Advertisement
Environment

100 rare species will be at risk if the government scraps EU law protecting habitats, charities warn

They include bats, otters and hazel dormice.

More than 100 rare and threatened animals and plants could be at risk if the government scraps a law protecting special habitats, environmental charities have warned.

Environment minister George Eustice told MPs in a select committee on Wednesday that the government is planning to remove the habitats directive, which protects important habitats across the UK.

Eustice said he hoped to amend the EU law in the forthcoming Brexit Freedoms Bill, suggesting the directive generated unnecessary red tape and was fundamentally flawed.

But environmental groups have condemned the minister’s comments, saying scrapping the law would put vital species and ecosystems at risk from development. 

Richard Benwell, CEO at the Wildlife and Countryside Link, said it would “at best” delay nature recovery, and “at worst, leave nature more exposed to damaging developments”.

The habitats directive is the highest form of protection that can be awarded to a nature site, ranking higher than sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) and other domestic designations. 

Advertisement
Advertisement

The regulations cover millions of hectares of vital natural habitats in England, with more than 100 rare and threatened animals and plants shielded by the protections.

According to Benwell, this includes hazel dormice, harbour porpoise, otters and bats. 

“The rules cover the sites of greatest significance for nature: breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species, plus precious natural habitats that are at risk,” Benwell said. 

Subscribe to The Big Issue

From just £3 per week

Take a print or digital subscription to The Big Issue and provide a critical lifeline to our work.

Speaking at the committee, Eustice said: “The more we have looked at this body of law, the more clear it has become that it is quite fundamentally flawed. 

“It only engages when an activity is defined as a plan or a project, so if something needs a permit, or a licence or planning permission the habitat regulations engage and start to require an assessment,” he told MPs.

Paul de Zylva, senior sustainability analyst at Friends of the Earth, said the directive and other nature laws protected 1,000 vulnerable plant and animal species as well as habitats.

“Ministers have tried to thwart these important laws in the past, but there’s no evidence to suggest they stunt economic development,” he said. “The real problem is that they are not properly implemented by governments across the EU including our own.

“The UK is already among the world’s most nature-depleted nations. The government has set both national and international targets for nature protection, if it truly intends to meet them then it must uphold existing laws designed to restore our vanishing wild spaces.”

The Big Issue Shop

Eco-friendly gift hampers that make a positive impact

The Big Issue has collaborated with Social Stories Club to create limited edition gift hampers. Packed full of treats made by social ventures, this hamper would make the perfect gift for the festive season.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife & Countryside Link, said: “If the government is serious about halting the decline of biodiversity by 2030 it has no time to lose.  

“The best thing to do would be to protect more of our last remaining pockets of precious wildlife habitat and invest in nature’s recovery. Trying to do away with the habitats regulations would, at best, be a costly delay. At worst, it could leave nature yet more exposed to damaging developments.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been contacted for comment.

Advertisement

Bigger Issues need bigger solutions

Big Issue Group is creating new solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunities for the 14.5 million people living in poverty to earn, learn and thrive. Big Issue Group brings together our media and investment initiatives as well as a diverse and pioneering range of new solutions, all of which aim to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity. Learn how you can change lives today.

Recommended for you

Read All
Sewage dumped into sea at coastal resorts as heavy rain follows heatwave
Sewage pollution

Sewage dumped into sea at coastal resorts as heavy rain follows heatwave

Why England's rivers are so polluted - and what you can do about it
River pollution

Why England's rivers are so polluted - and what you can do about it

Wales has stopped building new roads. Will other countries go down the same route?
Wales

Wales has stopped building new roads. Will other countries go down the same route?

Why your next flight might be on an airship
Sustainable Transport

Why your next flight might be on an airship

Most Popular

Read All
Oil giants Shell and BP have been handed £700m of taxpayer cash despite bumper profits
1.

Oil giants Shell and BP have been handed £700m of taxpayer cash despite bumper profits

What are the risks of Don't Pay UK? We asked a leading lawyer
2.

What are the risks of Don't Pay UK? We asked a leading lawyer

How broken is the UK's public transport? I spent all day on buses to find out
3.

How broken is the UK's public transport? I spent all day on buses to find out

Sadiq Khan's Right to Buy-back scheme leads to return of 1,500 council homes
4.

Sadiq Khan's Right to Buy-back scheme leads to return of 1,500 council homes

Keep up to date with the Big Issue. The leading voice on life, politics, culture and social activism direct to your inbox.