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Government launches consultation on extending Habitats and Birds Directive

6th August 2003

A Government consultation is to look at increasing protection for important offshore sites such as the Darwin Mounds, Nature Conservation Minister Ben Bradshaw announced today.

The 12 week consultation, published today, puts forward proposals to extend the protection afforded to important species and habitats under the Birds and Habitats Directives, which currently does not go beyond 12 nautical miles of the UK coastline.

Mr Bradshaw said:

"This consultation is an important first step in conserving our fragile offshore habitats and species.

Under the proposals we would be able to identify rare coral reefs, such as the Darwin Mounds as Special Areas of Conservation. The proposals would also provide protection to species such as dolphins and turtles which flourish in the offshore area."

The regulations would be the main way by which unique offshore marine habitats like the Darwin Mounds could be protected. This would make the UK one of the first EU countries to implement the Habitats and Birds Directives in the offshore area.

The Regulations are expected to come into force by the end of this year or early next.

1. The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 transpose the Habitats Directive into domestic legislation. They apply to England, Wales and Scotland and their territorial seas up to 12 nautical miles (nm) from baseline. Northern Ireland has its own Regulations with the same coverage of territorial sea.

2. A 1999 High Court judgment (R -v- Secretary of State for Trade and Industry ex parte Greenpeace Limited) determined that the Habitats Directive applies to the UK Continental Shelf and superjacent waters up to a limit of 200 nautical miles from the baseline. The Government decided not to appeal against the judgment.

Although the judgment did not relate to the Birds Directive the Government believes there is strong justification for treating both in the same way as regards their geographical scope. The UK Government has, therefore, prepared Regulations to apply both the Habitats and Birds Directives to the offshore marine area. It is hoped that the Regulations will be laid before Parliament before the end of the year.

3. Under the regulations sites such as the Darwin Mounds would be selected as Special Areas of Conservation. The Darwin Mounds are an exceptional example of cold coral reef in UK waters. They are located at a depth of about 1000m in the north east corner of the Rockall Trough, North West of Scotland.

4. The UK Government is currently discussing with the European Commission what measures can be taken to protect the Darwin Mounds from fishing activities.

5. This consultation document seeks views on the Government's regulatory proposals for ensuring compliance with the Habitats and Birds Directives in the offshore marine area. The closing date for comments on the draft Regulations is 29 October 2003. The consultation document is available online at: and members of the public can email their comments to

6. A parallel consultation exercise (The Draft Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2003) on technical amendments to the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 is being undertaken to the same deadline. It is available at:

Public Enquiries: 08459 335577