Some of the most important and valuable sites for conservation in England may be at risk. We urgently need your help to stop this.

In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor, George Osborne announced a review of the EU Habitats Regulations in England. He claimed these regulations impose a ‘ridiculous cost on British businesses'. Implementation of the Habitats Regulations in England protects sites and species of European Importance at land and sea, including Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas. The suggestion of the Chancellor that the implementation of these Regulations can be weakened, on top of the shake up of the planning system which fails to recognise Local Wildlife Sites and backtracking on the designation of marine conservation zones seen in recent weeks, shows a stunning disregard for the value of the natural environment and a failure of our Government to live up to its promise to be the ‘greenest Government ever’.

Please write to your MP and urge them to ensure these sites continue to be protected. You can find out who your MP is on the UK Parliament website. All MPs can be reached by writing to them at the House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA.

More detail on The Wildlife Trusts' concerns, and the sites at risk, is available below.

Read a letter from The Wildlife Trusts and other conservation and environment groups about their concerns on The Observer's website.

Cause for concern

On Tuesday 29 November 2011, as part of his Autumn budget statement, Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to review how the EU Birds and Habitats Directives are implemented in England. These regulations protect some of our most important sites at land and at sea.

The sites, protected under European law, are known as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which together form part of a Europe-wide network (‘Natura 2000’) designed to safeguard the wildlife most at risk. Natura 2000 sites are a key part of the foundation upon which nature’s recovery at land and at sea across England depends, and include such iconic areas as the New Forest in Hampshire, the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads,  Flamborough Head in Yorkshire, and Lyme Bay in Devon.

The Wildlife Trusts are deeply concerned that the content of the statement, including the Chancellor's comment: 'we will make sure that the gold-plating of EU rules on things such as habitats do not place ridiculous costs on British businesses' could signal an intent to ease the way for major developments on land, on our coasts and at sea. It risks placing developers and conservationists at odds with each other, at a time when co-operation is crucial.

Read The Wildlife Trusts' full response to the Autumn statement here.

Critical sites for wildlife and people

Both SACs and SPAs play a critical conservation role by providing wildlife refuges. Supporting nationally threatened species and habitats, along with Local Wildlife Sites, on land. they are the starting point for Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs). At sea, they are a key part of our network of Marine Protected Areas.

The benefits to society and to the economy are vitally important, as the UK National Ecosystem Assessment states: “The natural world, its biodiversity and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to our well-being and economic prosperity, but are consistently undervalued in conventional economic analyses and decision-making.”

These economic benefits include supporting the natural processes we rely on, such as flood management, cleaning our water, storing carbon and regenerating urban areas. Management of sites provides jobs, and the tourists they attract can boost local economies.

Further benefits to people include recreational opportunities, with studies consistently showing access to nature improves health and wellbeing.

What's a Special Area of Conservation?

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are areas which have been given special protection under the European Union’s Habitats Directive. They provide increased protection to a variety of wild animals, plants and habitats and are a vital part of global efforts to conserve the world’s biodiversity.

Thirteen off-shore SACs were announced by the European Commission in November 2011, giving hope to The Wildlife Trusts’ long-running campaign for marine protected areas. The review of Directives must not create yet another barrier to protecting wildlife at sea.

Coastal and marine SACs include Dawlish Warren (Devon), Tintagel-Marsland-Clovelly coast (Cornwall), Chesil Beach, Lyme Bay and Lizard Point in the South West.

Famous rivers benefiting from protection include the Tweed (Northumberland borders), and the Itchen (Hampshire).

Further information about SACs is available on the Natural England website.

What's a Special Protection Area?

SPAs are areas identified as of international importance for the breeding, feeding, wintering or migration of rare and vulnerable species of birds found within European Union countries.

They are European designated sites, classified under the ‘Birds Directive 1979’ which provides enhanced protection.

Sites with European protection include key forests like Ashdown (Sussex) and the New Forest (Hampshire).

Coastal SPAs include Flamborough Head (Yorkshire), Morecambe Bay (Lancashire) and the Humber Estuary.

Other much-loved areas include  Rutland Water, the Farne Islands (Northumberland) and Salisbury Plain (Wiltshire).

Further information about SPAs can be found on the Natural England website.

Discovering the secrets of the River Severn (SAC) mudflats

Our SPAs and SACs are some the most precious habitats in the UK containing amazing and rare wildlife. Beneath the surface of our mudflats for example lie millions of invertebrates providing food for the thousands of birds that feed here. Check out our video below for an example of just one of our fantastic SACs. Naturalist and broadcaster Nick Baker goes panning for (wildlife) gold in the mudflats of the Severn Estuary.