Biodiversity and nature

Biological diversity - or biodiversity - means the huge variety of natural life on Earth such as the varied ecosystems, animals and plants as a result of millions of years of evolution on the planet.

The protection of nature and biodiversity is critical to all life on Earth.

We need to protect the planet’s complex ecosystems for their own intrinsic value and beauty, as well as to support our food production, our physical and mental health, to help mitigate climate change, and for economic reasons, as without the diversity of the natural world our economies would collapse.

Biodiversity and nature protection is led by country-specific strategies across the four nations. You can find out more information by clicking on the headings below.

Information on marine and water law and policy is available on the water page.


Law and policy


International agreements relates to biodiversity and nature. For example, the Convention on Biological Diversity was signed in 1992 by 150 governments and aims for biodiversity conservation. Other international environmental treaties include the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the 1979 Bern Convention of the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, the 1979 Bonn Convention on Migratory Species, the 1992 OSPAR Convention (for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic), and the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention. The UN General Assembly declared the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration from 2021-2030. In July 2021, the G7 Leaders signed the 2030 Nature Compact.

The UK is a signatory to these international agreements and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) reports on the UK's progress and activity. The UK Government has committed to protecting 30% of UK land by 2030 for biodiversity. Biodiversity and nature conservation are devolved matters and the main approach across the UK is to protect certain sites and species. The JNCC compiles a UK list of priority sites and species in each of the four countries.

Designated sites or protected areas include:

  • National Nature Reserves in all four countries
  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England, Scotland and Wales, and Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) in Northern Ireland
  • Marine Conservation Zones in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, and Marine Protected Areas in Scotland
  • Sites designated under EU law, including Special Protected Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)
  • Sites designated under the Ramsar Convention
  • Landscape designations: Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, and National Scenic Areas (NSAs) in Scotland; and National Parks in England, Scotland and Wales.

These designations often overlap. The JNCC compiles a list of protected areas across the UK.

The four governments have environment strategies, which are focused on biodiversity and nature protection. The UK Government introduced its first 'environmental improvement plan' for England, 'A green future: our 25-year plan for the environment' in 2018. The 'Northern Ireland Environment strategy' was approved in 2022. The 'Natural resource policy' for Wales aims for 'sustainable management of natural resources' and 'ecosystem resilience.' The Scottish Government introduced the 'Environment Strategy for Scotland' in 2020.


No content found

No content found

No content found


Nothing on this site constitutes legal advice. Specialist legal advice should be taken in relation to specific circumstances. The contents of this site are for general information purposes only. Further information can be found on UKELA’s Terms of use page.

If you need specific advice, see the page Further support for potential providers of legal advice and support.