In particular, the UK system for granting exceptions to the European Habitat’s Directive appears to consist of issuing licences as a formality after development consent for a project has already been given, without weighing up the arguments for and against allowing damage to occur.

“We must take our legal safeguards seriously, or we face the wipe-out of endangered species through the creeping loss of habitats,” said Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallström.

According to English Nature, the licensing body for a number of endangered species in the UK, exemptions to the directive are only given by them in accordance with the EU’s rules. The Commission’s disapproval stems from a criticism from a commissioner regarding the protection of a number of greater crested newt habitats in Wales, an English Nature spokesperson explained to edie.

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), which is the licensing body for greater crested newts, says that it is disappointed with the Commission’s ruling. “We will be considering it as a matter of urgency and giving a full response,” a DETR spokesperson told edie, pointing out that there is a wealth of evidence of the department’s overwhelming commitment to protecting endangered species. New legislation contained in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (see related story) allows greater protection for the types of habitats that endangered species will be living in, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s), said the spokesperson. Those harming endangered species could now face imprisonment or heavy fines, and there is a new offence of ‘reckless disturbance’. There are also expected to be additional safeguards for nearly 200 UK sites for conservation, some of which will be home to greater crested newts.

A spokesperson for the Countryside Commission for Wales (CCW) was unaware of any problems with the licensing of exemptions from the Habitats’ Directive, with only around a dozen being referred to them by the National Assembly for Wales, a CCW spokesperson explained to edie. Any problems come from large-scale developments, such the filling in of mineral extraction sites for landfill. “There are always local complaints about in-filling, but we always go along with the science and the law,” said the spokesperson.

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