Wildlife and the law

Wildlife and the law

Wildlife and the natural Environment in the UK are protected by various laws.

Find out about the relevant sections of UK and EU law that offers protection to wildlife and the natural environment. 

Wildlife legislation

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee, a statutory adviser to the UK government and the devolved administrations, has information on key legislation relating to wildlife and the natural environment.

You can also find standing advice for protected habitats and species here.

The following pieces of legislation are relevant to biodiversity, planning and decision-making.

England and Wales

  • Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017
    These transpose into UK law provisions of the EU Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, including in relation to designation and protection of Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas (‘Natura 2000’ or ‘N2K’ protected sites of European importance), setting out the legal protection for certain species of animal and plant, and also establishing the system for assessment of plans or projects affecting European protected sites.
  • The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 ('the NERC Act') 
    Section 40 (1) of the NERC Act places a duty on local authorities and other public bodies to conserve biodiversity: "The public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity."
    Section 40 (3) clarifies: "Conserving biodiversity includes, in relation to a living organism or type of habitat, restoring or enhancing a population or habitat."
    Section 41 covers Biodiversity lists and action in England.
    Section 41 (1) requires the Secretary of State to "publish a 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." This list is drawn up and kept under review in consultation with Natural England. The S41 list is based on the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) lists of priority habitats and species.
  • Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 ('the CRoW Act') 
    Part III of the Act: 'Nature Conservation and Wildlife Protection', strengthens and supplements the Wildlife and Countryside Act legislation for protected species and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).
    Section 74 places a duty on government departments to have regard for the conservation of biodiversity and maintaining lists of habitats and species of principle importance for nature conservation.
    Section 75 (Schedule 9) brings into place amendments to the SSSI provision of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and increases powers for their protection and management.
    Section 81 (Schedule 12) amends species provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, strengthening legal protection for these species.
  • The Hedgerow Regulations 1997 
    These protect countryside hedgerows and impose a fine if they are removed against the law.
  • Protection of Badgers Act 1992
    Amongst other things, this legislation makes it an offence to take, injure or kill a badger, or disturb its sett.
  • Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) 
    This is the main legislation for protection of wildlife. Part 1 deals with protection of all wild birds (with additional protection for those listed in Schedule 1 of the Act), certain wild animals (listed in Schedule 5) and certain wild plants (listed in Schedule 8). 
    Schedule 9 lists species of plants that do not naturally occur in Great Britain, have become established in the wild, and represent a threat to the natural fauna and flora. Section 14 'Introduction of new species, etc.' applies to these.

European Union

  • Birds Directive
    Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds
    Provides a legal framework for the protection, management and control of human interactions with wild bird species. The directive lists in Article 1 bird species requiring measures to ensure their protection and establishes, for instance, a requirement for member states to designate Special Protection Areas for wild birds. The Birds Directive is transposed in British Law through the Conservation of Habitats & Species Regulations 2010.
  • Habitats Directive
    Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.
    Provides a framework for the protection and management of habitats and species of flora and fauna of European importance. The directive establishes a requirement for member states to designate Special Areas of Conservation, and provisions to control activities affecting these protected areas. Annex I lists habitat types of community interest and Annex II species of community interest, which should be represented within the SACs. The directive lists in Annexe IV animal and plant species requiring strict legal protection by member states, known as ‘European Protected Species’. The Habitats Directive is transposed in British Law through the Conservation of Habitats & Species Regulations 2010.
  • EIA Directive
    Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment.
    Establishes a requirement and framework for the assessment of certain projects, for instance large infrastructure developments, for likely significant effects on the environment. The directive also sets out requirements for consultation of the public and competent authorities (e.g. Natural England) on such projects. Types of project requiring EIA are listed in the Annexes to the Directive. Transposed into English law by the EIA Regulations (Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999 (“the EIA Regulations”) and the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2008.
  • SEA Directive
    Directive 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment.
    Establishes a requirement and framework to ensure that the environmental impacts of policies, strategies, plans and programmes likely to have a significant effect on the environment are assessed. Transposed into law in England by The Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.
  • Water Framework Directive (WFD)
    Directive 2000/60/EC establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy.
    Establishes a framework for the protection of rivers and lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater. The directive aims to ensure aquatic ecosystems and terrestrial ecosystems and wetlands (with respect to their requirement for water) reach good ecological and chemical status by 2015. Transposed into law in England and Wales by The Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003.

