Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: biodiversity and ecosystems

Updated 8 May 2015

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

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/protecting-biodiversity-and-ecosystems-at-home-and-abroad. Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


Our planet and its ecosystems supply us with all the natural resources we need to survive - essentials like clean air, water, food and fuel. Contact with nature is good for our physical and mental health.

Biodiversity - the variety of life on earth - is declining, with up to a third of all animals threatened with extinction. Climate change is contributing to this decline, causing the diversity of life to be lost at a faster rate than ever before. A 1ºC rise in global temperatures threatens the survival of 10% of these species.

In England, much of our biodiversity, including many of our birds, butterflies and plants, is declining. Our wildlife areas are too disjointed and fragmented, which makes it harder for wildlife to flourish and respond to climate change and other pressures, like pollution.

All countries need to act to improve biodiversity and preserve natural ecosystems. Otherwise the natural environment, wildlife and human life as we know it are all at risk.


Protecting and managing wildlife and areas of land

We’re meeting our national and international obligations to protect wildlife by:

  • agreeing and enforcing laws against wildlife crime, in the UK and internationally
  • using laws, licences and other agreements to protect wildlife and species in the UK
  • enforcing the laws and agreements that protect areas of land, and making sure these are properly managed and conserved
  • simplifying wildlife protection guidance to make it easier for people to comply with the law. Comment on these proposals

We’re also improving the way we implement the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives - the EU laws that protect certain animal and bird species and the places in which they live.

Improving biodiversity in England

To stop biodiversity loss in England, we’re implementing Biodiversity 2020, our strategy for stopping the loss of biodiversity in England.

Protecting biodiversity abroad and in the Overseas Territories

We help other countries preserve their biodiversity by:

  • offering funding and shared expertise to conservation and biodiversity projects through the Darwin Initiative
  • taking an active role in international agreements and negotiations to agree plans to stop biodiversity loss
  • working to stop deforestation and illegal logging

Valuing the benefits we get from nature

We set out our goals for the natural environment in the UK in the Natural Environment White Paper (2011). We’re now carrying out our plans to achieve those goals. We publish regular updates on our progress.

As part of this, we are working to help government and other organisations to take better account of the benefits we get from nature.

We’ve set up 48 Local Nature Partnerships across the country to help this work.


We’ve produced Biodiversity 2020, our strategy for biodiversity in England. This describes how we’ll stop the decline of biodiversity in England, in line with our global and EU commitments. It takes into account ‘Making space for nature’ (2010), a major review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological networks.

We also published the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, a comprehensive study of the benefits nature provides to our society and economy, in 2011.

Who we’ve consulted

In 2010, we consulted on the development of the natural environment white paper. There were over 15,000 responses. This consultation helped us to develop the Biodiversity 2020 strategy.

Bills and legislation

The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 requires all public bodies to consider biodiversity conservation when carrying out their functions.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out planning policies which local planning authorities should have regard to on biodiversity matters.

Some habitats and species are protected under the Habitats Directive through the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 in England; the Birds Directive, through the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

The EU Wildlife Trade Regulations relate to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The UK Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations (COTES) creates offences in relation to the EU regulations.

Who we’re working with

We rely on all sorts of organisations to help us conserve biodiversity and ecosystems. These range from nature conservation charities to farmers and other land managers, even individuals managing their gardens in a wildlife-friendly way.

Nature conservation charities such as the RSPB, National Trust and The Wildlife Trusts play an important role in helping wildlife and getting people involved in taking action for wildlife.

We work with Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission to improve habitats so that wildlife can thrive.

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew provide us with scientific advice on international biodiversity issues. Wildlife conservation NGOs share their expertise and views with us.

Appendix 1: Local Nature Partnerships

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs) are partnerships of a broad range of local organisations, businesses and people who aim to help bring about improvements in their local natural environment.

Setting up LNPs was one of the commitments we made in the Natural Environment White Paper 2011.

There are 48 LNPs across England:

LNPs work strategically to help their local area manage the natural environment. They aim to make sure that its value, and the value of the services it provides to the economy and the people who live there, is taken into account in local decisions, for example about planning and development.

LNPs are also being encouraged to work at a large scale, which we call ‘landscape-scale’, and to identify Nature Improvement Areas using these criteria.

More about the role of LNPs.

For more information, contact LNPs@defra.gsi.gov.uk

Appendix 2: improving the way we implement the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

In November 2011, we reviewed how the EU Habitats Directive and Wild Birds Directive are implemented in England and its seas.

