Plants: surveys and mitigation for development projects

What ecologists need to do for surveys and planning mitigation measures for protected plants, including some European protected species.

Applies to England

Survey reports and mitigation plans are required for development projects that could affect protected species, as part of getting planning permission or a mitigation licence. Surveys need to show whether protected species are present in the area or nearby, and how they use the site. Mitigation plans show how you’ll avoid, reduce or manage any negative effects to protected species.

This is Natural England’s species standing advice for local planning authorities who need to assess planning applications that affect protected plants.

This information should be used to decide what is needed for surveys and planning mitigation measures for protected plants. Ecologists need to decide which survey and mitigation methods are right for the project they’re working on. If this standing advice isn’t followed, they’ll have to include a statement with the planning application explaining why.

Where this guide says ‘you’ it means the ecologist.

Get more detail on:

How plants are protected

The following plants are European protected species (EPS) - they’re protected under European law:

  • creeping marshwort
  • early gentian
  • fen orchid
  • floating water-plantain
  • Killarney fern
  • lady’s slipper
  • marsh saxifrage
  • shore dock
  • slender naiad

You’re breaking the law if you do any of the following to an EPS plant (on purpose or by not taking enough care):

  • pick
  • cut
  • uproot
  • collect
  • destroy
  • possess
  • transport
  • sell, offer for sale, or exchange

This includes whole plants, dead plants or any part of a plant.

Many other plants are also protected.

It’s an offence to do any of the following on purpose:

  • pick
  • uproot
  • destroy
  • sell or offer for sale
  • possess or transport with the intention of selling

In addition, you must not uproot any wild plant without the landowner’s consent.

You could be sent to prison for up to 6 months and be fined £5,000 for each offence if you’re found guilty.

Many species of plants are Section 41 priority species but aren’t EPS or protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. However, they’re often part of assemblages and potential impacts upon these plants should be taken into account by the local planning authority.

Decide if you need to survey for protected plants

Survey for protected plants if distribution, habitat assessments and historical records suggest they may be present.

In many circumstances you won’t need a licence to survey protected plants. If in the course of your survey there is a risk of picking, uprooting or damaging protected plants then you’re likely to need a licence to survey them.

Survey methods

The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) publishes guidance on botanical surveys for different habitats.

For small sites, survey the entire area affected by the development and create an inventory of protected plant species. For larger sites, conduct targeted surveys of likely habitats by a suitably experienced person.

Assess the impacts

Ecologists must assess the impacts of development on protected plants if no mitigation measures were planned, and include the assessment with the planning or licence application.

Impacts to consider include:

  • killing or damaging the plants
  • changing the soil eg by adding rubble or nutrients
  • changing the groundwater, making the soil too wet or dry

Mitigation and compensation methods

Mitigation plans must address the potential impacts identified on plants by aiming to avoid negative effects eg by redesigning the scheme. If this isn’t possible, use mitigation measures to reduce the impacts. Use compensation measures if there are still negative impacts for plants.

Mitigation and compensation methods can include:

  • making sure the development covers a small area
  • keeping site traffic to a minimum
  • improving habitats
  • creating new areas of habitat
  • moving plants to a new location, but only as a last resort

Licensing for development

If the development plans are likely to harm EPS plants and can’t be avoided you can apply for a mitigation licence.

However, for Schedule 8 protected plants, licences can’t be issued for development purposes. In these circumstances you should try to avoid any harm to the plants.

If this isn’t possible, you should rely on the defences in the legislation. In extreme circumstances Natural England will consider a licence for the purposes of conservation if the plants have to be moved.

Published 13 October 2014
Last updated 23 April 2015 + show all updates
  1. added sampling rare aquatic plants link to first bullet point list "Get more detail on".

  2. Guidance fully updated in consultation with Natural England.

  3. First published.