Being recognised as a priority habitat helps environmental organisations, government agencies, councils, landowners and others to protect and enhance those habitats.
Specifically, priority habitats form part of the UK government’s commitment to the International Convention on Biodiversity in which each signatory to the Convention is required to define a range of habitats (and individual species) where action is a priority to protect and restore biodiversity, and then to take the necessary action. Priority habitats occurring in England are listed under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, which provides the legal basis for their conservation. In England, the government strategy Biodiversity 2020 now governs action on priority habitats and species.
The priority habitat maps are used by Natural England, the Environment Agency, planning authorities and others to highlight where decision-making needs to take particular account of habitat naturalness, for instance in the targeting of agri-environment measures and the consideration of planning applications and flood defence permits.
The maps can also be used in planning any restoration measures to enhance and extend natural habitat function. For instance, the Freshwater Habitats Trust is generating maps of freshwater biodiversity hotspots, which can be used in conjunction with priority habitat maps to understand where recolonization of restored habitat may be strongest. In these areas, creating new clean water ponds, or managing ponds which are currently degraded to make them more naturally functioning (and particularly, free from pollution) will help endangered species and rich communities expand from well-protected naturally functioning locations.