The review looked at how we can make it simpler for businesses to comply with the laws that protect certain habitats and wild bird species. It found that the directives are largely working well but identified 28 measures in 4 broad areas where we can improve.

As of June 2013, twenty-five of the twenty-eight measures have been implemented. A report on the progress of the Habitats Directive Implementation Review gives more detail on progress with implementation of each measure.

Supporting the progress of nationally significant infrastructure projects

Investing in infrastructure (such as new transport links and electricity generation) is vital for long-term, sustainable economic growth.

The review recognised that the Directives can place unnecessary costs and burdens on infrastructure projects. We set up the Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit (MIEU) in April 2012 to reduce this risk. It is overseen by the Major Infrastructure and Habitats Group.

The unit helps organisations running projects understand and comply with issues relating to the directives before making formal planning applications.

This includes overseeing the agreement of evidence plans between these and nature advisory bodies such as Natural England, to help NSIPs know what they need to do to comply with regulations.

A review of the Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit’s first year of operation was published in June 2013.

More about the role of the MIEU

Contact the MIEU: MIEU@defra.gsi.gov.uk

Improving implementation processes and simplifying guidance

The review found that the long and complicated guidance on the Directives can be hard to use and navigate. It set out measures to improve guidance, to make it easier for businesses and people to understand the requirements, and improve the consistency of regulatory decisions. These include:

  • creating concise new guidance to explain the requirements
  • a stocktake of thousands of pages of existing guidance leading to recommendations on how it should be simplified

We consulted on these measures in January and February 2013. Proposals for the future of wildlife guidance have been published on the Smarter Guidance website for comment.

Improving the quality, quantity and sharing of data

We want to improve the quantity and quality of data on protected sites and species. This will help reduce delays and precaution in decision making that can stem from uncertainties and gaps in evidence, particularly in the seas.

The Review established a Habitats and Wild Birds Directives – Marine Evidence Group to work on improving marine data and evidence relevant to development decisions. The Group has published a Report on the Work of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives – Marine Evidence Group , which provides an update on the progress made up to March 2013.

Improving the way regulatory and statutory bodies work with businesses

The review identified ways to improve the working relationship between developers and the statutory or regulatory authorities, and to ensure that problems are identified and addressed as early as possible.

Also see:

Appendix 3: stopping the loss of biodiversity in England

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

‘Biodiversity 2020’, the strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services, sets out what government and others will do to stop the loss of biodiversity in England. A simple guide to delivering Biodiversity 2020 and a July 2013 progress update against the four strategic outcomes is available.

We also measure our progress against the different areas of the Biodiversity 2020 strategy using a set of statistics, the Biodiversity 2020 indicators, which will be updated in October.

You can keep up-to-date with the latest news on Biodiversity 2020, including how local conservation groups can contribute to halting overall biodiversity loss in line with the national strategy, by following the B2020 Google+ site and the @DefraNature Twitter account. A range of material is also available on Natural England’s website.

Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs)

We have provided £7.5 million funding to establish 12 Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) across the country.

These are large areas (around 10 to 50,000 hectares) that will be good for both wildlife and people.

We want to see more NIAs established across the country in areas where local people think it would make a difference to wildlife. We have published criteria to help local authorities, Local Nature Partnerships and other organisations identify NIAs local to them.

Biodiversity offsetting

We’re testing approaches to ‘biodiversity offsetting’. This ensures that when a development damages nature (and this damage cannot be avoided) new, bigger or better nature sites will be created. Biodiversity offsetting was one of the recommendations of the business-led Ecosystem Markets Task Force, to which the government’s response was published on 5 September 2013.

Working with Natural England, we are running pilots in six areas – see the latest reports.

In September 2013 we published a published a consultation paper which sets out proposals for biodiversity offsetting and how it might be introduced in England. It explores how biodiversity offsetting might operate, and seeks views on how we can ensure it delivers real benefits for the environment and the economy.

Helping people connect with nature

We’re supporting a range of schemes to help people connect with nature, including financial contributions towards:

  • Natural Connections
  • the National Bioblitz Programme 2013
  • grants to help environmental volunteering organisations take on more volunteers and to help communities to organise voluntary action to support wildlife

Biodiversity evidence plan

We have published our biodiversity evidence plan to be revised in April 2013, which shows:

  • how we’ll use over £3.5 million to inform biodiversity policy
  • how we’ll work with other organisations to gather research and evidence about biodiversity

Appendix 4: stopping wildlife crime

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Wildlife crime includes offences like poaching, killing or disturbing protected species, and illegally trading in endangered species. It is one of the pressures that can push animal and plant species closer to extinction. Stopping wildlife crime is part of the government’s strategy to stop the loss of habitats and improve biodiversity, in England and abroad.

