Conventions and legislation

Laws and regulations to conserve biodiversity or to regulate how it is used have their origins at global, European Union, national and sub-national level.


At the international level, Conventions are the commonest form of international agreements between countries, dealing with specific subjects of common concern. They are often referred to as MEAs (Multi-lateral Environmental Agreements). Once countries (and any of their dependent territories) are party to such agreements they are often required to transpose their requirements into national law.


These Conventions give rise to much of our national legislation. For example, a major driver for the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act was to allow UK ratification in 1982 of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention), which had been adopted in Bern, Switzerland, in 1979.


Within the European Community, legislation governing environmental matters arises mostly - but not exclusively - in one of two forms. Directives are legislative texts adopted by the European Union that affect all Member States. They are binding as to the results to be achieved, but give flexibility to Member States over the means used to achieve those results. This is, for example, the approach taken to the Birds Directive and Habitats Directive.


The other source of legislation is the EU Regulation, which has direct force of law in EU Member States. One example are the provisions of Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), which require uniform regulation of trade in wildlife throughout the Community. They are implemented by EC Regulations.


At UK level, other legislation has been adopted to address the need to conserve biodiversity - or mitigate threats to it - but which are not driven by an international agenda. Nature conservation policy is also a devolved function and it is likely that some divergence in approaches to legislation will develop between the devolved country administrations as long as they are consistent with international obligations. The Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are self-governing and so also implement their own territorial legislation for conservation, again subject to international obligations.