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Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004

Section 16 Operations by owners or occupiers of sites of special scientific interest

115.Subsection (1) prohibits an owner or occupier of land within an SSSI from carrying out, or causing or permitting to be carried out an ORC, except with written consent from SNH. Contravention of this provision is a criminal offence under section 19. Consent is obtained on application under subsection (2). The requirement for consent is set aside in certain specified circumstances defined in section 17(1).

116.It should be noted that, by virtue of section 17(4), sections 16 and 17 do not apply to any public body which is the owner and occupier of SSSI land. This means that any operations carried out on SSSI land by, or on behalf of, a public body will be dealt with under the provisions of sections 13 and 14, rather than under sections 16 and 17. The effect of sections 16 and 17 is therefore limited to private owners and occupiers. This distinction between public bodies and private owners and occupiers is reflected in the notes which follow.

117.It should also be borne in mind that “public body” has a broad meaning in the context of the Act and that it encompasses any body which is carrying out functions of a public nature. Because of this, there may occasionally be circumstances in which a body which usually carries out functions in a private capacity may be responsible to carry out functions of a public nature in one area of activity (e.g. if a public body sub-contracts some of its functions to it). The body would be a “public body” in that context. Where a body has dual capacity the application of the Act will be determined by whether or not, in any particular circumstance, the body is acting in pursuance of its public functions or whether it is operating in a purely private capacity.

118.In contrast to public bodies, a private land manager is required by section 16 only to have regard to the ORC list notified to him/her by SNH. Whilst public bodies are obliged to be pro-active and to anticipate any potential risks, there is no strict legal requirement imposed by section 16 on private land managers to think more generally about non-ORC list operations which might be likely to damage the SSSIs natural features.

119.If an operation is not on the ORC list then consent is not required from SNH and the owner/occupier does not have to consult SNH. Neither is there any legal obligation on the owners or occupiers of neighbouring land to consult SNH about the potential impacts of operations on their land on adjacent SSSI land. It should be noted however that powers have been provided within the Act (in section 7, via nature conservation orders, and in section 45) which allow SNH or the Scottish Ministers to take emergency action to address potential threats from otherwise unregulated operations, should it prove necessary to do so. Private land managers, whilst not formally obliged to look beyond the immediate context of the ORC list, are advised to be generally aware of the existence of these special powers.

120.Subsection (2) specifies that an application for consent to carry out an ORC must detail the nature of the operation, set out the proposed dates of commencement and completion and define the land on which it is proposed to carry out the operation.

121.Subsection (3) provides that SNH may, on receipt of an application made under subsection (2), consent to or refuse permission for an operation. Where it consents to the ORC it may impose such conditions as it thinks fit.

122.Subsection (4) makes it explicit that any conditions imposed under subsection (3) can, in particular, restrict the manner in which the operation is to be carried out or specify that the operation may only be carried out on part of the land in question. SNH may also stipulate that the operation can only be carried out for, or within, a certain period of time (for example outwith the breeding season for important species). The conditions imposed by SNH are not however limited to the examples given in subsection (4).

123.Subsection (5) provides that SNH may, on completion of a review of ORCs and related consents under section 6(4), modify or withdraw consent to an operation by giving notice to the person to whom consent was given. SNH may also modify or withdraw consent where it considers that carrying out the operation even in accordance with the consent will damage the SSSI in a manner which was not foreseen at the time the consent was given. In the latter case, (i.e. where subsection (5)(b) applies) SNH may only modify or withdraw the consent with the agreement of the Scottish Ministers and this proviso is set out in subsection (6).

124.It should be noted that the modification or withdrawal of consent may affect the ability of a land manager to continue with the established management of the land and that this may, in turn, give rise to a right to a compensatory management agreement in accordance with subsection (9). SNH is required to have regard to the Financial Guidelines to be published as statutory guidance under section 54 in deciding whether it should offer to enter into such an agreement.

125.Subsections (7) and (8) define the point at which a modification or withdrawal of consent take effect. In the case of a modification or withdrawal under subsection (5)(a) (i.e. following an ORC review carried out under section 6(4)) the change does not take effect until the expiry of the deadline for any appeal against the decision or, where an appeal has been brought, the point at which it is withdrawn or finally determined. Appeals must be lodged, by virtue of section 18(2) within 28 days of notice being given by SNH.

126.In the case of a modification or withdrawal under subsection (5)(b), for which SNH has obtained the agreement of the Scottish Ministers, the change has immediate effect. This means that any operations covered by the consent must also cease (or be altered to reflect the modified consent) with immediate effect. An appeal must again be lodged within 28 days (see section 18(2)) but operations would only be permitted to resume in the originally consented form in the event that any appeal is determined in favour of the land manager.

127.Subsection (9) obliges SNH to offer to enter into a management agreement in certain specified circumstances. In doing so, SNH must act in accordance with the Financial Guidelines which are to be published as statutory guidance under section 54. Copies of the Financial Guidelines can be obtained from the address given in paragraph 18 of these notes.

128.The circumstances in which SNH is required to offer a management agreement are described in subsection (9) and are subject to two requirements.

129.Firstly, the obligation to offer an agreement can only apply where SNH:

  • refuses to consent to an operation being carried out;

  • makes its consent subject to conditions; or

  • modifies or withdraws its consent.

130.SNH must also have regard to the Financial Guidelines in determining whether it should enter into a management agreement. Where SNH considers that it should offer an agreement it must make such an offer on such terms and conditions as it thinks fit, having had regard to the formal guidance contained in the Financial Guidelines. The terms and conditions offered may include provision for any payments to the land manager which SNH, having had regard to the Financial Guidelines, consider appropriate in the circumstances.

131.Subsection (10) requires SNH to give an applicant reasons for a decision to make its consent subject to conditions, to refuse consent, to modify or withdraw its consent, or not to offer to enter into a management agreement in pursuance of subsection (9)(a). This provision is intended to ensure the transparency and openness of decision-making and to make it easier for any aggrieved party to challenge such a decision in an informed and effective manner. Specific rights of appeal are dealt with in section 18.

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