Biodiversity and planning

Guidance and information required for planning applications.

Biodiversity in Oxfordshire

Guidance on the biodiversity resource of Oxfordshire

The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), Oxfordshire County Council and the Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) have worked in partnership to produce a Biodiversity and Planning guidance document.

The guidance uses maps to illustrate biodiversity in Oxfordshire and combines planning policy with information about wildlife sites, habitats and species to help identify where biodiversity should be protected.

The guidance also gives advice on opportunities for enhancing biodiversity.

Who will benefit from the guidance?

This guidance will help:

  • anyone who wants to know more about the wildlife of Oxfordshire and its conservation
  • planning officers
  • anyone writing a neighbourhood plan
  • anyone submitting a planning application.

Protected species and 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.

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 and Planning Practice Guidance

The National Planning Policy Framework 2019 (NPPF) provides guidance for planning authorities and developers on the development of plans and making planning decisions. Section 15 of the NPPF deals with conserving and enhancing the natural environment.

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previous Government Circular on Biodiversity and Geological Conservation (ODPM Circular 06/2005), which has now been withdrawn.

Conservation Target Areas

Within Oxfordshire 37 Conservation Target Areas (CTA) have been identified that together include some of the most important areas for wildlife conservation in the county, where targeted conservation action will have the greatest benefit. CTAs cover just over 20% of the county by area (526.2 km²) and contain 95% of the Site of Special Scientific Interest land area in Oxfordshire.

Each CTA supports one or more of the 20 priority habitats found in Oxfordshire. They provide a focus for coordinated delivery of biodiversity work, agri-environment schemes and biodiversity enhancements through the planning system. CTA maps (CTA Maps) show where the greatest gains can be made from habitat enhancement, restoration and creation, as these areas offer the best opportunities for establishing large habitat areas and/or networks of wildlife habitats.

Legislation summary

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

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 indicates whether an ecological survey may be needed.

Don't leave it too late

The earlier in the pre-application process protected species are considered the less likely there will be expensive delays. 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.

What an ecological survey needs to contain

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 and 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 2017.

Biodiversity Net Gain

All new developments will need to demonstrate that a measurable net gain in biodiversity will be achieved, in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework 2019. A useful way to demonstrate that a measureable gain in biodiversity is achieved is through the use of a metric, such as the metric produced by DEFRA.

Consultancy services

The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) 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 is already underway

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 - Thames Valley Police -  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).

Information required for ecology reports in planning applications

Information required for ecology reports (pdf format, 200Kb)