The Habitats Directive and Habitats Regulations

The Habitats Regulations implement the Habitats Directive in Scotland and provide protection to European protected species and European sites.

The Habitats Directive

The Habitats Directive is the short name for European Union Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

The Directive led to the establishing of European sites and setting out how they should be protected, it also extends to other topics such as European protected species.

It is a major contribution by the European Community towards realising the Convention on Biological Diversity, agreed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

The Habitats Regulations

In Scotland, the Habitats Directive is translated into specific legal obligations by the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994. This piece of legislation is usually known as the Habitats Regulations.

The Habitats Regulations cover the requirements for:

  • protecting sites that are internationally important for threatened habitats and species – i.e. European sites
  • a legal framework for species requiring strict protection – i.e. European protected species

The Habitats Regulations have been amended in Scotland, most recently in 2019 as a result of the UK leaving the EU. These amendments mean that we must continue to apply the requirements of the Habitats and Birds Directives to how European sites are designated and protected.

Amendments have also been made to the legislation in England and Wales in the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

How the Habitats Regulations implement species protection on land and inshore waters in Scotland thus differs from how this is done in England and Wales.

Despite this variation, development proposals affecting European sites are assessed the same way across the UK – using Habitats Regulations Appraisal.

Other related legislation

The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 apply in Scotland in relation to certain specific activities (reserved matters), including consents granted under Sections 36 and 37 of the Electricity Act 1989.

The Offshore Marine Regulations 2017 apply in Scottish waters more than 12 nautical miles from land.


Managing Natura 2000 Sites: The provisions of Article 6 of the ‘Habitats’ Directive 92/43/EEC

Wind energy developments and Natura 2000

Scottish Government Policy for proposed SACs and proposed SPAs

Find out more

Legislative Requirements for European Sites (summary)

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