UK wildlife crime

We help fund the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit. The unit assesses wildlife crime taking place and advises government about setting priorities for crimes. It provides advice and expertise for police and Border Force staff and is a focal point for wildlife crime inquiries around the world.

Regulatory bodies like Natural England and Defra’s Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency issue licences for wildlife activities such as importing wild animals. They check that they are being complied with and takes action if they are not.

In the UK, Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) helps the organisations involved in enforcing wildlife law work together.

International wildlife crime

The UK is a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). CITES monitors and regulates international trade in plants, animals and products made from them to make sure that trade is sustainable.

We take an active role in global negotiations to strengthen enforcement of CITES controls and to stop the illegal trade in wildlife.

The UK also supports the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) which gives co-ordinated support to the national wildlife law enforcement agencies by bringing together:

To complement the enforcement work of CITES globally, the UK is also a member of the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT), which aims to raise the political profile of illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products.

The UK Border Force is responsible for CITES enforcement at our borders and the police service, including the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), is responsible for CITES enforcement within the UK.

We are committed to ending the illegal wildlife trade. The UK is calling together global leaders for a major conference to help eradicate illegal wildlife trade and better protect the world’s most iconic species from the threat of extinction. The London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade 2014 will be held on 13 February 2014.

Review of CITES enforcement and ports of entry regulations

Control of CITES enforcement is implemented through the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 (COTES). The government is currently reviewing COTES to bring it up to date.

Bodies contributing to this include the UK Border Force, Metropolitan Police, National Wildlife Crime Unit and the Home Office. Public consultation on the proposals is likely in Autumn 2013 and new legislation is expected to come into force during 2014.

Laws to protect against wildlife crime

As well as COTES, many pieces of legislation help protect against wildlife crimes, including:

More information about wildlife crime and legislation

For more information:

Appendix 5: protecting biodiversity abroad

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Biodiversity loss is a global issue. All countries need to work together to prevent the main reasons for biodiversity decline, including illegal hunting, illegal trade, and destruction of habitat.

We help countries to preserve their biodiversity directly, through funding and sharing expertise, and indirectly, through taking an active role in international negotiations to agree plans.

International agreements to protect biodiversity

The UK is signed up to a range of international agreements that aim to protect and sustain the use of the world’s biodiversity.

Convention on Biological Biodiversity (CBD)

The Convention on Biological Biodiversity (CBD) (established in 1992) is the main international convention about:

  • conserving biological diversity
  • sustainable use of plants and animals
  • the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources

The latest conference of the CBD was in October 2012.

The UK helped contribute to an agreement to double the amount of money going towards biodiversity in developing countries by 2015.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)

CITES (established in 1975) monitors and regulates international trade in plants and animals, and products made from them, to ensure that any trade that takes place is sustainable.

Convention on Migratory Species

The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (established in 1983) brings together groups of countries to protect migratory species that live in or pass through different countries during migration.

Under the Convention on Migratory Species, a range of additional agreements and memoranda of understanding have been established to protect specific migratory species.

The UK has signed up to a number of these where either mainland UK or its Overseas Territories are in range for migratory species.

These are:

Countries have also agreed the following memoranda of understanding:

The UK is also signed up to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (established in 1971).

Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020

In 2010 the UK, along with the other 192 parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), agreed to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2020.

To help achieve this, signatories agreed:

In 2012, Convention on Biological Diversity signatories agreed to increase global funding for biodiversity - including a doubling of money coming from international public and private sources by 2015.

All countries must now implement the Aichi targets and produce national biodiversity action plans. ‘Biodiversity 2020’ is the strategy for England.

EU biodiversity strategy

The EC produced an EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy to act as a framework for all EU member states’ work on biodiversity issues. It proposes objectives in important areas, including:

  • fisheries
  • agriculture
  • natural resources
  • economic co-operation and development

UK Overseas Territories

Biodiversity in the UK Overseas Territories is globally significant. They support unique ecosystems and a large number of rare and threatened species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world.

We need to protect biodiversity in the Overseas Territories, if we are going to meet our commitments under the Biodiversity 2020 target, and other international agreements.

We produced the UK Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy in 2009. We’re developing a plan to implement the strategy.

Funding work to improve the environment in the Overseas Territories

Darwin Plus: Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund will disburse around £2 million per year for a range of environment and climate-related projects to improve long-term natural resource management in the Overseas Territories. More information, including guidance and application forms, is on the Darwin Initiative website.

Overseas Territories may be eligible for EU LIFE+ funding, the EU’s only dedicated fund for the environment, subject to meeting the fund’s rules and objectives.

