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Financial guidelines for supporting the management of Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Natura 2000 sites

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Financial guidelines for supporting the management of Sites of Special Scientific Interest Natura 2000 sites

Section 1: Introduction

1.1 These Financial Guidelines set out Scottish Executive policy in relation to the availability of financial support for the management of Sites of Special Scientific Interest ("SSSIs") and Natura 2000 sites ("Natura sites").

1.2 In issuing this guidance, the Scottish Ministers recognise that there are circumstances in which it is appropriate for public funding to be made available to assist with the management of land which is of special nature conservation interest.

1.3 SSSIs and Natura sites are protected in law and all land managers are obliged to comply with the important legal obligations which arise under relevant legislation.

1.4 Financial support may, nonetheless, be appropriate where additional management operations, over and above normal economically-viable activity, or the requirements of legal compliance, are desirable or necessary in order to conserve or enhance the biological or geological features of a protected site. Payments may also be appropriate where the protection given to an SSSI or Natura site means that established land management operations have to be restricted or discontinued. In such circumstances individual land managers should not be expected to carry a disproportionate share of the cost of achieving conservation objectives which benefit society as a whole.

1.5 These Financial Guidelines explain the basis on which the Scottish Ministers expect managers of SSSIs and Natura sites to be able to access appropriate sources of public funding. The Guidelines are intended primarily for the use of Scottish Natural Heritage ("SNH") and those, such as land managers and their professional advisers, who require to work closely with SNH in order to secure the conservation and enhancement of SSSIs and Natura sites.

1.6 The principal objectives of this guidance are:

  • to provide a general framework of recommendations and advice covering publicly funded management schemes and agreements for the conservation and enhancement of SSSIs and Natura sites;

  • to specify, where necessary, the detailed expectations of the Scottish Ministers in relation to matters such as eligibility for payments and the terms and conditions on which management agreements should be offered;

  • to assist land managers in understanding both their rights to compensation and the wider opportunities which exist for them to obtain financial support for "added value" management activity;

  • to provide the formal guidance to SNH required in connection with, and explicitly referred to in, section 16(9) of the 2004 Act;

  • to provide a formal guidance document to which other bodies, and in particular the Scottish Land Court, may refer in the course of dispute resolution procedures or legal action; and

  • to ensure overall transparency, equality of treatment and value for money.

Legal status of the Financial Guidelines

1.7 These Financial Guidelines are guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers under the powers conferred by section 54(1) of the 2004 Act.

1.8 The recommendations, advice and information contained in relevant sections of this document provide formal guidance to SNH as to the circumstances in which, and the terms and conditions on which, it should offer to enter into a management agreement in situations where section 16(9) of the 2004 Act applies. SNH is required under section 16(9) to have regard to these Financial Guidelines in deciding whether to offer a compensatory management agreement and in determining the terms of any such agreement.

1.9 These Financial Guidelines have effect from the date on which the relevant provisions of the 2004 Act, and in particular section 16, come into force.

1.10 With effect from the same date, these Financial Guidelines replace the publication, Financial Guidelines for Management Agreements5, issued by the Scottish Office (Department for Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland) on 11 February 1983.

Policy and legislative background

1.11 The origins of the 2004 Act, and of these Financial Guidelines, lie in the policy statement The Nature of Scotland6, which was published by the Scottish Executive in March 2001.

1.12 Alongside measures dealing with the conservation of biodiversity and the prevention of wildlife crime, The Nature of Scotland proposed significant reforms to the way in which SSSIs are managed and protected. The Nature of Scotland established the following principles:

  • SSSIs should remain at the heart of the system for protecting Scotland's natural heritage, in a way which respects both the importance of the natural features they protect and the sustainable development which rural communities depend upon;

  • increased resources should be available to provide incentives for the positive management of SSSIs by their owners or occupiers, so that more land managers should be able to manage SSSI land in a way which benefits both them and the wider public interest;

  • large compensation payments which reward people for not undertaking environmentally damaging new projects should end. Land managers should no longer be paid simply for not carrying out work which threatens the nature conservation interest of an SSSI;

  • owners or occupiers of land should not suffer disadvantage if the measures needed to protect an SSSI prevent them from pursuing their normal, established land management activities and they incur genuine loss as a result. Where the established management of the land has to be altered or restricted, in order to protect an SSSI, land managers should be compensated for such losses;

  • SNH should have the power to refuse consent for operations which are likely to damage an SSSI, subject however to the creation of an effective independent appeals mechanism to allow such decisions to be challenged;

  • effective powers and appropriate incentives should be provided to ensure that land is managed in a way which secures its conservation interest. In exceptional situations it should be possible to oblige land managers to carry out work which is necessary to conserve the site.

  • Significantly higher penalties should be provided for deliberate damage to SSSIs, damage by third parties should be addressed and public bodies (including regulators and statutory undertakers) should take a more active role in protecting and conserving sites.

1.13 These core principles were widely consulted upon in 2001 and welcomed by a broad range of interested parties. Detailed policy proposals were then developed in close co-operation with key stakeholders including, in particular, representatives of farming, landowning, conservation, professional and public interests. A draft Bill implementing the original Nature of Scotland principles was published by the Scottish Executive, together with a draft version of these Financial Guidelines, for public consultation in March 2003.

1.14 That consultation resulted in the introduction in the Scottish Parliament in September 2003 of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Bill. Following detailed parliamentary scrutiny, the Bill was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament on 5 May 2004 and received Royal Assent, as the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 7, on 11 June 2004.

1.15 The 2004 Act makes specific provision, in section 54, for the Scottish Ministers to issue guidance containing recommendations and advice for the use of both SNH and land managers. These Financial Guidelines have been issued in accordance with that power. They are intended to be used by all parties in addition to the 2004 Act, as the authoritative source of information on the Scottish Executive's expectations as regards entitlements to management agreements and the terms and conditions of such agreements.

1.16 The Scottish Ministers will continue to monitor the application of these Financial Guidelines and will review their content as necessary 8. Revisions will be made in the light of experience of the practical application of the Guidelines and of the continuing evolution of policy on financial support for different forms of land management. Any revision to the Guidelines will be re-issued following consultation with interested parties.

1.17 It should be noted that these Guidelines reflect information, for example on agri-environment arrangements and the requirements of the Rural Development Regulation 9, which is current as of October 2004 but which will be subject to change in the future. There is, for example, already a proposal for a new Regulation for a European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development from 2007. Where such changes impact upon entitlements to financial support as set out in these Financial Guidelines, the Scottish Ministers expect SNH and other interested parties (in the absence of revised Guidelines) to interpret these Guidelines in a manner which ensures that the underlying principles continue to apply in the way originally intended.

Further guidance and advice

1.18 Specific information on obtaining financial support in the form of an SNH management agreement, or under schemes such as Natural Care, the Rural Stewardship Scheme or the Scottish Forestry Grant Scheme, can be obtained from the contacts given in Annex C.

1.19 Further general guidance covering the wider responsibilities of public bodies and others under both the SSSI and Natura systems is available separately from the Scottish Executive.

1.20 Land managers with responsibility for land within SSSIs and Natura sites can obtain guidance and advice on conservation and land management matters from SNH, and are advised to contact their local SNH Area Officer in the first instance.

1.21 These Guidelines should be read in conjunction with the relevant provisions of the 2004 Act. Where land forms part of a Natura site, the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994 ("the 1994 Regulations") 10, as amended, which set out provisions to ensure protection of Natura sites, should also be consulted.