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Conservation in the United Kingdom

Conservation in the United Kingdom

This page gives an overview of the complex structure of environmental and cultural conservation in the United Kingdom.

With the advent of devolved government for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and of evolving regional government for England, the responsibilities for environment and conservation in the United Kingdom have become more complicated.

There follows a list of the legislation, conservation bodies (both governmental and otherwise), and conservation designations, which work together to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the UK. A list of 'objects of conservation' provides further links.


Some of the key legislation which governs conservation issues in the UK. This list is not exhaustive.

  • Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979
  • Badgers Act 1991
  • Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000
  • Environment Act 1995
  • Environmental Protection Act 1990
  • Environment (Wales) Act 2016
  • National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949
  • Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006
  • Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990
  • Protection of Badgers Act 1992
  • Weeds Act 1959
  • Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Conservation bodies

Government departments

  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
  • Directorates of the Scottish Government: Environment and Forestry Directorate

Governmental bodies

The following are Executive Agencies of the UK government and regional executives, with note on their areas of responsibility.

United Kingdom

  • Joint Nature Conservation Committee — co-ordination of regional bodies
  • Forestry Commission — co-ordinating international forestry policy support and certain plant health functions in respect of trees and forestry.


  • Historic England — cultural and built heritage.
  • Natural England — nature and wildlife conservation, landscape protection.
  • Environment Agency — waterways, pollution, waste management.
  • Forestry England — Forestry management


The following are Public bodies of the Scottish Government, with notes on their areas of responsibility.

  • Forestry and Land Scotland — forestry management
  • Historic Environment Scotland — cultural and built heritage
  • NatureScot — landscape protection, wildlife conservation
  • Scottish Canals — management of inland waterways
  • Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) — waterways, pollution, waste management
  • Scottish Forestry — forestry regulation and support


  • Cadw — cultural and built heritage
  • Natural Resources Wales (NRW) (formerly Countryside Council for Wales, Forestry Commission Wales and Environment Agency Wales) — protection of landscapes and rural countryside, regulation of waterways, pollution, waste management

Northern Ireland

  • Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) — conservation of natural and built heritage
  • Forest Service Northern Ireland

Non-governmental organisations

Conservation designations

National parks

  • National parks

Areas designated by government agencies

The following designations are established or monitored by the executive agencies listed above.

Other United Kingdom conservation designations

  • Area of archaeological importance (under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979)
  • Area of archaeological potential
  • Conservation area
  • Country park
  • Green belt (intended to be a planning policy rather than a conservation designation, but often interpreted as the latter)
  • Listed building
  • Local nature reserve
  • Regional park
  • Regionally important geological site

International conservation designations

  • Biosphere reserves
  • Ramsar sites
  • Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
  • Special Protection Area (SPA)
    • SACs and SPAs are part of Natura 2000
  • World Heritage Sites

Other United Kingdom conservation policies

  • Article 4 direction
  • United Kingdom Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP)

Objects of conservation

United Kingdom

  • Botanical gardens in the United Kingdom
  • Chalk figures in the United Kingdom
  • Forests in the United Kingdom
  • Heritage railway
  • List of abbeys and priories
  • List of castles
  • List of gardens
  • List of historic houses
  • Long-distance footpaths in the United Kingdom
  • Piers
  • Roman sites in the United Kingdom
  • Watermills in the United Kingdom
  • Waterways in the United Kingdom
  • Windmills in the United Kingdom


  • List of monastic houses in England
  • Castles in Great Britain and Ireland
  • Cycleways in England
  • List of English Heritage properties
  • Gardens in England
  • List of country houses in the United Kingdom
  • Lighthouses in England
  • List of National Trust properties in England
  • Treasure Houses of England


  • List of monastic houses in Scotland
  • Castles in Scotland
  • Cycleways in Scotland
  • Gardens in Scotland
  • List of country houses in the United Kingdom
  • Lighthouses in Scotland
  • National Trust for Scotland


  • List of monastic houses in Wales
  • List of castles in Wales
  • Cycleways in Wales
  • Gardens in Wales
  • List of country houses in the United Kingdom
  • Lighthouses in Wales
  • List of Cadw properties
  • List of National Trust properties in Wales

Northern Ireland

  • List of monastic houses in Ireland
  • List of castles in Ireland
  • Cycleways in Northern Ireland
  • Gardens in Northern Ireland
  • List of country houses in the United Kingdom
  • Lighthouses in Northern Ireland
  • List of National Trust properties in Northern Ireland
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See also

  • Biodiversity Action Plan
  • List of Conservation topics
  • Conservation in Scotland


Further reading

  • Clapp, Brian William. An Environmental history of Britain since the industrial revolution (Routledge, 2014).
  • Sheail, John. Rural Conservation in Inter-War Britain (1981) online
  • Sheail, John. An Environmental History of Twentieth-Century Britain (Red Globe Press, 2002)
  • Simmons, Ian G. An environmental history of Great Britain : from 10,000 years ago to the present (Edinburgh University Press), 2001.

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: Conservation in the United Kingdom by Wikipedia (Historical)