Sourcing certified sustainable palm oil by 2015

We are committed to helping UK organisations achieve 100% sourcing of credibily certified sustainable palm oil by 2015. Palm oil is the world’s most used vegetable oil, and global consumption is increasing. It is used in food, animal feed, soap and cosmetics, and to produce biodiesel. Unsustainable palm oil production is often linked to deforestation and peatland drainage. This has major impacts on biodiversity, climate change and also land rights for local people.

Appendix 6: protecting wildlife and species in England

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

There is legislation to protect plants and animals from harm. Protected species are often those which are rarest or most vulnerable to human activity.

The 1979 Bern Convention

Many of our animals and plants are protected under national law, which helps us meet the obligations of the Bern Convention. This aims to conserve and protect wild plants and animals and their natural habitats across Europe and parts of North Africa.

The Bonn Convention

The UK is also signed up to the Bonn Convention, which aims to provide protection for endangered migratory species.

Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010

Some of the most highly protected animal and plant species in the UK are classified as ‘European Protected Species’. These are identified by the EU Habitats Directive as the most seriously threatened in Europe, and include bats, great crested newts and otters.

In England and Wales (and to a limited degree Scotland) the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 protect these species from different forms of harm. They also protect them from being disturbed and protect the places in which they live.

Northern Ireland and Scotland have their own legislation.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 provides similar protection for other animal and plant species that are rare in Great Britain, including red squirrels and water voles. It also protects all wild birds in Great Britain, their eggs and active nests. Protection for all wild birds is required under the EU Wild Birds Directive. Northern Ireland has its own legislation.

Laws to protect species from hunting or harvesting

Some species are hunted or harvested, and need protection so that this is not done in an excessive or cruel way. These include game birds, badgers, seals and deer.

Protection from cruel methods and acts

Animals are sometimes killed or taken for legitimate reasons. Methods of doing so, for example by using firearms, pesticides or spring traps, are regulated so that they are used effectively, humanely and safely. These restrictions can apply to specific species or in some cases all wild animals.

All wild animals are also protected from unnecessary suffering under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and failure to provide needs, when they are the responsibility of a person; for example when under their care or in a trap.

Wild mammals are also protected from acts of intentional cruelty under the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996.

Bees and other pollinators

Bees (including solitary bees, bumble bees and honey bees) and other pollinators (such as hoverflies) provide an important service by pollinating crops and wild plants. They are also valued for supporting biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Pollinators also have an intrinsic cultural, aesthetic and social value that is appreciated by the public. However, pollinators face many threats. The National Pollinator Strategy sets out the work we are doing to help them thrive. The strategy is accompanied by a supporting document which explains our plans in more detail and we have also published a report on the Status and Value of Pollinators which was produced by the Pollinators Expert Advisory Group.

We’re working with a wide range of organisations, businesses and academics to ensure customers are aware of the simple actions everyone can take to provide essential resources for pollinators.

Controlling pests

The law requires that populations of certain species are controlled. Rabbits must be managed by occupiers of land, and rats and mice by local authorities. Occupiers may also be ordered to control other species and plants, for example injurious weeds.


Licences can be applied for to allow an otherwise prohibited activity to address a specific problem, such as preserving public health and safety or preventing serious damage to property, crops or livestock.

Wild birds: fish-eating birds

All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wild Birds Directive. Goosanders, mergansers and, in particular, cormorants are species that can cause damage to fish stocks. If non-lethal measures don’t work, inland fisheries managers may be granted licences to shoot a limited number of birds.

In July 2013, the government completed a review of the current licensing regime for fish-eating birds (cormorants, goosanders and red-breasted mergansers). Defra then established a project group to discuss how to take forward the recommendations of this review.

Licensing trial for cormorants

An Area-Based Management and Licensing trial will be run by Natural England in 2014. It is a new approach to managing predation by over-wintering cormorants. It will be available to all fisheries in England between September 2014 and April 2015 only and the existing licensing criteria must be met. You can apply for one of these new licences, or for one of the individual licences, from Natural England. The existing system of licensing cormorant control for individual fisheries will still be available to those who do not want to take part in the trial.

Fisheries Management Advisors

Three Fisheries Management Advisors will be available to fisheries across England from April 2014. They will help fisheries manage predation by fish-eating birds. They will also help in applying for the trial of Area-Based Management and Licensing for over-wintering cormorants. They are employed by the Angling Trust Agency with funding from the Environment Agency’s rod licence income.

In 2015, the Defra-led project group will evaluate the success of both trials before Defra ministers makes decisions on how to proceed.

