Habitats Regulations Review

The announcement in last year’s autumn budget statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there was going to be a review of the Habitats Regulations was a bit of a shock to everyone (including Defra it seemed). There was a lot of talk about how these EU originated regulations were both a burden and a ridiculous cost to British business. The terms of reference for the review referred to compliance cost, delays, regulations being applied too rigorously. The overall message was that this piece of wildlife legislation was a major obstacle in the way of getting Britain back to growth.

Woodland was just one of the habitats threatened by the review

Cue major concern amongst the NGO community. The review only had four months to come up with some answers as the results were due to be announced in the 2012 budget in March. Natural England had to do some serious briefing for Government departments on how the regulations operated. Wildlife organisations were involved in getting legal opinions, writing case studies to highlight good and bad practice and outcomes and attending Defra organised meetings with a broad range of stakeholders.

In the end the results were not announced as part of the budget but were put out the following day. Why? Well it turns out that there is little or no evidence that the Habitats Regulations are causing problems! The report has a list of 28 measures for improvement, some of which are about holding more meetings to discuss things in more detail but others include making sure that we improve ecological knowledge in planning authorities so that better informed decisions can be made, providing better guidance for applicants, sharing of data, and monitoring of impacts once permissions have been given so that we can learn from the process – which may just speed up how things are progressed next time around.

However, just before we get too complacent, whilst so far things are looking positive, as with the Red Tape Challenge announcement earlier this week, the details will be in how we progress from here…

Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Officer

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About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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2 Responses to Habitats Regulations Review

  1. Steele Haughton says:

    It is not the habitat regulations that are the problem. It is the attitude of some of the people who are in, or see themselves in, positions to apply them. Any biological, natural or semi-natural context will pose complexities that will confound the makers of rules and regulations; they go for the cover-all approach. If those interpreting and enforcing the regulations have no experience of, and in some cases, absolutely no interest in the practicalities of land, woodland or forest management,big problems can arise – in many cases to the net reduction in the overall effectiveness of the core objective of the original regulation.

    • Kay Haw says:

      Thank you for your comment, Frances Winder says:
      I agree that natural systems rarely fit within easily described regulatory limits, which is why advice and guidance is so important both to the applicant and the person analysing the application. The review makes comments on the need to improve professional standards in ecology but it also wants to “streamline” guidance. Streamlining could be good if it makes the process and the information needed more obvious. However, we need to be aware of the “streamlining” process which went on with planning legislation and the aim to do similar for wildlife legislation. Turning 1000 pages of guidance into 50 does not necessarily make the system any easier to navigate and may just result in loads of costly legal challenges.

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