HC Deb 11 May 1995 vol 259 cc559-60W
Mr. Whittingdale

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list the consequences of farm land being designated as a special area of conservation under the EU habitats directive. [22139]

Mr. Atkins

The regulations implementing the habitats directive are based in the existing provisions applying to sites of special scientific interest. In the vast majority of cases, the nature conservation interests for which sites on land will be selected as special areas of conservation will be very similar to those for which these sites will already be protected as SSSIs. In most cases, management measures which have conserved these sites in the past as SSSIs will continue to be appropriate when they become SACs.

The Conservation (Natural Habitats, & Regulations 1994 introduce the following measures for European sites, including SACs: a duty on the statutory nature conservation agencies not to give consent to potentially damaging operations which will adversely affect the integrity of the site, and to offer a management agreement; powers to review existing consents for potentially damaging operations; powers for the statutory nature conservation agencies to make byelaws to control the activities of third parties; powers for the Secretary of State to make special nature conservation orders, to prevent damage, which are not time limited; changes to planning law to give effect to the directive's requirements in terms of the consideration and approval of plans and projects likely to affect sites.

Mr. Whittingdale

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list the requirements and benefits of designation as(a) a site of special scientific interest; (b) a special protection area; (c) a Ramsar site; (d) a national nature reserve and (e) a special area of conservation. [22138]

Mr. Atkins

The various designations indicate a site's national or international importance for nature conservation and the level of protection to be given to its wildlife and natural features under both wildlife and planning legislation. Each of the designations referred to by my hon. Friend plays its part in meeting th Government's commitment to sustainable development, and in particular to conserving the natural heritage for the benefit of this and future generations:

  1. (a) sites of special scientific interest are notified by English Nature under section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for their special interest by reason of their flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features. SSSIs are protected from damaging operations and the notification is a material factor in the consideration of any development proposal that might affect the site;
  2. (b) special protection areas are classified by my right hon. Friend under the EC wild birds directive to safeguard the habitats of bird species listed in annexe 1 to the directive and of regularly occurring migratory species;
  3. (c) Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance, which are designated by my right hon. Friend in fulfilment of the United Kingdom's obligations under the convention on wetlands of international importance, the Ramsar convention, to conserve wetlands and foster their wise use;
  4. (d) national nature reserves are declared by English Nature under section 35 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Their essential characteristic is that their primary use is for nature conservation;
  5. (e) no special areas of conservation have yet been designated. A list of possible SACs is currently the subject of public consultation. SACs are to be sites hosting the natural habitat types and habitats of the species listed in the EC habitats and species directive. Member states are required to establish the necessary conservation measures which correspond to the ecological requirements of the site.

These designations are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, it is the Government's policy that SPAs, Ramsar sites, NNRs and SACs shall first be notified as SSSIs. Further details on these designations are given in planning policy guidance note 9, issued in October 1994, a copy of which is in the Library.