In Britain, The Wildlife and Countryside (WCA) 1981 (as amended) is the principle legislation protecting habitats and species. Schedule 12 of The Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 strengthens the species enforcement provisions of the WCA by the introduction of a new offence of ‘reckless’ disturbance of certain listed birds and animals at their nest, place of rest or shelter.

The CRoW Act 2000 also places a duty on local authorities and other public bodies to have regard for the conservation of biodiversity and maintain lists of species and habitats for which conservation measures should be taken or promoted.

Section 40 of The Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 extends the biodiversity duty of local authorities and other public bodies set out in the CRow Act. It states that “Every public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity“.

Male great crested newt (Triturus cristatus)

Under Section 41 of the NERC Act 2006 the Secretary of State was required to publish a list of habitats and species which are of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England. The list of Habitats and Species of Principle Importance in England list compiled under Section 41 is used by local authorities and public bodies in implementing their duty under section 40 of the NERC Act 2006.

There are various other Acts, such as The Protection of Badgers Act 1992, and The Hedgerows Regulations 1997, which protect other specific species, species groups or features.

Habitats and species which are considered to be of European importance are protected under The European Council Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Flora and Fauna 1992. The Habitats Directive has been transposed into UK law through The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended), bringing together various ammendments to The Conservation (Natural Habitats, & c.) Regulations 1994 which preceded it.