Environmental and Ecological Legislation

There are several pieces of legislation dealing with protected species and habitats in the UK, which those seeking to undertake vegetation clearance works need to be aware of.

The foundation of this legal protection framework is provided by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA 1981), which describes a range of offenses relating to wild birds, reptiles, amphibians, plants and other species listed in specific Schedules. This Act also outlined the processes for designation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and detailed the protection these sites are afforded against damaging operations.

Amendments to The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 were made by the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW 2000), to provide stronger penalties and enforcement powers. ‘Disturbance’ of protected species as an offence was changed to ‘reckless disturbance’ as part of this Act.

EU Directives regarding protected species and habitats have been passed into UK law by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (CHSR 2010), which replaced the earlier Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 and its subsequent amendments. As well as defining offences against specific Schedule-listed species, The Regulations also make provisions for the protection of European marine and terrestrial sites including Special Protection Areas and Special Conservation areas.

More specific UK legislation also exists through the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which protects badgers and their setts from injury and damage. Similarly, the Hedgerow Regulations 1997 requires any landowner wishing to remove a non-exempt hedgerow to submit notice to the Local Authority. The LA will then assess whether the hedgerow fits a complicated set of criteria to be deemed as ‘important’ and protected from works.

In general these Acts protect schedule-listed species from being killed, injured or disturbed, and prohibit any damage or obstruction to places of shelter used by these species. Any work which is likely to result in contravention of these offences will require a mitigation licence from Natural England.

Schedules naming the species afforded protection are specific to each piece of legislation but there is often overlap between them. For example, many of the European Protected Species from Schedule 2 of the CHSR 2010 are also present in Schedule 5 of the WCA 1981.

Schedule 1 of the CHSR 2010 describes the European bird species which are stringently protected from disturbance during the nesting season. Many of these important birds are only winter visitors or passing migrants to the UK and so are likely to have less impact on vegetation clearance or development projects. However, some are permanent residents or summer visitors during nesting so there is a need to be aware of which species are protected. The diagram on this page list some, but not all, of the protected animal species likely to affect vegetation works from each schedule.