Protected species and planning | Oxfordshire County Council

Protected species and planning

The implications of protected species for proposed developments

Barn owl

Planning policy

A number of native wildlife species are protected by either UK or European legislation because they have suffered large population declines over recent years. Therefore if any of these species are found on a proposed development site, a mitigation strategy and possibly a licence from Natural England will be required before works affecting that species can be carried out.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Local Plans set out planning policies for the protection of biodiversity through the planning system. Paragraph 165 of the NPPF states that planning policies and decisions should be based on up-to-date information on the natural environment and other characteristics of the area.

Further information on how the natural environment and biodiversity are considered within the planning system can be found in Planning Practice Guidance, which can be accessed alongside the NPPF.

The Planning Practice Guidance published in 2014 supersedes the previous Government Circular on Biodiversity and Geological Conservation (ODPM Circular 06/2005), which has now been withdrawn.

Legislation summary

In relation to activities likely to be carried out during development, UK and European wildlife legislation makes it illegal to:

For bats, dormice, water voles, otters and great crested newts:

  • intentionally kill, injure or take from the wild
  • damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place used by the species whether or not the animals are in occupation
  • intentionally or recklessly disturb the species while they are in a place of shelter or protection.

For reptiles:

  • intentionally or recklessly kill or injure any native reptile.

For birds:

  • intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest or eggs of any wild bird species.
  • kill, injure or take any wild bird species.
  • intentionally or recklessly disturb any wild bird listed on Schedule 1 while it is nesting, near a nest with young or disturb the dependent young of such a bird.

For badgers:

  • interfere with a badger sett by damaging or destroying it.
  • obstruct access to, or any entrance of, a badger sett.
  • disturb a badger when it is occupying a sett.

For white-clawed crayfish:

  • intentionally or recklessly kill or injure.

Wildlife licences

Wildlife licences (also known as Habitat Regulations licences) permit otherwise unlawful activities, and can only be granted for certain purposes. Natural England National Wildlife Licensing Unit issues these licences on the basis of three ‘tests’ being met. These are:

  • The consented operation must be for “preserving public health or public safety or other imperative reasons of overriding public interest including those of a social or economic nature and beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment”
  • There must be “no satisfactory alternative”
  • The action authorised “will not be detrimental to the maintenance of the population of the species concerned at a favourable conservation status in their natural range''.

For further information on the relevant legislation and planning policy see Natural England's website on Protected Species and the Planning System. This page also contains links to more detailed information about dealing with protected species in the planning system, determining whether or not an ecological survey is required and specific protected species and how Natural England applies the three tests.

How this affects your planning application

It is the duty of the applicant to provide sufficient information to support a planning application. Pre-application consultation with the relevant planning authority is recommended to identify any information and survey requirements and prevent delays caused by insufficient information, since the planning department should not register an application without the appropriate surveys if they have been deemed necessary.

The Habitats and Features decision tree on Natural England’s website gives an indication as to whether or not an ecological survey may be needed. The earlier on in the pre-application process protected species are considered the less likely there is to be delays later on, which can be expensive. This is because some species can only be surveyed for at certain times of the year and you may need to wait up to a year to gather all the information needed.

If an ecological survey report is needed to accompany your planning application, it should contain the following information:

  • Introduction
  • Survey approach / methodology
  • Survey findings / results
  • History of protected species on the site (if any) using data from TVERC
  • Importance of the species found in a local /national context
  • Evaluation & recommendations
  • Mitigation required
  • Opportunities for ecological enhancement
  • Whether a Habitat Regulations Licence will be required
  • Summary of further survey requirements (if any)
  • If a proposed development is likely to require a Habitats Regulations licence, the applicant must state how the development meets the ‘3 tests’ in order that the planning authority can demonstrate that they have considered the impacts of the development against the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.

The Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM) maintains a directory of members who offer ecological consultancy services. It is advisable to speak to several consultancies to find one that best fits your requirements and budget. If a European protected species (bat, dormouse, otter, water vole or great crested newt) is likely to be affected, check that a surveyor is available who holds the necessary licence to carry out the work.

If you find protected species on an area to be developed

A list of species covered by UK and European legislation can be found on Natural England’s Protected Species Lists. If you think that proposed development on the site will breach appropriate legislation, contact the relevant planning authority or search their website to determine whether or not there is a current application being considered for the site.

If there is an application currently being considered, find out if an ecological survey report has been submitted and whether or not it takes into account the species present. If not, inform the relevant planning officer and the planning authority ecologist. If permission has already been granted and the species in question has not been considered, it is still worth contacting the planning authority since further surveys may yet need to be done and there may still be time to adapt plans if necessary.

If development on a site is already underway and you suspect that activities will affect a protected species on that site in a way that is illegal (e.g. a barn conversion where bats have been seen but no licence has been obtained) then it is a civil matter rather than a planning one. In this case contact your local Wildlife Crime Officer (see below) who may have time to investigate. It is always helpful in such instances to have evidence of the presence of protected species on the site before work started.

In all cases, you should submit the record(s) to your local Biological Records Centre so that the information can inform future development. In Oxfordshire, this is the Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC); send the details to one of the Data and Wildlife Records contacts listed (including the date and grid reference if possible).

Further contacts

Thames Valley Police non-emergency number: 0845 8 505 505

Last reviewed
11 July 2017
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