Wild birds: surveys and mitigation for development projects

Standing advice for local planning authorities to assess the impacts of development on wild birds.

Applies to England

Survey reports and mitigation plans are required for development projects that could affect protected species, as part of getting planning permission. 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 standing advice for local planning authorities who need to assess planning applications that affect wild birds.

This information can be used to assess surveys and when planning mitigation measures for wild birds.

All wild birds (including both eggs and nests) are protected by law. Some species have additional protection when nesting. Many bird habitats are also protected and local planning authorities (LPAs) have a duty to conserve their biodiversity.

Ecologists need to decide which survey and mitigation methods are right for the project being worked on. If this can’t be 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:

Decide if you need to survey

Surveys should be done for developments that involve:

  • natural habitats, eg woodland, scrub or moorland
  • agricultural buildings (like barns) being changed, converted or demolished
  • installing outside lighting for churches and listed buildings
  • floodlighting green space within 50 metres of woodland, water, hedgerows or lines of trees connected to woodland or water
  • work to trees or buildings that barn owls use
  • trees that are more than 100 years old, have holes, cracks and cavities, or are more than 1 metre around at chest height
  • mature gardens

Survey for wild birds including:

Survey methods

Be aware that birds breed in a wide variety of habitats, eg woodland, parks and buildings. Some birds will lay their eggs directly on the ground without building an obvious nest.

You should be especially careful if you’re surveying in the bird-breeding season (March to August).

Surveys should be done by a suitably experienced or qualified person. Before starting the field survey the surveyor should gather existing data from:

Barn owl surveys should cover:

  • barns (outside and inside)
  • roof voids
  • holes in trees

Survey and monitoring methods

You’ll usually need to carry out a scoping survey - this can help you to know if you need to survey the area in more detail.

Your scoping survey should help to:

  • determine the type and quality of habitat present within the development footprint
  • give an understanding of the typical bird species supported by the habitat

This will guide the surveyor towards what further survey effort is required.

Assess the impacts

Assess the impacts this development would have on wild birds if no mitigation measures were planned. Impacts to consider include:

  • damaging or removing breeding sites
  • disturbing birds and their young - this is an offence for certain birds
  • removing vegetation and changing habitats
  • demolishing or changing buildings or natural features like rock faces
  • removing ground nest habitats with activities like soil stripping
  • disturbances to birds caused by recreation, new housing developments or wind farms

Avoidance, mitigation and compensation methods

Address the potential impacts you’ve identified on birds with your mitigation plans.

First, consider whether the development could be done differently to avoid affecting birds, eg by:

  • siting the development away from breeding birds
  • avoiding parts of the site
  • doing works at a different time of year. No works should be undertaken in the breeding season (March to August)
  • ensuring important habitats are protected and maintained
  • remove habitat features when they are not being used by birds, eg remove habitat before nesting season

Provide replacements for any nesting sites you remove, such as:

  • nest boxes, peregrine ledges and black redstart boxes
  • creating new habitat

Mitigation: prevent birds nesting

If you can’t change the timing or location of your activity to avoid affecting birds, you can prevent birds from nesting, but only outside the breeding season. Confirm birds aren’t using the location with a survey first.

You can prevent birds nesting by:

  • blocking access to nest sites
  • clearing vegetation or structures used for breeding
  • using deterrents they can see or hear, eg tapes or flashing lights

Provide replacements for any nesting sites you remove, such as:

  • nest boxes and peregrine ledges
  • creating new habitat by planting native trees, shrubs or plants, or ornamental species of high value to wild birds
  • improving links to habitats

Where birds are displaced or affected by development the success of mitigation should be measured using post-development monitoring.

Where birds are displaced by development, especially Section 41 birds and red and amber listed species, a suitable amount of replacement habitat should be considered.

Additional requirements for licensing

This guidance is for ecologists and developers who cannot avoid affecting wild birds.

Wild birds are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. You can’t get protected species licences in relation to development, but you might be able to rely upon an exemption listed in the legislation, for example development with planning permission. Get more detail about bird protection and licences.

Bird surveys

You usually don’t need a licence to survey birds as you should be able to avoid disturbing wild birds. You can, however, apply for a barn owl survey licence if you need to enter structures used by barn owl for breeding so you can survey them.

Published 28 March 2015