Tougher laws aimed at protecting animals and their habitats come into force this week.
Britain has strengthened legislation through the Habitats Regulations and new Offshore Marine Conservation Regulations to fall into line with EU laws.
Dolphins, marine turtles and otters are included on the list of European Protected Species who will benefit.
The new laws mean that offenders will no longer be able to claim incidental damage as a defence if they are prosecuted.
It will mean the killing, capturing or disturbing, or damaging or destroying a breeding site or resting place of a protected species will result in prosecution.
Developers, farmers and utility companies will have a duty to give extra consideration to potential environmental damage before they undertake any projects.
The new Offshore Marine Conservation Regulations will extend protection to marine species, wild birds and habitats out to 200 nautical miles. A number of Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas in the offshore area will be identified and protected.
Jon Abbatt of ADAS, an environmental advisory company, said: ” People need to be aware of these changes. No longer will it prove an adequate defence to suggest that damage to any European protected species or their habitat was accidental, or due to lack of knowledge of the existence of a species on a specific site.”
He said an environmental survey needed to be undertaken before any work was undertaken.
“Given the growing list of plants and animals now classified as protected, no area can be designated as ‘safe’ without a detailed survey,” he said.
Biodiversity Minister, Barry Gardiner, said: “The changes to the Habitats Regulations will provide improved protection for European Protected Species, and just as importantly, improved protection for their habitats.
Those carrying out activities that may affect these species will now have to consider whether the activity is really necessary. If it is, and the potential effects on these species cannot be avoided, they should apply for a licence from the relevant authority.”
The new Offshore Marine Conservation Regulations will extend protection out to 200 nautical miles.
Marine and Fisheries Minister, Ben Bradshaw, said: “Protection is being given to marine species, wild birds and habitats mainly through tougher laws and improved protection of the marine environment.
“To help do this we will also be identifying and protecting a number of Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas in the offshore area. We will consult on the first seven draft sites later this year.
“The new Offshore Marine Conservation Regulations apply to all sea users in the offshore area and prohibit the deliberate killing or disturbance of European Protected Species, including dolphins, turtles and sturgeon.”
*The new Offshore Marine Conservation Regulations will extend protection to marine species, wild birds and habitats out to 200 nautical miles.
A number of Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas in the offshore area will be identified and protected.
The Joint Nature Conservation Committee will consult on the first seven draft sites later this year. The seven areas are:
North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef, Haig Fras, Darwin Mounds, Wyville Thomson Ridge, Braemar Pockmarks, Scanner Pockmark, and Stanton Banks.