What the amendments to the Habitats Regulations mean for woodland managers
Since 1994 it has been an offence, under these 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 been increased to ensure it complies with the EU Habitats Directive, as set out in the Habitats Regulations in 1994 and in the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.
The amended Regulations 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 license where required.
Woodland managers need to consider the presence of protected species and follow good practice guidance to avoid committing an offence. In some cases management practices may need to be modified or rescheduled to a less sensitive time of year, and where this is not possible or adequate then operators may need to apply for a licence to remain within the law. Most activities will be able to continue without the need for a licence through the following of good practice guidance.
The Forestry Commission - nationally through this resource and locally through our network of area offices - will be able to provide support in relation to the changes and the guidance provided where protected species are present, and will process any applications for licences to carry out work where they are needed. The licences will be issued by Natural England's National Licensing Unit.
A series of tools have been developed to help support and advise woodland owners and managers on how to manage woodland where there are protected species present. This guidance is in compliance with sustainable forestry management practices and the Habitats Regulations. All guidance and information can be found on our document library.