Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act (2004)


The Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) is the main piece of legislation pertaining to biodiversity in the UK, and forms the basis for most of the other wildlife and biodiversity legislation that has come into being over recent years. In Scotland, it was updated in 2004 by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act.

The W&C Act makes it an offence to intentionally:

  • kill, injure, or take any wild animal or bird;

  • take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built;

  • take or destroy an egg of any wild bird;

  • interfere with places used for shelter or protection by a wild animal;

  • intentionally disturb animals occupying such places;

The Act also prohibits certain methods of killing, injuring, or taking wild animals. A provision is made within the Act for the granting of licences that allow above actions to be made legal in certain situations.

Finally, the Act makes it an offence to intentionally:

  • pick, uproot or destroy any wild plant listed in Schedule 8; or any seed or spore attached to any such wild plant unless authorised;

  • uproot any wild plant not included in Schedule 8,

  • sell, offer or expose for sale, or possess (for the purposes of trade), any live or dead wild plant included in Schedule 8, or any part of, or anything derived from, such a plant.

The Act contains measures for preventing the establishment of non-native species which may be detrimental to native wildlife, prohibiting the release of animals and planting of plants listed in Schedule 9.

The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act (2004) strengthens the above legislation by including reckless” acts, which means that in Scotland, not knowing about the above is not a permissible defence for committing an illegal act. This Act also strengthens the designated sites legislation by enhancing the protection for SSSIs, and puts a Biodiversity Duty on every public body.

Biodiversity Duty

As mentioned above, the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act (2004) places a duty on every public body to further the conservation of biodiversity through their everyday activities. This means that they should strive not just to protect and prevent the loss of biodiversity, but also to proactively enhance biodiversity during their day to day operations. Guidance for organisations on how to do this can be found on the Biodiversity Scotland website (SNH website whilst these pages are being updated).

EU Habitats and Birds Directives 
The Habitats Regulations 1994 (as amended in Scotland) implement the species protection requirements of the EU Habitats Directive and Birds Directive in Scotland on land and inshore waters (up to 12 nautical miles).  

The Regulations place a duty Member States to propose a list of sites which are important for either habitats or species (listed in Annexes I and II of the Habitats Directive respectively), or birds (listed in the Birds Directive).  These sites are then designated as either Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for habitats and species, or Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds,  and form a network termed Natura 2000.
Enhanced protection is also given to a range of species under the Habitats Regulations 1994 (as amended) recognised as European Protected Species (EPS). Examples of EPS found in South Lanarkshire are otter, great crested newt and all species of bat. Separate legislation protects a number of other species which occur in South Lanarkshire, including badgers.  

Water Framework Directive

The Water Framework Directive and it's Scots Law translation, the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 are of importance to biodiversity through targets to improve the ecological status of all water bodies. Natural Flood Management  and catchment management are both important too.

Climate Change Act

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 is important in terms of action for mitigating against the effects of current and future climate change, as well as actions to reduce carbon emmissions. Key sustainabiity programmes such as peatland restoration and renewable energy link well with biodiversity conservation and can be important tools in delivering ecosystem scale landscape management and conservation.