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The 1992 EC Habitats Directive was transposed into English and Welsh law as the 1994 Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations, commonly known as the "Habitat Regulations".

On 1 April 2010 The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 replaced The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended) in England and Wales (and to a limited degree, Scotland – as regards reserved matters).

The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (which are the principal means by which the Habitats Directive is transposed in England and Wales) update the legislation and consolidate all the many amendments which have been made to the regulations since they were first made in 1994.

On 25 July 2012, Defra laid “The Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) Regulations 2012” and The Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 before Parliament. These Regulations amend the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (S.I. 2010/490) and the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 2007 (SI 2007/1842) respectively.

The Habitats Regulations include various provisions for the designation, safeguard and management of site of European importance for nature conservation. The key provisions which relate to European marine sites are outlined here; however for a complete understanding of the provisions reference should be made to the original text of the Habitats Regulations.

Competent and Relevant Authorities

The Habitats Regulations refer to two different sorts of statutory organisations which have certain responsibilities within European marine sites. They are known as competent and relevant authorities. The term competent authorities includes any statutory body or public office exercising legislative powers, whether on land or sea. Relevant authorities are those competent authorities which have powers or functions which have, or could have, an impact on the marine area within or adjacent to a European marine site.

Duties on Competent Authorities (Regulation 3(4))

The Habitats Regulations place a responsibility on every competent authority: " every competent authority in the exercise of any of their functions, shall have regard to the requirements of the Habitats Directive so far as they may be affected by the exercise of those functions." Regulation 3(4).

Special Duties for Relevant Authorities in European marine sites

Unlike on land where SACs, SPAs and Ramsar sites are underpinned by the legislation allowing for the designation and management of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), there is no existing legislative framework for implementing the Habitats Directive in marine areas. Therefore the Regulations have had to establish a number of new provisions specifically for the management and protection of marine areas. The term European marine site means any Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA) or Ramsar site and/or part of a site that consists of a marine area, including intertidal areas. The Regulations make provision (in Regulation 34) for the relevant authorities to establish a management scheme for a European marine site.

Duties for Natural England (Regulation 33)

Natural England is the Government's advisory body on nature conservation issues and is a relevant authority in its own right. In addition to the general responsibilities as a relevant authority, Natural England also has other specific duties under the Habitats Regulations. It is required by Regulation 33(2) to advise other relevant authorities as to the conservation objectives of a European marine site and any operations which may cause deterioration to habitats or disturbance to species for which it has been designated. "This advice will guide the relevant authorities in developing the management scheme through which they must comply with their own duties under the Regulations." (DETR guidance para 3.21)

Further Reading