Duncan James Hill
July 31, 2023
Biodiversity permits and regulations for landowners and developers
Biodiversity is under threat from a range of factors, including habitat loss and degradation, climate change, pollution, and overexploitation of natural resources. As a result, there are increasing regulations and permits in place to protect biodiversity, particularly for landowners and developers. In this article, we will examine the biodiversity permits and regulations that apply to landowners and developers in the EU, UK, and US.
- EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030: This strategy sets out targets and actions to halt the loss of biodiversity and protect the natural capital of Europe
- Habitats Directive: This directive provides a framework for the conservation of wild flora and fauna, and their natural habitats, throughout the EU
- Birds Directive: This directive aims to protect wild birds and their habitats throughout the EU
- Nature restoration law
The EU has a range of regulations in place to protect biodiversity, including the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. These directives aim to protect all wild bird species and their habitats, as well as a range of habitats and species of European importance, including forests, wetlands, and grasslands.
Under these directives, landowners and developers may need to obtain permits or carry out assessments before carrying out any activities that may affect protected habitats or species. For example, if a developer wishes to build on a site that is designated as a protected habitat, they may need to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to assess the potential impacts of the development on the habitat and the species that depend on it.
The EU also has a range of regulations in place to address invasive alien species (IAS). Introducing non-native species into a new environment can harm native species and ecosystems. As part of the EU's Invasive Alien Species Regulation, the EU aims to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive alien species and minimize their impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
- The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006: This act provides the legal framework for biodiversity conservation in the UK
- The UK Biodiversity Action Plan: This plan sets out a series of targets and actions to protect and enhance biodiversity in the UK.
- Environment Act 2021
- A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment
After the UK’s departure from the EU, it has created new regulations to protect biodiversity. The Environment Bill, for example, sets out a range of measures to protect and enhance the natural environment in England and Wales. The bill includes provisions for biodiversity net gain (BNG), which requires developers to ensure that any new development they carry out results in a net gain in biodiversity compared to the pre-development state of the site.
To achieve BNG, developers may need to carry out ecological surveys and assessments, and incorporate measures such as green roofs, wildlife corridors, and the creation of new habitats into their designs. Additionally, the bill includes provisions for local governments to develop biodiversity restoration and conservation strategies.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as well as the Environment Bill, protect biodiversity in the UK. This act provides protection for a range of species, including birds, mammals, and reptiles, and prohibits activities such as intentional killing or injuring of protected species, as well as damaging or destroying their habitats.
The United States primarily regulates biodiversity protection at the state level, although certain species and habitats are protected by federal laws. Among the most important federal laws for protecting biodiversity in the US is the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Under the ESA, endangered and threatened species and their habitats are protected and conserved. Federal agencies are required to ensure that their actions do not threaten the survival of any endangered or threatened species or result in their critical habitat being destroyed or adversely modified.
In addition to the ESA, many states have their own regulations in place to protect biodiversity, including regulations for wetland protection, wildlife management, and the protection of rare and endangered species.
Regulations impact on Landowners and Developers
Biodiversity permits and regulations for landowners and developers vary by jurisdiction, but in general they aim to protect and conserve biodiversity while allowing for sustainable development. Here is a general overview of the type of permits and regulations that may apply:
- Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA): An EIA is a process that assesses the potential impact of a proposed development on the environment, including biodiversity. In many jurisdictions, an EIA is required for certain types of development projects, such as large-scale infrastructure projects, and the results of the EIA must be taken into account when making decisions about the project.
- Biodiversity Offsetting: Biodiversity offsetting is a process where a developer can compensate for the negative impacts of a development on biodiversity by preserving, restoring, or enhancing biodiversity elsewhere. The specific requirements for biodiversity offsetting vary by jurisdiction, but in general, the offset must be equivalent to the impact of the development and must be permanent.
- Protected Area Permits: In some jurisdictions, there may be protected areas, such as national parks, nature reserves, or wildlife sanctuaries, where development is restricted or prohibited. Developers may need to obtain a permit from the relevant authorities to carry out activities within these areas.
- Species-Specific Regulations: In some cases, specific species may be protected by law, and developers may need to obtain permits or conduct assessments to ensure that their activities do not harm these species or their habitats.
- Sustainable Development Standards: Depending on the jurisdiction, sustainable development standards might set requirements for the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of natural resources.
The regulations and permits in place to protect biodiversity can have significant impacts on landowners and developers. In some cases, they may limit the activities that landowners and developers can carry out on their land or the development that they can undertake. For example, if a site is designated as a protected habitat, a developer may not be able to build on it or may only be able to build if they can demonstrate that their development will not have a negative impact on the habitat and the species that depend on it.
In other cases, the regulations and permits may require landowners and developers to carry out assessments or surveys before carrying out any activities on their land. These assessments can be time-consuming and costly and may require the services of specialist consultants.
However, the regulations and permits are in place to protect biodiversity and ensure that development is carried out in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way. By protecting biodiversity and ensuring that development does not have a negative impact on ecosystems and habitats, the regulations and permits can help to maintain healthy ecosystems and ensure that the benefits that they provide, such as clean air and water, are available to future generations.
In addition, the regulations and permits can also provide opportunities for landowners and developers to incorporate biodiversity into their designs and developments, which can have a range of benefits. For example, incorporating green roofs and living walls into buildings can provide habitat for a range of species, as well as providing insulation and reducing energy consumption. Similarly, incorporating wildlife corridors and green spaces into developments can help to connect habitats and provide important ecosystem services, such as pollination and pest control.
What are the penalties for violating biodiversity regulations and permits
The penalties for violating biodiversity regulations and permits vary depending on the specific regulation or permit that has been violated and the severity of the violation. In general, penalties can include fines, imprisonment, and in some cases, the seizure of property and equipment.
In the EU, Member States are required to establish penalties for violations of the Birds and Habitats Directives, which can include fines and other sanctions such as the suspension or revocation of permits. The level of fines and sanctions may vary depending on the severity of the violation.
In the UK, violations of biodiversity regulations can result in fines, imprisonment, and enforcement action, which may include the seizure of property and equipment. For example, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the maximum penalty for intentionally killing or injuring a protected species is an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison.
In the US, violations of the Endangered Species Act can result in civil and criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment. Civil penalties can range from $500 to $25,000 per violation, and criminal penalties can include fines of up to $50,000 and up to one year in prison for a misdemeanour, or fines of up to $100,000 and up to ten years in prison for a felony.
It is important for landowners and developers to be aware of the regulations and permits that apply to their activities and to comply with them to avoid penalties. In some cases, violations may also result in reputational damage, legal action, and the suspension or revocation of permits, which can have significant impacts on the ability to carry out future activities.