Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) has urged government and its advisors to reconsider proposals to remove legal protection from eight species of amphibian and reptile. The plans arise from the periodic evaluation of protected species schedules in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), known as the Quinquennial Review.

Under the latest review, the proposal is to allow only species that meet strict criteria on extinction risk to remain on - or be added to - the protection schedules. This would mean that eight widespread species of amphibian and reptile lose their key legal protection: common frog Rana temporariacommon toad Bufo bufosmooth newt Lissotriton vulgarispalmate newt L. helveticusgrass snake Natrix helveticaadder Vipera beruscommon lizard Zootoca vivipara and slow-worm Anguis fragilis.

This represents a change from how protection has been used over the last three decades. The shift in approach appears to be an effort to align the schedules more closely with a particular clause in the 1981 Act which focuses on extinction risk. ARC’s key concern is essentially over the use of imminent extinction as the main criterion for legal protection. The proposals have been drawn up by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and NatureScot. JNCC is currently gathering information before making a recommendation to government in the autumn, which will be subject to a public consultation.

ARC’s view is that removing legal protection from these species without instituting any other measures would be detrimental to their conservation. Furthermore, ARC believes that there is no legal imperative to de-list the species, and is alarmed that the proposal to remove legal protection is not accompanied by any evaluation of the impacts of de-listing. In ARC’s view there has been no meaningful consultation on what would be a significant change. Conservation efforts for these species have been reliant, at least to some extent, on Wildlife and Countryside Act protection for decades. Deleting that protection now would, for example, make it lawful for people to eradicate populations of the adder, a species suffering from steep declines in some parts of Britain. Furthermore, ARC believes the proposals risk compliance with government’s international obligations, and diverge strongly from its policy position to recover species in the face of a biodiversity crisis.

ARC is content with elements of the proposals, but has a fundamental objection to the removal of protection for the eight species unless and until equivalent measures are put in place to ensure desired outcomes for the species would be secure. We are discussing the matter with JNCC and the country agencies, and have been assured that our concerns will be examined.

You can read more about the Quinquennial Review here, and ARC’s formal submission here.