Q&As

What legislation protects priority habitats? What powers does Natural England have over priority habitat which has not been designated a site of special and scientific interest, special protection area or special areas of conservation? Does it have control over how the land should be managed?

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Produced in partnership with Hannah Payne of Browne Jacobson
Published on LexisPSL on 29/05/2019

The following Environment Q&A produced in partnership with Hannah Payne of Browne Jacobson provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • What legislation protects priority habitats? What powers does Natural England have over priority habitat which has not been designated a site of special and scientific interest, special protection area or special areas of conservation? Does it have control over how the land should be managed?
  • Defining priority habitats
  • Relevant Legislation
  • Protection for sites undesignated as a SPA, SAC or SSSI

What legislation protects priority habitats? What powers does Natural England have over priority habitat which has not been designated a site of special and scientific interest, special protection area or special areas of conservation? Does it have control over how the land should be managed?

It is assumed that this query relates to habitats in England.

Defining priority habitats

Priority natural habitat is defined under the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC (Habitats Directive) as being:

‘…natural habitat types in danger of disappearance, which are present on the [European territory] and for the conservation of which the Community has particular responsibility in view of the proportion of their natural range…’

In contrast, under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERCA 2006), a priority habitat is any habitat published on the ‘list of the living organisms and types of habitat which in the Secretary of State's opinion are of principal importance for the purpose of conserving biodiversity’.

Relevant Legislation

The legislation relevant to a priority habitat will depend both on the nature of the habitat itself and the way in which it is intended to be used. The most common legislation includes:

  1. Habitats Directive

  2. Birds Directive 2009/147/EC (Birds Directive)

  3. Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981—this implements the key wild bird protection measures required under the Birds Directive in England and Wales

  4. Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, SI 2017/1012—habitats up to 12 miles

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