DEFRA completed a review of the national implementation of the habitats directive in 2012. Although the review found that implementation was largely working well, it identified measures to improve things further, which have largely been delivered. In addition, the European Commission has started its own evaluation of the directive, which is due to conclude in the spring of 2016.
Before I receive any hate mail, may I say that I am a keen conservationist and that I like bats and newts? However, as my hon. Friend intimated, there are problems with the implementation of the EU habitats directive that are costing the taxpayer and private citizens huge amounts of money—millions and millions of pounds. I say gently to him that, during the review, Natural England and other agencies gold-plated the EU habitats directive to a great extent. Just to give an example, when I bought my semi-derelict house, there were 24 great crested newts in the cellar. If, heaven forfend, I had picked them all up and taken them outside, I would have been liable to spend 12 years in jail and pay a fine of £120,000.
My right hon. Friend is right. The Conservative party has a proud history of conservation. Indeed, we introduced the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. I point out to him that since our 2012 review, the changes to Natural England’s licensing procedures have saved applicants an estimated £535,000 and 678 weeks of delay. DEFRA has assisted the Church of England to produce guidance to simplify the consideration of bats in churches and has funded research into bat deterrence. DEFRA will continue to work with stakeholders to address the problems that he has identified.