Legislation Note: The Natural Environment and Communities Act 2006
The most significant element of this Act for environmental lawyers is perhaps the establishment of Natural England, which replaces English Nature and parts of the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service. It also tightens up conservation law by making a series of amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (‘the 1981 Act’) and other wildlife legislation. In particular, it extends to all public authorities the duty to conserve biodiversity and increases protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (‘SSSI’s’), principally by the creation of two new offences. The Act also criminalises the possession of prescribed pesticides harmful to wildlife and increases the scope of protection for wild birds. It prohibits the sale of invasive non-native species and extends the enforcement powers of wildlife inspectors to a wider group of wildlife offences as well as making various other changes to the provision for enforcement. This Note addresses only these provisions but it should be noted that the Act also makes changes to the law on rights of way, in particular by limiting the creation of new rights of way for mechanically propelled vehicles. It also clarifies the criteria for designating land in a National Park by providing, in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 (‘the 1949 Act’), s. 5 that, when considering the natural beauty of the land, Natural England may take into account its wildlife and cultural heritage. The Act makes changes to the management of inland waterways and to the provision for administrative arrangements made by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with the designated bodies listed in Sch. 7, which include the Environment Agency and Natural England.