Governments at home and abroad recognise that achieving sustainable development requires an understanding of biodiversity (the diversity of life) and ways of maintaining this. Legislation and regulation at various levels aims to ensure that development or management proposals can proceed in a way that can maintain, or enhance, biodiversity. In order to do this, it is essential to understand the relationships between species, their habitats and the wider environment, when planning any change in land use at whatever scale.
As declines in plant and animal species or habitats of nature conservation value are recognised, many are given legal protection. Statutory consultees of planning applications (e.g. Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England) can recommend that developments are refused if protected species, sites or habitats are present on or near the development site. Failure to take account of legally protected species or habitats, even where consent is granted, can result in delays or even prosecution.