British Wildlife Legislation

Wildlife Legislation Summary

In this post, we’re taking a whistle-stop tour of a selection of key wildlife legislation that underpins ecology work in relation to development projects.

Protected Species

In the UK, certain animal and plant species are provided legal protection through nationally derived law, and legislation stemming from the UK’s commitment to European Directives.

Protected species are a ‘material consideration’ in the planning process, which means that local planning authorities have a duty to consider protected species when determining planning applications, which is why ecology work focuses heavily on certain species in association with development.

European protected species are covered under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (England and Wales), whilst the most important piece of national legislation for species (England, Wales and Scotland) is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

Badgers are protected under separate legislation: the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.

The Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) (England) Regulations 2015 bolsters protection offered to species that are listed on the Birds and Habitats Directive.

Certain invasive non-native species are listed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which prevents their release and spread.

In addition to legislation protecting species of conservation concern, animal welfare legislation is in place, which prevents animal cruelty.

Licences are issued in relation to protected species, in order to allow activities that would otherwise be illegal, to proceed. Natural England is the licensing authority for England.


When it comes to habitats, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, places a duty on public authorities to consider biodiversity, which means looking at ways to halt the loss of habitats (and species) locally, and ways to enhance biodiversity too. Importantly, this includes habitats (and species) that are found outside of sites designated for their nature conservation importance. A particular focus for local authorities when discharging their duty under the Act is those habitats (and species) considered to be of principal importance (priority habitats and species).

Certain hedgerows are protected under the Hedgerow Regulations 1997. This means that permission to remove important hedgerows must be obtained from the local planning authority.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, strengthens existing legislation.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 covers the sustainable management of UK coasts and seas, and includes provision for nature conservation.

Designated Sites

In the UK, there are both statutory designated sites and non-statutory designated sites for nature conservation. Depending on the designation, sites are protected at both an international and national level.

Those with international statutory protection comprise, Ramsar sites, Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). Designations with national statutory protection in England comprise, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), National Nature Reserves (NNRs), Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) and Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).

National Planning Law

In addition to wildlife law, ecological considerations are also part of planning legislation. This includes the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 (England).

For further advice relating to legislation and your development project, contact our experienced ecology team.