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Conservation of wild animals and plants

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The principal piece of domestic legislation in this area is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes provision in relation to:

  • the protection of birds, including provisions about methods of killing, sale etc.
  • the protection of other animals, provisions about methods of killing, sale etc. of wild animals;
  • the introduction of invasive species, and species control agreements and orders;
  • the protection of wild plants, including provisions about picking, uprooting, destroying and selling etc. wild plants.

These provisions generally apply to listed animals and plants, and the provisions are in many cases subject to licensing schemes.

But the law in these areas is also heavily affected by EU legislation, notably the Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora) and the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds), which are implemented by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and Part 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 respectively. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is also adopted into EU law by way of Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 of 9 December 1996 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein, and is directly applicable in the UK.  EU obligations also exist in relation to so-called ‘invasive non-native species’ of animals and plants by Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2014 on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species. This Regulation is implemented in the UK by the Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019.

The Birds Directive is the EU’s oldest piece of nature legislation. It creates a comprehensive scheme of protection for all wild bird species naturally occurring in the Union. Its was adopted unanimously in 1979 as a response to increasing concern about the declines in Europe's wild bird populations resulting from pollution, loss of habitats as well as unsustainable use. It recognises that many wild birds are migratory in nature and that their effective conservation requires international co-operation. The directive bans activities that directly threaten birds (e.g. the deliberate killing or capture of birds, the destruction of their nests and taking of their eggs) and associated activities such as trading in live or dead birds, with a few exceptions. The directive recognises hunting as a legitimate activity and provides a system for the management of hunting to ensure that this practice is sustainable. It promotes research to underpin the protection, management and use of all species of birds covered by the directive

The Habitats Directive (together with the Birds Directive) is said to form the cornerstone of Europe's nature conservation policy. It was adopted in 1992 as an EU response to the Berne Convention. It is built around two pillars: the Natura 2000 network of protected sites and the strict system of species protection. It aims to protect over 1.000 animals and plant species and over 220 so called "habitat types" (e.g. special types of forests, meadows, wetlands, etc.) listed in the directive’s annexes. These are species and habitats which are considered to be of European interest, following criteria given in the directive

Published on
25 March 2021
Last updated
15 June 2021