The UK Trade and Industry Minister Stephen Byers said the Government will not appeal against the decision unless the detailed judgement, once it has been received, raises unforeseen implications.

Greenpeace had sought a judicial review of the geographical extent of the Habitats Directive, arguing that it should be extended beyond the territorial seas up to a limit of perhaps 200 nautical miles. (see related story)

“Ensuring that offshore oil and gas activities are conducted sustainably, without harm to the marine environment, has been and will continue to be, a fundamental objective of the DTI’s oil and gas activity,” Byers said. “The Habitats Directive is not an easy directive to implement in the marine environment, but I am committed to ensuring that the DTI’s oil and gas licensing activities are compatible with its requirements. I have instructed my officials to undertake this task as quickly as possible.”

Byers said the Government would use the results of a survey of the seabed to the west of Shetland to identify candidate sites for protection under the Directive.

Greenpeace climate campaigner Matthew Spencer said: “This is great news. However, it would be a serious mistake if the Government merely tweaked the existing regulations and did not implement the Habitats Directive in its fullest sense,” Spencer told edie. “Hopefully, the Government will conduct baseline surveys to see what the status is of key wildlife populations before assessing the implications of particular oil and gas developments. The Habitats Directive is intended to protect and enhance the status of habitats and is not about end of pipe measures to limit pollution.”

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