The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017

The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 consolidate and update the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 2007. The 2017 Regulations introduce amendments which transfer responsibility for European nature conservation in the Welsh offshore region to Welsh Ministers. This gives Welsh Ministers similar powers in Welsh offshore waters to those currently exercised by Scottish Ministers in Scottish offshore waters. These regulations transpose into national law Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Habitats Directive), and elements of Council Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds (Wild Birds Directive) in the UK offshore area. They came into force on 30th November 2017. These regulations apply to the UK’s offshore marine area which covers waters beyond 12 nautical miles, within British Fishery Limits and the seabed within the UK Continental Shelf Designated Area. The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 form the legal basis for the implementation of the Habitats and Birds Directives in terrestrial areas and territorial waters out to 12nm in England and Wales (including the inshore marine area) and to a limited extent in Scotland and Northern Ireland.


The Offshore Habitats Regulations fulfil the UK’s duty to comply with European law beyond inshore waters and ensure that activities regulated by the UK that have an effect on important species and habitats in the offshore marine environment can be managed. Under the Regulations, competent authorities i.e. any Minister, government department, public body, or person holding public office, have a general duty, in the exercise of any of their functions, to have regard to the EC Habitats and Birds Directives.


Designation of sites to protect important habitats and species


The Regulations enable the designation and protection of areas that host habitats and species of European importance in the offshore marine area. Once designated these sites will be known as:



In the offshore marine area, these sites are defined collectively in the Regulations as ‘European offshore marine sites’ and, together with all other terrestrial and marine SACs and SPAs across the EU, will form a network of sites known as Natura 2000.


To prevent damage to these sites, competent authorities that grant authorisations for activities in the offshore area will have to ensure that any licences that are issued or reviewed do not result in an adverse effect on a site’s integrity. Other measures may also be taken to protect sites, such as conservation measures, management schemes and guidance. In addition, a new offence covers otherwise unregulated activities, such as research activities and scuba diving, and prohibits damage to protected species and habitats in a site. More detail on these site protection measures and European marine sites’ management status is available through JNCC.


The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is the Government’s scientific adviser on marine nature conservation issues in the offshore area. JNCC will play a key role in identifying SACs and identifying SPAs and providing guidance and advice to marine stakeholders on conservation matters relating to these Regulations.



Protection of species


There are a number of provisions in the Regulations that will protect marine species and wild birds from harmful activities, by the introduction of new offences. Wild animals known as European protected species (listed in the Annex IV of the Habitats Directive) will be protected in the offshore marine area. These animals are cetacea (whales, dolphins, porpoises), marine turtles and the common sturgeon. Wild Birds will receive similar protection. It will be an offence to:


  • deliberately capture, injure or kill any wild bird or any wild animal of a European protected species;
  • deliberately disturb animals of European protected species in such a way as to be likely significantly to affect the ability of any significant group of animals of that species to survive, breed or rear or nurture their young, or the local distribution or abundance of the species; (JNCC guidance on deliberate disturbance of marine European Protected Species is available)
  • damage or destroy, or do anything to cause the deterioration of a breeding site or resting place of a European Protected species;
  • take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built;
  • take or destroy an egg of any wild bird or deliberately take or destroy the eggs of a European protected species;
  • keep or transport, sell or offer for sale any live or dead wild bird (or egg), European protected species, or certain plants which were taken from the wild, or any part of or anything derived from such a wild bird, animal or plant. (Certain populations of species are exempt from these offences).
  • deliberately introduce any live non-native animal or plant which would give rise to a risk of prejudice to natural habitats within their natural range or a risk of prejudice to wild native flora or fauna.
  • take or kill certain wild animals through indiscriminate or prohibited means such as through use of explosives, poisons or semi-automatic weapons.


The Regulations take account of the fact that the regulation of commercial fishing activities is conducted in the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy (for which the European Community has exclusive competence). Where particular types of fishing in this area are having an unintentional adverse affect on European Protected Species (such as the common dolphin), the UK Government will put forward a case to the European Commission seeking a closure or modification to a particular fishing activity. This will allow a case by case approach to the protection of European Protected Species from fishing activities. The offences in these Regulations will not therefore apply to fishing causing bycatch,  provided those responsible for it did not intend to bycatch protected species and took any reasonable steps that could be taken to comply with Community legislation regulating fishing activity and bycatch. Any fisherman purposefully killing a protected species (for example by shooting it) will still be liable to prosecution.


Where further information and guidance will be available


The .Gov website will provide a central point where further guidance on the Offshore Marine Habitats Regulations can be accessed as it becomes available.


January 2017