Planning and development – guidance

Protected species and sites: how to review planning proposals

Information for planners on reviewing development proposals that might affect protected species and sites, including the standing advice.

The content on this page is in beta and may be updated frequently.

Local planning authorities should take advice from Natural England or the Environment Agency about planning applications for developments that may affect protected species.

Some species have standing advice which you can use to help with planning decisions. For others you should contact Natural England or the Environment Agency for an individual response.

You also need to consider if a development will affect a protected area or site. These are:

Standing advice for protected species

The following guides explain what developers must do to stay within the law, and what you need to check in their planning proposals. Use this advice if it applies to a planning proposal you’re assessing:

The standing advice can help you reach decisions but in itself doesn’t determine if a protected species will be affected by a development. It doesn’t indicate whether Natural England will grant the applicant a mitigation licence. You need to judge each case on its own merits - you shouldn’t need developers to do surveys for protected species unless there is a reasonable likelihood of the species being present and affected by the development.

You can get expert advice, for example from a county ecologist, to help you apply the standing advice to planning decisions.

Contact Natural England

You must contact Natural England if you’re dealing with a protected species that’s not covered in the standing advice, and for planning proposals that:

  • are likely to damage the features of an SSSI
  • are likely to have a significant effect on an SAC, SPA or Ramsar site
  • involve the loss of more than 20 hectares of the best and most versatile agricultural land, if the development is not for agriculture or part of a development plan
  • are for minerals and waste developments where the land will be restored for agriculture
  • that need an environmental impact assessment

Consult Natural England if you think they have an interest in your:

Natural England will advise you on the acceptability of mitigation proposals but won’t give you alternative solutions for protected species issues.

Email planning proposals to

Natural England Consultation Service
Hornbeam House
Electra Way
Crewe Business Park

Natural England will usually respond to statutory planning consultations within 21 days.

When to contact the Environment Agency

Contact the Environment Agency if the proposal:

  • is likely to significantly affect protected aquatic or water-dependent species and habitats (like otters or freshwater fish)
  • may affect a river or canal
  • requires an environmental impact assessment
  • may require an environmental permit

Email planning proposals to:

Environment Agency
PO Box 544
S60 1BY

What to look for in planning proposals

Protected sites

Search the Magic map system to see if the development is in or near a protected site, including SSSIs, SPAs and SACs.

Check if the proposal could affect an SSSI, SPA, SAC or Ramsar site with the ‘risk zone’ feature in the map. You can also download the risk zone data for your own software. If the development activity is within the risk zone you’ll need to consult Natural England.

If your proposal affects a European protected site which is, or is proposed as, an SAC, SPA or Ramsar wetland, the planning authority will need to do a Habitats Regulations assessment. You may need to request extra information from the developer to help you do this assessment.

The National Planning Policy Framework has advice on assessing planning proposals that affect SSSIs, SPAs and SACs.

Check for steps to avoid harming species

Check if the applicant has taken steps to avoid affecting protected species. For example they could time the works to avoid the breeding season, or site the works far enough away from a protected species or habitat.

There’s specific guidance on competent authorities’ responsibilities for protecting wild birds and their habitats.

When to request a species survey

You should only ask an applicant to carry out a survey if there is a reasonable likelihood of protected species being present on the site, or affected by the development.

Type of building or land Species to survey for
Veteran (historical or important) trees, cellars, ice houses, old mines and caves Bat, breeding bird
Buildings with features suitable for bats, or large gardens in suburban and rural areas Bat, breeding bird, badger, reptile and great crested newt
Traditional timber-framed building (such as a barn or oast house) Bat, barn owl and breeding bird
Lakes, rivers and streams (on the land or nearby) Breeding bird, great crested newt, fish, otter, water vole and crayfish
Heathland on, nearby or linked to the site (by similar habitat) Breeding bird, badger, dormouse, reptile, invertebrate, natterjack toad and protected plants
Meadows, grassland, parkland and pasture on the land or linked to the site (by similar habitat) Bat, badger, breeding bird, great crested newt, invertebrate, reptile and protected plants
Ponds or slow-flowing water bodies (like ditches) on the site, or within 500m and linked by semi-natural habitat such as parks or heaths Breeding bird, fish, great crested newt, water vole, invertebrate and crayfish
Rough grassland and previously developed land (brownfield sites), on or next to the site Breeding bird, reptile, invertebrate and protected plants
Woodland, scrub and hedgerows on, next to or linked to the site Bat, breeding bird, badger, dormouse, invertebrate, great crested newt, smooth snake and protected plants
Coastal habitats Breeding bird, fish, natterjack toad and invertebrates

