Ecology and wildlife

Despite its importance, wildlife continues to be in decline in the UK. However, much wildlife is protected by law because it is rare or endangered and national and local strategies are in place to try and reverse the declines with particular emphasis on priority species and habitats because they are of the highest conservation concern.

As a Local Planning Authority we have a legal duty to have regard to conserving biodiversity when carrying out our functions. We also have local and national planning policies and associated guidance to inform our decision making and this now requires development to provide net gains in biodiversity.

Important and protected wildlife

Wycombe District supports a diversity of wildlife habitats and species and is particularly rich in chalk grassland, beech woodlands, wood-pasture and chalk river habitats.

Key animal species protected by law in Wycombe District include:

  • badgers
  • Bats
  • Nesting birds
  • Dormice
  • Great Crested Newts
  • Otters
  • Reptiles
  • Water voles
  • White-clawed crayfish

Details on these species and where to find them can be found in our wildlife advice note [PDF | 2.0MB].

Legislation

Several pieces of legislation provide legal protection to species and habitats in the UK. The three most notable pieces are:

  • Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981
  • Protection of Badgers Act 1992
  • Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017

Habitats and species of principle importance

Habitats and species of principle importance (also known as "priority habitats and species") are those which are:

Their importance is secured in our local planning policy DM13.

 

Planning for wildlife

To navigate the planning system with regards to wildlife, it is necessary to understand some basic principles and requirements.

Further details on the principles of biodiversity in planning can be found in Biodiversity – Code of practice for planning and development (external link).

In submitting a planning application, applicants must identify protected or priority species, designated sites, priority habitats or other ecological features on or adjacent to the development site. This is done through our ecology and trees checklist.

If your application is for a minor or major development you must also submit an ecology report with your planning application. An ecology report is not required for householder applications at the time of submission, but may be asked for prior to determination.

Where there is a reasonable likelihood that a proposal will impact on features of ecological importance, up-to-date wildlife information will need to be provided with the planning application. This is because wildlife can move to and from an area and so old information can lead to a material consideration not being taken into account in decision making. The type of wildlife information needed will vary depending on the nature of both the site and the proposed development.

Discussion about the need for wildlife surveying at pre-application stage, can help reduce the likelihood of delays resulting from survey requirements only being identified at a later stage. If you think your proposal might involve protected or priority species or habitats, or you want to understand how biodiversity accounting might be applied to your proposal, we strongly advise that you use our Planning Advice service.

 

The first stage in understanding ecology associated with a site is to undertake a data search.

To get an initial high level perspective, on nationally designated sites for wildlife conservation and priority habitats, DEFRA’s online and interactive Magic Maps is a good place to start.

Some of the same information can also be found on our own MyMaps. To do this follow the instructions below:

  • go to MyMaps
  • type in the property / site address
  • open the Planning Policy map category using '+' and select the following layers (by ticking the box):
    • ancient woodland
    • local geological and wildlife sites
    • priority habitat
    • site of special scientific interest
    • special areas of conservation
  • open the Planning Constraints map category using '+' and select the following layers (by ticking the box):
    • ancient woodland buffer
    • SAC buffer
    • SSSI buffer
  • click on your property on the map screen to see if your property / site contains an ecology designation

Further sources of information

The above sources of information will not provide the full range of ecological information which would be needed in an ecological assessment.

The Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Environmental Record Centre (BMERC) hold more comprehensive ecological records. It is necessary for ecological assessments of a site to be informed by a search of these records so that appropriate surveying can be identified. Ecological consultants can submit a search request to BMERC online for a fee.

This information will enable not only an understanding of what has been recorded on and near the site, but also an understanding of how the site fits into a wider ecological network.

 

If there is a possibility that protected or priority habitats or species will be effected by a development, it will be necessary to undertake on site surveying. The type of wildlife information needed will vary depending on the nature of both the site and the proposed development.

Initially surveying is carried out at a relatively high level. For habitats, the broad habitat type is identified (either using the methodology of Phase 1 Habitat surveying or UKHABS) this will be accompanied by a walk over survey, which together with an understanding of the environment, the habitats and the ecological features of the site, can inform a search for signs of species.

The findings of the desktop study and initial surveying will usually be presented in a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) which must be carried out in line with the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management’s (CIEEM) Guidelines.

