A number of changes have been made to Habitats Regulations that increase the legal protection given to protected species in England, and Scotland. These amendments have been in place in Scotland since February 2007, and equivalent changes came into force in England and Wales on 21 August 2007. These changes affect land and marine management and are intended to reinforce implementation of the European Habitats Directive across the UK. The changes are being implemented on a country basis and further details are available on the relevant country webpages (see below).
Several of the species covered by the regulations are found in woodland, and the amendment therefore has implications for how woodlands are managed and forestry operations carried out.
The amended regulations will impact on areas where European Protected Species (EPS) are present, and will require changes to the management of woodlands and forestry operations in those areas. The main EPS found in the UK and that can occur in woodland are:
- all 17 species of bat
- great crested newt
- sand lizard
- smooth snake
(Some additional species such as the natterjack toad and several plant species, such as yellow marsh saxifrage, may rarely occur in woodlands or be affected by forest operations.)
Since 1994 it has been an offence, under the Habitats Regulations, to deliberately kill or cause significant disturbance to a protected species, or to deliberately destroy their eggs. It has also been an offence to ‘damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place’ used by them (such as a bat roost in a tree or a dormouse nest on the woodland floor).
However, the level of protection has now been increased to ensure that it complies with the EU Habitats Directive, as set out to the UK Government following a judgement in the European Court of Justice (ECJ). This judgement set the UK Government, the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly Government a tight deadline for incorporating the ECJ ruling into law in each jurisdiction.
The amended Regulations now include as an offence any damage or destruction of a breeding site or resting place. (Previously if damage was ‘an incidental result of a lawful operation', and reasonable precautions had been taken to avoid it, it would not have been an offence). Therefore there is a risk of woodland operators committing an offence if they have not carried out planned operations carefully, with the necessary checks and sought a licence where required.
What woodland managers need to do
Woodland managers should follow good practice guidance to minimise the risk of causing damage or disturbance to European protected species and meet the relevant amended Regulations. The Forestry Commission in each country is working with partners to develop this guidance and minimise regulatory burdens on woodland owners.
Forestry Commission Scotland published initial guidance (FCS Guidance Note 34: Forest operations and European protected species in Scottish forests) for woodland managers in Scotland when the amendments came into force on February 15th 2007. FCS and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) are developing a suite of more detailed guidance notes for the four species most likely to be relevant for woodland managers in Scotland: bats, otter, great crested newt, wildcat. FCS and SNH will also work with partners to promote this guidance to woodland owners for example through seminars or training events. Further information on these will be set out on the FCS website. More general guidance from the Scottish Executive on the implications of the amended Regulations in Scotland can be found here.
A suite of guidance has been developed to support woodland owners and managers in England, in liaison with Defra, Natural England, representatives of the forestry sector and other expert conservation bodies and individuals. It includes:
- General guidance explaining the changes to the Regulations.
- Specific guidance by species which sets out how to find out if protected species are present in your wood and how to operate if they are. This includes advice on the dormouse, smooth snake and sand lizard, great crested newt, otter and bats.
- We have also organised a series of workshops and seminars for woodland managers to advise on the legislation and how to ensure management and operations are compliant in areas where EPS are present. Dates of the seminars, and contacts for booking places are available on the England pages.
Further advice on licensing may also be obtained from Natural England.