Review of Habitats regulations - view from The Wildlife Trusts

Joan Edwards examines the outcome of the review of EU Habitats regulations.

Over the last few months The Wildlife Trusts have appreciated the openness of the Defra review of the Habitats regulations: we have been pleased to have had the opportunity to participate fully and constructively. We have devoted considerable resources to the process because we believe that full implementation of the Habitats and Birds Directives underpins nature conservation in England.

We always said that the regulation were not gold plated and we are relieved that Caroline Spelman was able to strongly defend the principles and purpose of these Directives. Any weakening would jeopardise our ability to fulfil our country’s stated intention to halt overall biodiversity loss and be contrary to the thrust of the Natural Environment White Paper and England Biodiversity Strategy which emphasise the need for more coherent and resilient ecological networks.

Any weakening would jeopardise our ability to fulfil our country’s stated intention to halt overall biodiversity loss.

The Wildlife Trusts work on the ground with developers every day. We know that the regulations are not holding back developments. We are pleased the review appears to have confirmed that view and concluded that the regulations are neither ‘gold plated’ or an excessive burden on business. We do, however, acknowledge there are measures that can be taken to streamline and clarify processes. Setting up a Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit may prove welcome as long as organisations such as ours are able to feed in concerns about potentially damaging development proposals.

It is vital that before any major infrastructure projects are developed at sea we carry out some primary surveys of potentially affected areas, such as offshore wind farms which will be the biggest any country has yet to develop. It is essential that the basic knowledge of our seas is increased tenfold if we are going to begin to understand the possible effects of such developments. The cost of these surveys would not be insurmountable; perhaps even equivalent to the Bexhill to Hastings link road, at £56m?

During this review it became apparent that very few developments are actually prevented because of the regulations. But it must be understood that there are occasions when if a European feature may be significantly damaged then a project may not be able to go ahead. 

Joan Edwards is Head of Living Seas for The Wildlife Trusts