Wales Biodiversity Partnership

Wildlife Legislation

The European Union Wild Birds Directive and Habitats Directive establish a legislative framework for protecting and conserving Europe's wildlife and habitats.

The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) bring the requirements of these Directives into national law.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) makes it an offence (subject to exceptions) to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild animal listed on Schedule 5, and prohibits interference with places used for shelter or protection, or intentionally disturbing animals occupying such places. The Act also prohibits certain methods of killing, injuring, or taking wild animals.

At the centre of European Union nature policy is the creation of a coherent ecological network of protected areas across the EU. This is known as the Natura 2000 network. These protected areas are for habitats and species considered to be of outstanding international significance. Their purpose is to maintain or restore the habitats and species at a ‘favourable conservation status’ in their natural range. The network comprises:

  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs) - classified to protect rare and vulnerable birds and regularly occurring migratory species
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) - designated for their important contribution to the conservation of natural habitats and species of the plants and animals they support.

In addition, some species of plants and animals are given additional protection. These are known as ‘European Protected Species’

Wales has 21 Special Protection Areas for vulnerable birds and 92 Special Areas of Conservation for other rare species and threatened natural habitats. Together they constitute the Natura 2000 network in Wales.

Species protection under the Habitats Directive

Over 1000 animal and plant species, as well as 200 habitat types, listed in the directive's annexes are protected in various ways:

  • Annex II species (about 900): core areas of their habitat are designated as sites of Community importance (SCIs) and included in the Natura 2000 network. These sites must be managed in accordance with the ecological needs of the species.
  • Annex IV species (over 400, including many annex II species): a strict protection regime must be applied across their entire natural range within the EU, both within and outside Natura 2000 sites.
  • Annex V species (over 90): Member States must ensure that their exploitation and taking in the wild is compatible with maintaining them in a favourable conservation status.

The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 make it an offence to deliberately kill, injure, capture or disturb the European Protected Species (EPS), listed in Annex IV of of the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora Directive.

Ramsar Convention

The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The convention entered into force in the United Kingdom on 5 May 1976. The United Kingdom currently has 174 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites) and 10 of these sites are in Wales (this figure includes 3 cross-border sitess).

Environment Act (Wales) 2016

Section 6 of the Environment Act places a duty on public authorities to ‘seek to maintain and enhance biodiversity’ so far as it is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions. In so doing, public authorities must also seek to ‘promote the resilience of ecosystems’.

Section 7 of the Environment Act requires The Welsh Ministers to publish, review and revise lists of living organisms and types of habitat in Wales, which they consider are of key significance to sustain and improve biodiversity in relation to Wales. This is known as the S7 list.