Invasive non-native species

‘Non-native species’ means plants or animals brought into the country either on purpose or by mistake. Most are not harmful if they get into the wild, but some can become ‘invasive’, causing harm to native species, our health and economy. We commissioned a report in 2010 which shows that invasive non-native species costs the British economy £1.7 billion every year.

It is important to deal with the effects of invasive non-native species to help protect our native wildlife. This will contribute to the new EU strategy of halting biodiversity loss by 2020.

We run ongoing programmes to eradicate these invasive species. The government is proposing to make new laws to control or to remove non-native species. The proposals are contained in the Infrastructure Bill announced on 4 June 2014.

The ‘Invasive non-native species strategy for Great Britain’’ aims to minimise the risks and reduce the negative impacts caused by these species. The Non-native Species Secretariat (NNSS) co-ordinates the various organisations working to implement the strategy.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act includes the legislation about the release and escape of non-native species. The NNSS website has more information on invasive non-native species and how to report sightings.


We believe that well-managed zoos can play an important role in educating people about protecting wild animals and their habitats. We appoint inspectors to check that zoos carry out this role, are safe places to visit and maintain high standards of animal welfare.

Inspections in Great Britain are carried out under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. The act allows the government to set standards by which zoos are expected to be managed and inspectors use these standards to help them carry out inspections.

We also publish the Zoos Expert Committee Handbook which supplements the standards. The Zoos Expert Committee gives UK Ministers independent technical advice on zoo matters.

Although government appoints inspectors, local authorities must arrange the inspections and issue zoo licences. We have published guidance on the Zoo Licensing Act to help local authorities carry out their duties.

Northern Ireland has its own zoo legislation: the Zoo Licensing Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003.

Appendix 7: valuing the benefits we get from nature

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

An ‘ecosystems approach’

An ‘ecosystems approach’ means looking at the way nature works as a system, and valuing the benefits and services it provides. These include essential things like clean air, water and fuel. It also includes personal benefits such as improving our health and wellbeing. If we understand and value these benefits, and take ecosystems into account when we make decisions, that will help us protect the natural environment.

We’re embedding an ecosystems approach in all government policy. We’re also providing guidance and developing evidence to help others consider ecosystems in their decisions.

Our aims are set out in the Natural Environment White Paper.

See our detailed guidance on ecosystems services, including guidance on using an ecosystems approach and valuing ecosystem services.

The UK National Ecosystem Assessment

We have carried out a follow on phase to the groundbreaking UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA).

This was funded by Defra, the Welsh Government and 3 Research Councils and reported in June 2014.

Payments for ecosystem services

Payments for ecosystem services’ (PES) schemes can deliver new investment in the natural environment by allowing those who benefit from nature’s services to pay those who provide them to enhance their supply. For example, a farmer might be paid by a water company to manage their land in a way which provides clean water.

We’ve published a PES Action Plan which promotes practical and innovative development of PES schemes, and considers the actions we can take to enable them. We have also published a Best Practice Guide to assist with the design and implementation of PES schemes.

Payments for ecosystem services pilots

We’re running a series of pilot research projects to explore the potential for innovative PES projects involving the private and third sectors. They will also develop good practice and help us to understand the challenges to PES schemes. Defra funded eleven projects over two competitive rounds and have commissioned five projects as part of a third round. All of the first two rounds of projects reports are now published. More information about the pilots can be found at ekn.defra.gov.uk/resources/programmes/pes-pilots/. Defra has reviewed key findings and lessons learned from the PES pilot projects (rounds 1 and 2).

The Ecosystems Knowledge network

We have established the Ecosystems Knowledge Network. This is a resource for anyone wanting to share knowledge or learn about the practical benefits of an ecosystems approach to both people and nature. This site provides resources that explain an ecosystems approach further and show what it means in practice.

Other initiatives looking to value the benefits we get from nature include the Natural Capital Committee and the Ecosystems Markets Task Force.

Ecosystems studies

As well as the ‘UK national ecosystem assessment (UK NEA), other important studies that have produced or are producing data on ecosystem services and their value to society include:

Natural capital

In the Natural Environment White Paper, we committed to work with the Office for National Statistics to fully include the value of natural capital in the UK Environmental Accounts by 2020. The natural capital pages of the Office for National Statistics website provide an overview of natural capital accounting. They also provide reports on all the work completed to date on measuring natural capital. This includes the roadmap for further improvement up to 2020 and the experimental accounts by ONS (published May 2014). These expand on existing approaches to estimate a monetary value for components of UK natural capital for the period 2007 to 2011.