Builders and developers will be aware of the possibility that their plans for a particular site might have to take account of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, which give effect to the EU Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC).

The regulations place a duty on the Secretary of State to propose a list of sites which are important for either habitats or species (listed in Annexes I and II of the Habitats Directive respectively) to the European Commission.

These sites may then be accepted as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and be added to a register of European sites which includes not only SACs but also Special Protection Areas (SPAs) classified under Directive 79/409/EEC (Birds Directive).

These sites form a network termed Natura 2000.

The UK regulations also provide for the control of potentially damaging operations, whereby consent for work may only be granted once it has been shown through an appropriate assessment that the proposed operation will not adversely affect the integrity of the site.

EU guidance on how the Habitats Directive should be interpreted dates from 2000 since when the Union’s Court of Justice (CJEU) has issued a large body of rulings that should be taken into account.

The European Commission has therefore issued revised guidance in a 62-page document which can be found at eur-lex.europa.eu.

“Managing Natura 2000 sites: The provisions of Article 6 of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC” is intended to assist Member State authorities, as well as anyone involved in the management of Natura 2000 sites and in the Article 6 permit procedure, in the application of the directive.

It summarises numerous cases where disputes arose over work being either allowed or refused under the terms of the directive and explains the key issues that decided these disputes, such as regard for “over-riding public interest”.

Last reviewed 12 February 2019