Press release

Examination into how well the Habitats and Birds Directives are being implemented in England

The analysis will focus on the obligations in the legislation which affect the authorisation process for proposed development.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Defra will conduct an in-depth analysis of how well the EU Habitats and Birds Directives are being applied in England, working with stakeholders and other Government departments. It was one of a number of measures unveiled in today’s Autumn Statement by the Chancellor.

Commenting after the Autumn Statement, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:

“The Habitats and Birds Directives protect our rarest, most threatened habitats and species and ensure conservation interests are fully taken into account when development proposals are being considered. We strongly support the aims of these Directives. We want them to continue to be effective in protecting these very important wildlife sites and species. It’s important that we maintain the integrity of these Directives.The vast majority of development cases do successfully meet the Directives’ requirements but a small number raise particularly complex issues which give rise to unnecessary costs and delays. There’s also the possibility that the Directives are being used in ways for which they were not intended. These issues risk undermining the reputation of the Directives, and the valuable protection they provide. I don’t want to see that happen. That is why I am looking forward to seeing recommendations on dealing with any overly-bureaucratic or long, drawn out examples of implementation, without compromising the current levels of environmental protection.”

The analysis will focus on the obligations in the legislation which affect the authorisation process for proposed development, with a view to reducing the burdens on businesses while maintaining and where possible enhancing environmental benefits. It will also look at what is working well in terms of meeting the objectives of the legislation, and what scope there is to learn from good practice by all those involved and to share it more widely.  The review will report by March next year. Defra will also:

  • establish a problem-solving unit to address blockages for developments where compliance with the directives is particularly complex or has large impacts;
  • make it easier for businesses to understand what they must do to comply with the directives by improving Natural England’s support and assistance offer to developers and consulting on updated guidance before the Budget; and
  • give industry representation on a group chaired by Ministers so it can raise concerns deriving from the Directives at the top of Government

Protected sites are Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the Habitats Directive and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive. There are currently 251 SACs and 84 SPAs in England, covering about 6% of land and 24% of inshore waters


1. The Terms of Reference for the Review can be found at

Published 29 November 2011