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“Don’t deregulate, designate” – say nature charities calling for bigger and better protected sites for wildlife

16 May 2022

In its response to Government plans to restore nature (the Nature Recovery Green Paper), Wildlife and Countryside Link praised some proposed improvements to the legal rules for nature conservation, including new strategies for improving important wildlife sites, new sites for nature’s recovery, and more adaptability to respond to climate change.

However, the coalition of 65 charities has warned that all of the positives could be outweighed by risks if the Government presses ahead with proposals to re-write the rulebook for protecting habitats and species, which was established in the EU, but originally conceived in the UK.

Nature groups say that the Government’s Green Paper is wrong to suggest that the Habitats Regulations are too focused on legal process. Assessments of harm to nature under the Regulations are the last and best line of defence for many of the UK’s most valuable habitats against damaging development and unsustainable land use. Stripping away legal accountability and case law would increase costs, create legal uncertainty, and expose many of our finest wildlife sites to greater harm.

The environmental group is also calling for more important habitats such as ancient woodlands and meadows to be designated as protected nature sites, and for such sites to be given stronger protection.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said:

“The way we protect wildlife can certainly be improved. We are pleased to see proposals for statutory strategies to manage wildlife sites better and to make them more flexible in the face of climate change. The idea of protecting degraded habitats to allow nature to recover is excellent. The Government should press ahead in delivering these changes.

“But these positives would be outweighed by the damage that could be done if the Government were to weaken the Habitats Regulations. These rules are not just added red tape standing in the way of good decision-making, as the Government seems to suggest. They are critical laws for nature, providing certainty for businesses, and essential legal protection for communities and wildlife. The idea of simplifying the rules and stripping away case law for a “blank slate” may sound attractive from a business point of view, but it is a false promise that would likely lead to increased costs and uncertainty.

“If the Government is serious about ensuring that protected sites play their part in halting nature’s decline, the conclusion is clear. The Government should designate, not deregulate. It should protect more places for nature, strengthen their legal defences, and invest in better management to revive the 60% of sites that aren’t in good condition.”

Wildlife and Countryside Link’s main asks of the Nature Recovery Green Paper:

  1. More protected nature sites, that have greater protection, with a faster process for completing the protected site network.
  2. Retaining and extending site protection rules, including Habitats Regulations Assessment, to defend protected sites from a wider range of damaging projects and activities.
  3. Ministerial designation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest could help protect more sites, but must only be in addition to the legal duty to designate sites of scientific importance.
  4. The objective of achieving Favourable Conservation Status should be established in law as a guiding principle for species and habitat conservation.
  5. Setting nature’s recovery and climate targets as statutory purposes for all existing public bodies, including the Forestry Commission, RPA and MMO.
  6. To contribute towards the target of protecting 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030, areas must be protected and well-managed for nature. There should be a new Nature recovery planning designation, with areas identified through Local Nature Recovery Strategies.


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