28 October 2021

The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC) has an update following concerns about a review of legal protection for amphibians and reptiles. As background, 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.

ARC has previously expressed significant concern over the terms of the current review, because the criteria indicated that eight species of amphibian and reptile would likely be removed from Schedule 5. Our view is that this loss of legal protection would have a material adverse effect on conserving these species. More details on the review can be found here and ARC’s initial detailed comments are here.

In recent months ARC has been in discussion about the review’s implications with other conservation charities, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (which is co-ordinating the review) and the country agencies (Natural Resources Wales, Natural England and NatureScot). Our understanding is that the Quinquennial Review process now takes into account more explicitly the potential impacts of the removal of species from the Schedules. This is being done by assessing the “conservation dependence” of those species, using the precautionary approach.

ARC has contributed to this process by submitting comments on conservation dependence, setting out the potential consequences for each of the eight at-risk species were they to be removed from Schedule 5. You can read our submission here. In summary, our view is that there is no compelling case for removing any of the eight species from Schedule 5. ARC has also suggested an increase in the level of legal protection given to the adder under Section 9, in light of significant declines.

We understand that JNCC and the country agencies have considered these views whilst formulating recommendations which will be subject to a public consultation starting on 8 November. After this consultation closes (likely to be late January 2022), any feedback will be considered by JNCC and the agencies, and in due course JNCC will submit formal advice to Ministers in Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Defra, who will make the final decision on any changes to the Schedules in their country. The recommendations are also subject to external peer review before going to Ministers.

Having received substantial correspondence on the Quinquennial Review, we appreciate the level of interest and concern among volunteers and professionals with an interest in reptiles and amphibians. We suggest the most useful next step will be to examine and if appropriate respond to the formal consultation in November, where we hope the concerns over de-listing species will be addressed. Keep an eye on JNCC’s website for details on the consultation. It is our understanding that there will be an opportunity to provide comments and additional evidence at that stage.

We are grateful to officials in JNCC and the agencies for useful discussions over the review, and we look forward to seeing the consultation shortly.