Last edited 15 Mar 2021

Protected species

The term ‘protected species’ refers to species that are protected by legislation. The Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act making it an offence to intentionally, or recklessly kill, injure, or take a protected species, or damage, destroy or obstruct access to structures or places used by protected species for shelter, breeding or protection.

Construction inevitably involves disturbing existing sites and buildings, and this can impact on the ecology. This is true of urban and rural sites, new-build construction, refurbishment projects and demolition, and relates not only to the specific structures being constructed or changed, but also to the land surrounding them. Where this affects protected species or habitats, there can be significant consequences, including delay, expense, suspension of the works, disputes and even prosecutions.

It is important to ensure that protected species are identified as early as possible in the development of a project, when it is still relatively straight forward to accommodate any necessary changes or constraints. The presence of protected species will need to be determined in advance of a planning application for works that may disturb them and this is a material consideration for planning authorities determining applications.

In the first instance, assessments may take the form of a scoping survey (or extended Phase 1 survey) which might include a desk-based study and a site survey. The resulting report should indicate the habitats and species present and their locations, their potential impact, the legal position, and the need for further surveys.

Desk-based studies might be based on information held by the Local Environmental Records Centre (LERC or LRC). For contact details of the relevant LERC see The National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Gateway may be a useful source of information, but there are restrictions on use of the data for commercial purposes.

Aspects of the site that might suggest the presence of protected species might include the presence of: traditional timber framed buildings; buildings that are not used frequently; old buildings or farm buildings; large gardens; lakes or water courses; heathland; meadow; parkland; pasture; brownfield land; woodland; scrub; hedgerows; coastal habitats; complex, large or old trees or caves.

If a Phase 2 survey is considered necessary, this should provide sufficient information for detailed assessment of the potential impacts of the development and propose measures to avoid, reduce, mitigate (eg translocation) or compensate (eg biodiversity offsetting) for those impacts.

Natural England have produced a flow chart and decision tree offering guidance on when protected species surveys are likely to be required.

Surveys should be undertaken by suitably experienced specialists. It may be possible to undertake scoping surveys at any time, but detailed surveys may have to be undertaken at certain times. Ref Natural England Optimum Times to Survey Table. If these windows of opportunity are missed, there can be very serious delays to the development.

Surveys may not necessarily be comprehensive and only provide a snapshot of the time when the survey was carried out. The position can change quickly, in particular in relation to the presence of birds.

Protected animal species include.

  • Adders
  • Badgers.
  • Bats.
  • Breeding birds.
  • Rare birds.
  • Common dormice.
  • Grass snakes
  • Great crested newts.
  • Natterjack toads.
  • Otters.
  • Pine marten.
  • Red squirrel.
  • Sand lizards.
  • Slowworms.
  • Smooth snakes.
  • Water voles.
  • White clawed crayfish.

Protected plants include:

  • Creeping Marshwort.
  • Early Gentian.
  • Fen Orchid.
  • Floating-leaved water Plantain.
  • Lilarney Fern.
  • Lady’s Slipper.
  • Slender Naiad.
  • Shore Dock.
  • Yellow Marsh Saxifrage.

See Joint Nature Conservation Committee for full details.

Failure to protect species can result in fines or imprisonment.

NB: BS 42020:2013, Biodiversity. Code of practice for planning and development, offers a coherent methodology for biodiversity management.

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