Construction near protected areas and wildlife

Information for developers on how to avoid harming protected areas and species during development work.

Applies to England

Protected areas

You are responsible for finding out if your development is likely to affect a protected area or site. Your planning authority may not grant you planning permission if it damages a protected area or site.

The following areas are protected:

Search the mapping tool to see if your development is in or near protected land. To find out how your development proposals will be affected by a protected site, contact your local planning authority.

You can get advice from Natural England if your plans affect protected areas. You might have to pay a fee.

Protected sites

You must consider how your development proposal will affect any nearby SSSI, SPA, SAC or Ramsar wetland sites.

For land-based protected sites, you can:

Your planning authority may consult Natural England if the SSSI Impact Risk Zone data shows that your development proposal may affect a land-based SSSI, SAC, SPA or Ramsar wetland. They can ask you to change your plans, do the work in a certain way or refuse you planning permission.

Government agencies, councils and other public bodies need to request permission from Natural England for activities that could damage SSSIs.

If your proposal also affects a European protected site which is, or is proposed as, a SAC, SPA or Ramsar wetland, the planning authority will need to do a Habitats Regulations assessment. You may need to give the planning authority extra information to help them do this assessment, such as extra survey information.

Protected species

Many species of plant and animal in England, and their habitats, are protected by law. What you can and cannot do by law varies from species to species.

European protected species

European protected species have the highest level of protection and include:

You’re breaking the law if you:

  • capture, kill, disturb or injure a European protected species (on purpose or by not taking enough care)
  • damage or destroy a breeding or resting place (even accidentally)
  • obstruct access to their resting or sheltering places (on purpose or by not taking enough care)
  • possess, sell, control or transport live or dead individuals, or parts of them

Disturbing a protected species includes any deliberate activity that affects:

  • a group’s ability to survive, breed or raise their young
  • the species’ numbers or range in the local area

If you’re found guilty of an offence you could get an unlimited fine and up to 6 months in prison.

Other protected species

Other protected species and groups include:

You need to:

Changes brought in by the Environment Act 2021 mean that you also need a mitigation licence for animals and plants listed in schedule 5 and schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Decide if you need a mitigation licence

You’ll need to decide if your project will affect a protected species or its habitat, and whether you’ll need a licence. You can get expert advice from an ecologist to help you decide.

You should try everything possible to avoid disturbing the species, or blocking access or damaging its habitat. You should plan the work to avoid harming protected species by either:

  • doing the work at times of year which will cause the least harm
  • applying other mitigation methods that do not require a licence

If this is not possible and your activity will affect the species, you can apply for a mitigation licence. Applying for a licence should be your last resort and only applies to a minority of cases. Your ecologist should help you with your application.

Your ecologist will conduct surveys to show how the species uses the area, and develop mitigation plans to reduce any negative effects.

You need to include the following in your licence application:

  • survey findings
  • impact assessments
  • mitigation plans to reduce harm to the species
  • compensation plans to reduce the effects of impacts that cannot reasonably be avoided or mitigated

Find out when you need to apply for a licence.

Get expert help

If you apply for a mitigation licence from Natural England, you’ll need an ecologist to:

  • carry out surveys to work out how your activity will affect the species
  • develop your mitigation and compensation plans
  • help with your licence application

You can find an ecologist from:

Appointing an ecologist is not required by law, but you’ll need expert help with your mitigation licence application.

When you need a survey

Commission a survey by an experienced and qualified ecologist if you think protected species could be present on or near the site you intend to develop. If there’s no evidence of protected species, you can continue with your development or planning application.

If the survey shows that protected species use the site, your ecologist will:

  • assess the impacts of your development
  • adjust the plans if possible
  • arrange mitigation strategies to reduce or compensate for any damage
  • tell you if you need a mitigation licence from Natural England

Surveys should be done at the right time of year. Read the how to review planning proposals guidance to find out when you can do surveys.

Mitigation and compensation plans

Your planning authority is likely to refuse planning permission if your proposal would harm protected species. You’ll need to show that you’ve considered the following steps.

Avoid harming the species, for example by locating the works far enough away from protected species.

If you cannot avoid affecting the species, reduce (mitigate) harm to them, for example by restoring habitats to how they were before the development. If avoidance and mitigation are not possible, compensate for any harmful effects, for example by creating new habitats.

You may need to include a mitigation strategy with your survey report if you’re applying for planning permission. The planning authority will review your mitigation plans along with the survey data to assess how your proposals will affect wildlife. If you’re applying for mitigation licences from Natural England, you’ll include mitigation plans and survey findings as part of your method statement.

Your mitigation strategy should aim to:

  • maintain species’ population size and distribution
  • enhance the population in the medium to long term
  • avoid harming other species

Apply for a licence

It usually takes 30 working days to get an individual licence. Not all individual licences are free of charge.

Find out when you need to apply for a licence.

You should get planning permission (if it’s required) before applying for a mitigation licence.

Get advice about your licence application

You can get advice from Natural England about your draft licence application. This advice is available for bats, beavers, great crested newts and hazel dormice. You’ll have to pay a fee.


Wildlife licensing

Natural England
Horizon House
Deanery Road


Telephone 020 8026 1089

Further information

Find out what planning authorities look for in applications that affect protected sites and species.

Published 6 October 2014
Last updated 6 December 2023 + show all updates
  1. Updated information on Impact Risk Zones for sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs).

  2. Page updated because of new requirements for protected species mitigation licences for animals and plants in schedule 5 and schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (brought in by the Environment Act 2021).

  3. Added beavers to sections ‘European protected species’ and ‘Get advice about your licence application’.

  4. Updated the section on 'exceptional cases' for carrying out works without a licence.

  5. First published.