The Nature Conservation ( Scotland ) Act 2004

The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 , received Royal Assent in June 2004 and came into force on 29 th November 2004 . The Act places duties on public bodies in relation to the conservation of biodiversity, increases protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), amends legislation on Nature Conservation Orders, provides for Land Management Orders for SSSIs and associated land, and strengthens wildlife enforcement legislation by increasing the maximum fine from £5,000 to £40,000. The Act also requires the preparation of a Scottish Fossil Code.

BIODIVERSITY & CONSERVATION AND ENHANCEMENT OF NATURAL FEATURES (Parts 1 & 2 of the Act)
In Part 1 of the Act, a duty is placed on all public bodies and office holders, in exercising their functions, to further the conservation of biodiversity so far as it may be affected by the proper exercise of the function. In delivering this duty, public bodies and office holders must have regard to the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Accordingly, the Act also requires that Scottish Ministers must designate as the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy one or more strategies for the conservation of biodiversity. The Scottish Biodiversity Stratgey launched in May 2004 has been designated as that strategy.

In respect of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has a duty (in Part 2) to notify 'interested parties' of any land it considers as of special interest due to its natural features. Interested parties may include:

  • every owner and occupier of the land
  • every local authority in whose area the land, or any part of it, is situated
  • the National Park authority for the National Park
  • every community council in whose area the land, or any part of it, is situated,
  • every relevant regulatory authority which the person giving the notice or notification considers likely to have functions which relate to the land
  • every community body which has registered an interest in the land 

Each SSSI notification must be accompanied by a site management statement prepared by SNH, which provides guidance to owners and occupiers of land within a site of special scientific interest as to how the natural feature specified in the SSSI notification should be conserved or enhanced. Public bodies must not carry out operations on a SSSI which is likely to damage any natural feature specified. SNH may give consent to operations subject to certain conditions. Any person who intentionally or recklessly damages any natural feature specified in an SSSI notification is guilty of an offence and is liable on a summary conviction to a fine up to £40,000, or on an indicted conviction to a fine. Restoration orders may be applied for the purpose of restoring the protected natural feature to its former condition.

The ability of Scottish Ministers to establish a Nature Conservation Order further protects the SSSIs from damaging operations e.g. the use of off-road vehicles, burning or fly tipping. Proposals by SNH to Scottish Ministers can also lead to a Land Management Order for requirement of operations to be carried out on land in, or contiguous with, an SSSI where this is necessary to conserve, restore or enhance a natural feature specified in the SSSI notification. An appeal process is introduced in relation to the making of such Orders.

PROTECTION OF WILDLIFE  (Part 3 of the Act)
Schedule 6 of the Act make amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, strengthening the legal protection for threatened species.  The species protection afforded to wild birds, animals and plants is extended to include 'reckless' acts (continuing with an action in the knowledge of the consequences of that action ) and acts of 'interference', as an addition to destructive acts cited in the 1981 act. The protection afforded to the nests of certain, threatened, bird species is extended to all times of the year, and the disturbance of certain bird species at their "lekking" sites is prohibited.  The Act makes it an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb a dolphin, whale (cetacean) or basking shark, and also to sell a self-locking snare, or to possess one without reasonable excuse.  Powers are provided to Scottish Ministers to prohibit the sale of certain non-native species.  The Act amends and enhances the provisions for enforcement.  The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 is also amended. The white tailed sea eagle ( Haliaetus albicilla ) has been added as a Schedule 1 bird.

SCOTTISH FOSSIL CODE   (Part 4 of the Act)
Part 4 of the Act requires Scottish Natural Heritage to prepare and issue a Scottish Fossil Code setting out recommendations, advice and information relating to fossils.

Further information:
The full Nature Conservation ( Scotland ) Act is available at: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/legislation/scotland/acts2004/20040006.htm