Scoping surveys

Scoping surveys (often called an extended phase 1 surveys) are useful for assessing whether a species-specific survey is needed.

Timings for surveys

All surveys should be carried out at the right time of year, using methods that are right for the species and the area.

Species Best time of year to survey (dependent on weather conditions)
Badgers February to April and October to November
Bats (hibernation roosts) November to mid-March
Bats (summer roosts) May to mid-September
Bats (foraging/commuting) May to September
Birds (breeding) March to August
Birds (winter behaviour) October to March
Dormice May to September
Great crested newts (in water) mid-March to mid-June
Invertebrates April to September
Natterjack toads April to May
Otters Any time of year but better in summer as signs may get washed away in winter months
Reptiles mid-March to June and September
Water voles March to September
White-clawed crayfish July to September

Check the survey date

Ideally surveys should be from the most recent survey season, but this varies by species.

If applicants have to apply for a European protected species licence after receiving planning permission, Natural England expects them to carry out a walk-over check (and sometimes further full surveys) of the proposed development site within 3 months of submitting an application. This is to check that the habitats have not changed significantly since the initial survey.

Check for European protected species

You need to consider whether the proposal will affect a European protected species. Before you issue planning consent the applicant might need to take a different approach or need a different licence if their development will affect non-European protected species. Find out which licences apply to other protected species.

Check that mitigation measures are appropriate

If it’s not possible to avoid affecting the species, applicants should include mitigation measures to cancel or reduce the negative effects of a development. The applicant also needs to show how these measures will be implemented. It’s your responsibility as the planning authority to assess the mitigation plans for:

  • effectiveness
  • reliability
  • timing
  • delivery
  • duration
  • the difference they would make to the predicted impacts of the development

Check that compensation measures are appropriate

You should ask for compensatory measures if avoidance and mitigation would not be effective. Compensation should:

  • ensure that no more habitat is lost than is replaced (there’s no ‘net loss’)
  • provide like-for-like replacements
  • provide a better habitat in terms of quality or area, compared to what will be lost (if significant impacts on species are predicted)
  • make up for any lost connections between habitats

You may have to ensure that alternative sites for species are established far enough in advance so that they’re ready for the species that will use it.

You’ll need to agree and secure any mitigation or compensatory measures as part of the proposal. If the application involves a European protected species and compensation is being considered, it’s likely that the applicant will need a mitigation licence from Natural England to avoid breaking the law. You can also ask for compensation measures for non-European protected species, as part of your duty to conserve and enhance biodiversity.

You may have to agree a long-term management plan, and consider a section 106 agreement (or planning obligation) to secure funding. You can ask the applicant to set up long-term monitoring, management and maintenance to check that the mitigation measures are working, and change the measures if necessary.

Look out for enhancements

You should aim to conserve and enhance biodiversity, and to encourage biodiversity in and around developments. However, if a development affects European protected species and a licence will be required, Natural England will only issue a licence for the proportionate mitigation and compensation measures, not enhancements. Enhancement measures should be shown separately.

Planning conditions for extra surveys

Conditions requiring further surveys are sometimes used for outline or multi-phased developments. If it’s necessary, you can add a condition to ensure that there are additional or updated ecological surveys to check that the mitigation is still appropriate for the development at that stage.

Further information

Find out more about planning policy and wildlife legislation: