In 2021 the Government wildlife agencies launched a consultation about the protection afforded to species under key legislation. ARC’s response is to encourage continued or increased protection, and improve the criteria for scheduling species.

Government is currently undertaking a review of the species listed for protection under Schedules 5 and 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), one of the main articles of legislation used in conservation. This process, known as the Quinquennial Review of the schedules, has been undertaken every five years since the Act came into force, with the current review being the seventh. The consultation seeks views on the retention, regrading, addition or removal of species on these two schedules. It also gathers stakeholder views on the criteria for the schedules, following changes since the 6th Quinquennial Review undertaken in 2014.

As we have previously reported, ARC had concerns about proposed methods for reviewing species on the schedules (see ARC calls for rethink over legal protection plans). The indication was that eight species of amphibian and reptile would likely be removed from the schedules, meaning they would lose legal protection. We engaged with the agencies over our concerns and produced evidence to support retaining the species at risk of being dropped (see: Legal protection update); other stakeholder also fed in similar views.

Proposals released by the agencies in November 2021 largely followed our suggestions. The eight species previously earmarked for removal are now proposed for retention, and increased protection is recommended for the adder. Those proposals are subject to a consultation which ends on 30 January 2022, and ARC is pleased to support them.

The other part of the recent consultation covers the criteria for selecting species for the schedules. We had mixed views on the proposals. In brief, whilst some proposals seemed appropriate, we had concerns about the implications of others. We welcomed the clarification that there would be a need for evidence of enhanced status such that protection is no longer needed before the deletion from the schedules of any non-critically endangered or endangered species. However, we think that the emphasis on protecting those species that are close to national extinction is unhelpful. This is primarily because it minimises the value of legal protection for species in need of protection even though they are not at imminent risk of extinction.

The review of the schedules comes at a time when there is increasing recognition by government and society about the degraded state of our wildlife. ARC believes that we need better policy, legislation and other mechanisms that will guarantee positive conservation action for species. Whilst protective legislation is a critical part of this, and we broadly welcome the current scheduling proposals, we would also like to see more progress in addressing that wider picture.

The next step in the review of the schedules will be for the JNCC to formulate recommendations destined for Ministers in Welsh Government, Scottish Government and Defra, who will make the final decisions, likely in mid-2022.