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.

Natural England is reviewing this guidance (standing advice). You should continue to follow the current advice when you make planning decisions.

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 standing advice to help you decide whether to reject or approve an application if a protected species could be affected.

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:

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:


Natural England Consultation Service
Hornbeam House
Electra Way
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


Environment Agency
PO Box 544
S60 1BY

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

Promote biodiversity

You can ask the developer to consider including measures to enhance or restore biodiversity in line with the National Planning Policy Framework and the biodiversity duty.

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
Last updated 12 August 2016 + show all updates
  1. Protected species standing advice updated.

  2. First published.