their value, and provides English Nature and Countryside Council for Wales with the power to impose Management Schemes on owners of SSSIs. The CROW Act also strengthens the legal protection for threatened species with regard to killing, injuring, disturbing or destroying places used for shelter and protection.

The Protection of Badgers Act 1992
Makes it illegal to wilfully kill, injure, take, cruelly treat, sell, possess or mark a badger. It also makes interference with badger setts illegal, including damaging, destroying or disturbing a sett, intending to do any of these, or being reckless to the consequences of actions which may result in interference. This includes any form of building works.

The Wild Mammals Protection Act 1996
Protects wild mammals from specific listed acts of wilful cruelty, such as beating, stabbing, burning or drowning. There is currently (from March 2001) an exception for lawful shooting, hunting, coursing or pest control activity, and a further exception for the use of dogs. In Scotland, the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill is currently under consideration by the Scottish Executive, and would, if enacted, demand a license to use a dog to stalk or flush mammals for control, or to protect livestock, poultry or game-birds.

The Hare Preservation Act 1892
Forbids the sale of brown and mountain hares during their normal breeding season, March to July inclusive.

The Ground Game Act 1880
Gives tenant farmers the right to kill brown and mountain hares on their land at any time of the year to protect crops.

The Conservation of Seals Act 1970
Provides for a close season during which it is an offence to take or kill any seal except under licence in particular circumstances. The close season for grey seals is 1 September to 31 December inclusive and for common seals, 1 June to 31 August inclusive, coinciding with the pupping season. The act provides an exception which makes it lawful to kill a seal to prevent it from causing damage to a fishing net or tackle, or to any fish in the net, providing the seal is in the vicinity of the net or tackle at the time.

The Town and Country Planning (Trees) Regulation 1999
Provisions for protecting any tree, group of trees or woodland to conserve their amenity value by allowing the local planning authority to place a Tree Preservation Order on them.

Other British Legislation
Several species must be controlled under the Agricultural Act 1947, the Agricultural Act (Scotland) (1948), the Forestry Act 1967 and the Rabies (Control) Order 1974. These Acts can be obtained from HMSO. The Deer Act (England and Wales) 1991 and The Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 specify seasons and methods for killing deer. In Northern Ireland wildlife is principally protected by the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985. The Environment (NI) order 2003 provides protection for Areas of Scientific Interest ASSI's (equivalent to SSSI's) . Also in Northern Ireland trees are protected under the Planning (Trees) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 and the Planning (northern Ireland) Order 1991.


For a complete list of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales’ land and plant protection legislation click here. NET REGs lists current and future environmental legislation of importance to companies.


Photo Credit: Peter Wakely/ English Nature

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