Statutory Protected Sites

If a site of nature conservation importance has 'Statutory Protection', it means that it receives protection by means of certain legislation in recognition of its biodiversity and/or geological value. Important sites are often designated under more than one piece of legislation, thereby conferring multiple designations on the same site.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) where they support habitats and / or species of national importance. More information about SSSIs and their interest can be found at https://magic.defra.gov.uk/
and http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-2303

Special Protection Areas (SPA)

Special Protection Areas (SPA) are designated under the European Birds Directive. They are areas which have been identified as being of international importance for the breeding, feeding, wintering or the migration of rare and vulnerable species of birds found within EU countries. There are two SPAs which extend partly into BBOWT's region:

  • Thames Basin Heaths (South East Berkshire) - Designated for Dartford warbler, nightjar and woodlark.
  • South West London Waterbodies (East Berkshire) - Designated for over-wintering wildfowl.

Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)

Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) are designated where they support internationally important habitats and / or species listed in the EC Habitats Directive. There are 12 SACs in BBOWT's region with the following key habitat / species interest:

  • Aston Rowant (South Oxfordshire/ Buckinghamshire): beech forests, juniper on  calcareous grassland
  • Burnham Beeches (South Buckinghamshire): beech forests on acid soils
  • Chiltern Beechwoods (South Oxfordshire/ Buckinghamshire): beech forests on neutral to  rich soils, stag beetle, dry grassland and scrublands on chalk
  • Cothill Fen (Oxfordshire): calcium-rich springwater-fed fens, alder woodland on  floodplains
  • Hackpen Hill (Oxfordshire): early gentian, dry grassland and scrublands on chalk.
  • Hartslock Wood (Oxfordshire): yew dominated woodland
  • Kennet and Lambourn Floodplain (West Berkshire): Desmoulin’s whorl snail
  • Kennet Valley Alderwoods (West Berkshire): alder woodland on floodplains.
  • Little Wittenham Nature Reserve (Oxfordshire): great-crested newt
  • Oxford Meadows (Oxfordshire): lowland hay meadows, creeping marshwort
  • River Lambourn (West Berkshire): bullhead, brook lamprey, watercourses with floating  vegetation dominated by water crowfoot
  • Windsor Forest and Great Park (East Berkshire): violet click beetle, dry oak dominated  woodland, beech forests on acid soils.

National Nature Reserves (NNR)

National Nature Reserves (NNR) are designated under section 35 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). They are owned or managed through agreements with Natural England. There are five NNRs in BBOWT's region with the following key habitat interest:

  • Aston Rowant: beech woodland, juniper and chalk grassland
  • Burnham Beeches: woodland, wood pasture, coppice, heath
  • Chimney Meadows: neutral meadows
  • Cothill Fen: alkaline spring-fed fen
  • Wychwood Forest: oak/ash woodland

Local Nature Reserves (LNR)

Local Nature Reserves (LNR) are created by Local Authorities if they control the LNR land either through ownership, a lease or agreement with the owner. To qualify for LNR status, a site must be of importance for wildlife, geology, education or public enjoyment, and needs to be managed for its natural features. Setting up a LNR has to be done in consultation with Natural England. There are 127 LNRs across BBOWT's region.

Wildlife crime

In the UK, Wildlife Crime covers offences that are committed against flora and fauna, both native and non-native species, which includes the habitats that they use and reside.

Find more information about wildlife crime

Thames Valley Police has a number of specialist Rural Crime and Wildlife Officers who can provide help and advice. 

To report a wildlife crime, or to contact your local Rural Crime or Wildlife Officer, please call the Thames Valley Police non-emergency telephone number on 101. In an emergency, where a crime is in progress or there is an immediate threat to life, always dial 999.

Game Laws protect our game stocks, from pheasants to fish and deer. Today’s poachers are well organised with modern radio communications, and firearms, taking large numbers of target species in a very short time. They are not concerned how many animals they cause suffering to in the process of taking their quarry. If you are concerned about poaching in your area, contact the Thames Valley Police non-emergency telephone number on 101. In an emergency, where a crime is in progress or there is an immediate threat to life, always dial 999.