Protected species: how to review planning applications
As a planning authority use Natural England’s standing advice to review applications that might affect protected species.
You must consider how a development might affect protected species on or near a proposed development site when reviewing a planning application.
There is separate guidance on how to review planning applications that affect protected sites and areas.
Use Natural England’s guidance (known as ‘standing advice’) to help you decide whether to reject or approve an application if a protected species could be affected. You need to take standing advice into account when making your planning decision.
Use an expert, such as your local authority ecologist, to help you apply the standing advice to planning decisions if you’re not a wildlife specialist.
Protected species standing advice:
- avoids the need to contact Natural England for an individual response for each planning application
- tells you which survey methods need to be used to detect whether a protected species is present and how they use the site
- helps you agree appropriate risk reduction and compensation measures to avoid harming a protected species
Standing advice for protected species
Read standing advice on:
- bats, all species
- great crested newts
- hazel or common dormice
- water voles
- wild birds
- protected plants
- white-clawed crayfish
- freshwater fish
- natterjack toads
- ancient woodland and veteran trees
For certain species a developer will need a wildlife licence before they can start work. Standing advice doesn’t affect licence requirements.
Check the wildlife licence guidance on European protected species and other protected species for when this applies. You need to be sure the applicant is likely to be granted a licence by Natural England before you can grant planning permission.
Who to contact
Contact Natural England if the standing advice doesn’t cover a:
- protected species that’s affected by a planning proposal
- specific issue which the standing advice doesn’t help you with
You must also contact Natural England if the proposal:
- might affect a protected site, such as a site of special scientific interest
- needs an environmental impact assessment
Natural England Consultation Service
Crewe Business Park
Contact the Environment Agency if a proposal is likely to:
- significantly affect aquatic species or water dependent species not covered by standing advice
- affect a river or canal and need an environmental impact assessment
- pollute the air, water or land, increase flood risk or affect land drainage and need an environmental permit
PO Box 544
Where species are likely to be found
See where protected species are likely to be present to assess the chance of development proposals affecting them.
|Habitat, building or land||Species to look for|
|Veteran (historical or important) trees, cellars, ice houses, old mines and caves||Bats, breeding birds|
|Buildings with features suitable for bats, or large gardens in suburban and rural areas||Bats, breeding birds, badgers, reptiles and great crested newts|
|Traditional timber-framed building (such as a barn or oast house)||Bats, barn owls and breeding birds|
|Lakes, rivers and streams (on the land or nearby)||Breeding birds, great crested newts, fish, otters, water voles and crayfish|
|Heathland on, nearby or linked to the site (by similar habitat)||Breeding birds, badgers, dormice, reptiles, invertebrates, natterjack toads and protected plants|
|Meadows, grassland, parkland and pasture on the land or linked to the site (by similar habitat)||Bats, badgers, breeding birds, great crested newts, invertebrates, reptiles 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 birds, fish, great crested newts, water voles, invertebrates and crayfish|
|Rough grassland and previously developed land (brownfield sites), on or next to the site||Breeding bird, reptiles, invertebrate and protected plants|
|Woodland, scrub and hedgerows on, or next to the site||Bats, breeding birds, badgers, dormice, invertebrates, great crested newts, smooth snakes (see reptiles) and protected plants|
|Coastal habitats||Breeding birds, fish, natterjack toads and invertebrates|
When applicants need a species survey
You only need to ask an applicant to carry out a survey if it’s likely that protected species are:
- present on or near the proposed site, such as protected bats at a proposed barn conversion
- affected by the development, such as the effect of a wind turbine proposal on protected birds
Make sure applicants use a trained ecologist to carry out a survey at the right time of year, using methods that are appropriate for the species and the area. Surveys should be up to date and ideally from the most recent survey season (this can vary depending on the species).
The standing advice explains when and how to carry out a survey for a particular species. You can refuse planning permission, or ask for a survey to be redone, if:
- it isn’t suitable
- it’s carried out at the wrong time of year
- you don’t have enough information to assess the effect on a protected species
You can also ask for:
- a scoping survey to be carried out (often called an ‘extended phase 1 survey’), which is useful for assessing whether a species-specific survey is needed, in cases where it’s not clear which species is present, if at all
- an extra survey to be done, as a condition of the planning permission for outline plans or multi-phased developments, to make sure protected species aren’t affected at each stage (this is known as a ‘condition survey’)
When to carry out a survey
|Species||When to survey (dependent on weather conditions)|
|Badgers||February to April or 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||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|
When proposals affect species
It may not be possible to avoid affecting a protected species on a proposal site, but the harm caused must be reduced as much as possible.
Check risks are minimised (‘mitigation’)
Check if the applicant has taken steps to avoid affecting protected species eg by making sure the work takes place outside the breeding season. (Wild birds have specific protection).
When it isn’t possible to avoid affecting species applicants must have a mitigation strategy to:
- remove or reduce the negative effects of their proposal
- show how they will carry out risk reduction measures
Natural England can object to a planning application if mitigation measures aren’t acceptable. You must therefore make sure the mitigation strategy is:
- effective against the predicted impact of the proposed development on a protected species
- reliable, carried out at the right time and followed through to completion
- fully established for the benefit of the affected species
Natural England may also object to a planning application if it’s likely to damage a protected species which is a special feature of a protected site.
Mitigation measures for European protected species
If the development proposal is likely to have a negative effect on European protected species, you need be confident that Natural England is likely to grant a licence.
Check whether the proposal will meet the licensing criteria (the ‘3 legal tests’) to make sure that:
- the activity is for a certain purpose, for example it’s in the public interest to build a new hospital
- there’s no satisfactory alternative that will cause less harm to the species
- the activity doesn’t harm the long-term conservation status of the species
Check compensation is appropriate
Ask for compensation measures to be included in planning proposals if it isn’t possible to minimise the risk to protected species. Compensation must:
- make sure that no more habitat is lost than is replaced, which means there’s no net loss
- provide for like-for-like habitat replacements, which are located next to or near existing species population (check distances in the relevant species standing advice) and in a safe position to provide a long-term home
- provide for a better alternative habitat in terms of quality or area, compared to what will be lost
- include proposals to make sure habitats are still connected to allow normal species movement
Make sure alternative sites are established far enough in advance so they’re ready for the species that will use them.
Agree mitigation and compensation strategies
You’ll need to agree any mitigation or compensatory measures as part of the proposal. To make sure that mitigation measures are effective when granting planning permission you may have to consider including a:
- planning condition or planning obligation (known as a ‘section 106 agreement’), to impose requirements on the developer, eg to get the developer to pay for long-term management, monitoring or maintenance of the site or restrict development
- review plan and adjust measures if necessary, for example you may need to attach an ‘informative’ planning note to a decision for any action to be taken if protected species are discovered during development
This can include habitat creation or improvement for protected and unprotected species and their wider foraging areas.
Making a decision
When the proposal is likely to affect a protected species you can grant planning permission if:
- an appropriate survey was carried out by a qualified ecologist at the time of year specified in the standing advice
- a wildlife licence is likely to be granted by Natural England if one is needed
- mitigation plans are acceptable
- compensation plans are acceptable when mitigation isn’t possible
- review and monitoring plans are in place, where appropriate
- all wider planning considerations are met
Use the checklist (PDF, 33.3KB, 3 pages) to help support your decision.
Published: 6 October 2014
Updated: 12 August 2016
- Protected species standing advice updated.
- First published.