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Habitats Directive Review: Our position and recommendations

21 December 2011

The Government has announced that it will undertake a review of the implementation of the EU Habitats Directive in England through the Habitat Regulations; key legislation which protects bats and their habitats. The Habitat Regs provide an essential mechanism for safeguarding vulnerable species and habitats whilst ensuring social and economic needs are met. They provide the framework needed to drive conservation through regulatory systems, scientific monitoring and evidence gathering. In the case of bats, the adoption and enforcement of structured legislation has been fundamental to fighting persecution. The level of protection afforded to bats and other species and habitats through the legislation should not be weakened.

The Bat Conservation Trust supports a review of the Habitats Regulations provided that the focus of the review is to strengthen best practice and refine implementation, with an overall aim of meeting the Biodiversity 2020 targets. The Bat Conservation Trust opposes any weakening of the level of legal protection afforded to bats, other species and habitats. Severe declines in bat populations reported across UK and Europe during the latter half of the twentieth century resulted in the development of legislation to protect bats and their habitats. The National Bat Monitoring Programme has shown in recent years that some species populations are no longer declining. However, populations are nowhere near the levels they once were and bats remain vulnerable; they are still in desperate need of on-going protection.

We will be submitting recommendations on ways in which the current system can be improved, reinforcing the need for a combination of good standards of professional practice supported by well informed decision making. BCT are deeply concerned that species and landscapes will be left vulnerable by an over emphasis on development for supposed short-term economic gain. The Government needs to acknowledge that the long-term health of our natural environment underpins our wealth and well-being and that regulation is a vital part of the mix of measures needed to address environmental issues, as demonstrated by the UK National Ecosystem Assessment.

The Lawton Review and the Natural Environment White Paper clearly identify the importance of an integrated landscape scale approach, stating that it is one of the only effective ways that we can enable biodiversity to adapt to the impacts of climate change and safeguard species. Integration of environmental objectives into local decision making is fundamental to conservation. However, a lack of expertise and clarity combined with a failure of  engagement with the environmental aspects of projects at an early stage can result in delays, unnecessary expense and ineffective measures being applied. This leads to the view that conserving biodiversity and the natural environment is a costly and arduous process with limited results. This is further exacerbated by a lack of evidence from post construction monitoring on which to base future improvements.

Recommendations

BCT will be submitting case studies to illustrate that failings often attributed to ‘gold plating’ are in many instances a result of ineffective implementation rather than problems with the legislation itself. Based on this evidence, BCT makes these recommendations to improve the implementation of the Habitats Regulations:

1. Improve the quality and consistency of advice and implementation across the sector:  Consistent and informed advice is needed by developers and applicants from all those involved in the implementation of the Habitats Regulations.  This means standards and knowledge need to be raised, reviewed and enforced within the private sector, local authorities and Statutory Nature Conservation Organisations. 

  • Training and professional standards should be introduced and more rigorous assessments applied to individuals seeking to obtain personal European Protected Species (EPS) Licences
  • Decision making bodies charged with the review and assessment of planning applications should have direct access to expertise in ecology and the environment - Local planning authorities must have access to expert ecologists to help them make informed decisions, either in-house or via service level agreements with neighbouring authorities

2. Make better use of existing support structures: Utilise current support structures such as volunteer schemes and advice systems that exist to improve compliance and good practice. 

  • Better training and investment in the volunteer support networks that currently alleviate burdens on the community

3. Gather evidence to increase knowledge base and influence future best practice: A greater emphasis should be placed on increasing evidence of the effectiveness of mitigation.  

  • Post construction monitoring and reporting standards should be improved to yield meaningful information and results that go beyond the current statutory reporting and feed in to the development of good practice  

4. Make informed decisions based on existing data: Planning decisions and advice should be based on the latest existing data to incorporate conservation needs at the planning stage more effectively 

  • Approaches for predictive mapping using existing data and favourable conservation status (FCS) should be used to inform local decisions that are linked to national objectives to provide greater foresight, predictability and consistency

If you would like to submit your responses to both BCT’s recommendations and the Review, please complete the online consultation by 22nd January.

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