President Sheikh Khalifa issued a new law to regulate grazing in Abu Dhabi and safeguard the emirate's natural resources.
The legislation – which will be enforced by Environment Agency Abu Dhabi – stipulates that grazing areas must be two kilometres away from natural reserves and outside the borders of critical habitats.
Those wishing to manage grazing areas for camels and other livestock must apply for a permit from the authority.
The regulations aim to prevent overgrazing, protect the environment from desertification and ensure there is no further loss of native wild plants, which can in turn contribute to preventing soil erosion.
Grazing is the process of allowing livestock to directly consume the growing forage in a pasture or rangeland.
To obtain a grazing permit, an applicant must be a UAE citizen, at least 21 years old and have a valid certificate stating their ownership of the livestock from the concerned authorities, as well as a registered livestock farm from relevant authorities.
"Regulating grazing is vital to protect desert habitats, ensuring the preservation of biological diversity and enhancing sustainable resource use and encourage return to more traditional practices of grazing," the agency said.
"This will contribute to sustaining native wildlife, which are dependent on healthy desert habitats and plants, and are already under stress due to the harsh conditions, rapid development and climate change.
"Over the years, excessive grazing, alongside development pressures and climate change, have led to cumulative threats to desert ecosystems in the UAE.
"Field studies conducted in the emirate of Abu Dhabi in 1996 had already revealed at that time that a large portion of the land was experiencing high pressure as a result of grazing and this had affected the structure and distribution of plant communities."
Last year, the agency said the rising popularity of camel ownership across the UAE risked wiping out rare desert plant life.
A survey identified an urgent need to tackle the effects of camel overgrazing to ensure the protection of species.
Researchers described camel overgrazing as “one of the Emirates' main environmental challenges”.
They also set out extensive measures already being taken to help protect Abu Dhabi's under-pressure groundwater reserves, monitor and enhance air quality in the emirate and protect marine life.
“The camel is part of our tradition and culture in the UAE, so we have a lot of interest in owning camels,” said Ahmed Al Hashmi, acting executive director for biodiversity at the agency, which published the report last June.
“People use the desert as a grazing area for camels and without the proper management of these resources, we could lose them.
“So always, we are looking for sustainable grazing. We’re not against grazing; grazing is part of nature. But we’re looking for sustainability.”
The new law came as the agency was granted the power to increase fines for organisations that breach environmental regulations and close facilities who break the law.
Previously, the agency had more of an advisory role but on Tuesday, President Sheikh Khalifa gave EAD the authority to impose new administrative penalties to issue warnings and place facilities or organisations under financial, administrative and technical supervision.
The agency also now has full control to close or temporarily suspend the activity of any organisation that breaches Abu Dhabi’s environmental laws.