Following the UK EU Exit and transition period, the level of protection afforded to habitats and species in the wider countryside and in our designated European sites remains unchanged. Special Protection Areas (SPAs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) will become part of the UK national site network. There is no practical difference to these designated sites, and the requirements of those that manage them or make decisions related to them remains the same. They will continue to be referred to as European sites.
To ensure The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 (as amended) are operable after the end of the EU transition period, changes have been made by The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. The changes are largely procedural and affect government and include the transfer of functions from the European Commission to DAERA.
There are no policy changes. Existing and future SACs and SPAS will retain their protected status and continue to function as a UK wide network to provide a key role in delivering the UK’s domestic and international biodiversity objectives. Furthermore, there are no plans to amend the Annexes which reflect current scientific advice on vulnerable habitats and species.
DAERA has a duty to have regard to the requirement to maintain conservation measures so that: the habitats within the national site network sites do not deteriorate; conservation objectives for each European site are met; and the species for which these sites have been designated are not significantly disturbed.
All stakeholders, such as competent authorities, land owners and land managers are advised that the responsibilities they held prior to 1 January 2021 with regards to SPAs and SACs, have not changed.
Key factors to note include:
- There are no changes to existing processes for the protection and management of protected sites such as seeking permission to undertake certain activities or licencing requirements, whether these responsibilities or duties are under The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 (as amended) or other legislation such as the Environment Order.
- Planning authorities still need to observe the same obligations and undertake the same functions as before.
- There are no changes to the requirement for competent authorities to undertake Habitats Regulations Assessments (HRAs) to assess the impacts of any plan, project or activity that may affect a European Site prior to approvals or other authorisations being granted.
- Guidance on The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019;
- Terminology interpretation for The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) (Amendment) (NI) EU Exit Regulations 2019; and
- Q&A for The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) (Amendment) (NI) EU Exit Regulations 2019.
- Bern Q&A