NATURAL Resources Wales (NRW) have been accused of being in breach of its statutory duty to protect Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The body are specifically accused of failing to object to a development proposal that would have destroyed part of a SSSI in Mid Wales earlier this year.

Legal advice sought by the Initiative for Nature Conservation Cymru (INCC) from law firm Leigh Day indicates that NRW may be in breach of its statutory duties under several pieces of legislation including the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the the Environment (Wales) Act 2016.

The legal advice also highlighted that NRW failed to consider and comply with relevant national planning policy on the management and protections of SSSIs.

Most notably, NRW’s response ignored Planning Policy Wales guidance on ‘the presumption against development likely to damage SSSIs’.

If adopted more widely throughout Wales, we believe the consequence of NRW’s approach toward harmful developments on SSSIs would mean that instead of reversing biodiversity losses in Wales, even more species and habitats will be lost over the coming years.

In Gwent there are more than 100 SSSI spread over all Local Authorities and range from the very large such as the Gwent Levels to the small such as Mwyngloddfa Mynydd-Bach, which is just a few metres squared.

Rob Parry, Chief Executive of INCC said: “At a time when there is a real risk of species becoming extinct in Wales, we look to our Statutory Environmental Body and Environmental Decision Makers for support and leadership. But instead of solutions, they have become part of the problem”.

Carol Day, Solicitor with law firm Leigh Day, said: “NRW is under a duty to further the conservation and enhancement of SSSIs and to object to planning applications that would result in net damage to a SSSI. The failure to discharge this duty not only exposes SSSIs to inappropriate development, it unfairly delegates the responsibility for protecting these important areas to voluntary conservation bodies.”

Peter Jordan, Development Planning Advice Service Manager from Natural Resources Wales said: “Our Sites of Special Scientific Interest are an important part of Wales’s natural heritage, hosting a diverse range of rare plants, wildlife and landscapes.

“We recently met with The Initiative for Nature Conservation Cymru (INCC) and they have made us aware of their concerns relating to a specific planning consultation.

"We treat such matters very seriously and are in the process of reviewing the case. Once this has concluded we will share the outcome.”