Depending on the findings of the PEA, further more specific and detailed surveys may be necessary. These surveys will give a greater understanding of a particular habitat or species including identifying the presence or likely absence or population characteristics of a species.

Some surveys can only be carried out at certain times of the year, but all surveys must be carried out by a suitably qualified person, therefore we recommend you start researching this now. Professional ecologists can be found on the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management website.

 

The wildlife on a site can present both constraints and opportunities to development. Based on the information collected these must be assessed and fed into decision making on the development’s layout and design.

Assessing the impacts on wildlife is a requirement due to their legally protection but also as there are local and national planning policies and government guidance to ensure that wildlife is protected and enhanced. This all feeds back to the need to stop the declines in biodiversity.

In the assessment and design of all development proposals, the mitigation hierarchy must be applied. This seeks to deal with potential impacts on biodiversity by considering ways to:

  • avoid
  • minimise
  • mitigate
  • compensate (on- then off-site)
  • always look to enhance opportunities for biodiversity

On larger or more significant developments which require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), it is necessary to also carry out Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA). The CIEEM have produced guidance on how to do this.

With regards to protected species and ancient woodland and veteran trees, Natural England have issued standing advice that assists in decision making on how they should be considered.

In some instances, proposals will require a licence from Natural England which can only be sought following the granting of planning permission.

It is now a requirement for all development to achieve a measurable net gain in biodiversity. This requirement in in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and is now in the new Local Plan Policy DM34.

To assess and demonstrate that a net gain will be achieved, biodiversity accounting is used. First the baseline value of the habitats on site prior to development must be assessed (if a site has been cleared, aerial photos will be used to assess the type of habitat and the highest value for that type will be assumed). Then the value of the habitats which are proposed to be retained and included within a new development can be assessed. By comparing the baseline value with the proposed value it can be identified if there will be a net loss or a net gain. If a net loss is shown it will be necessary to provide Biodiversity Offsetting to enable the development to meet the policy requirement.

We are currently preparing a Supplementary Planning Document to explain how this will be done. Until this is available we expect developers to use the Warwickshire Matrix.

 

Design and layout of a site which takes into account wildlife, needs to address several issues.

The protected wildlife on the site must be not be harmed and their conservation status must not be negatively impacted by the proposals. Ensuring this is achieved requires consideration of potential impacts at several different levels. This can only be understood through coordination with an experienced ecologist who understands the complexities of species and habitats. Factors which must be considered include:

  • How habitats will provide species with food and water,
  • How habitats will provide spaces for species to hide, build a home and safely move through the site and wider landscape,
  • Whether species have sufficient resources and opportunities to not only survive but also breed successfully,
  • Whether disturbance (e.g. recreational activity) and pollution (e.g. lighting, noise, chemical) might adversely impact species and habitats.

The overall biodiversity value of habitats is assessed through the Biodiversity Accounting process. Through iterating the design it may be possible to reduce what is lost from the site and to increase what is provided, this will need to be done until an appropriate net gain is achieved.

Ecological enhancement can be achieved through the creation of new or improvement of existing habitats and features which benefit wildlife. A selection of enhancements are included within the Wildlife Advice Note

 

We need to be certain that wildlife is being considered properly in the planning process and therefore reports need to be submitted at different stages of the planning process.

  • The Preliminary Ecological Assessment (PEA) sets out the base line assessment of the site and makes recommendations for further surveying or measures relating to the mitigation hierarchy.
  • An Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) is undertaken on larger schemes as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment.
  • Phase 2 surveys are more detailed species and habitat surveys which follow a range of different guidance from different organisations.
  • Ecological Constraints and Opportunities Plan (ECOP) this is used to present information about ecology to other professions involved in the design process.
  • Biodiversity Impact Assessments (BIAs) these are reports put together specifically to show biodiversity accounting detail
  • Landscape and Ecological Design Strategy, this sets out how ecology will be designed into the landscape of the scheme.
  • Avoidance, Mitigation, Compensation and Enhancement Plans, these may be specific to a particular species or may cover a range of measures and include details for monitoring and or supervision.
  • Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) these are practical documents which spells out how the development process will progress whilst taking proper account of environmental issues including ecology.
  • Landscape and Ecological Management Plan (LEMP) this sets out how the landscape shall be managed to ensure ecological objectives are achieved.
  • Ecological Monitoring or Supervision Reports, these will be submitted to show that certain activities have been undertaken correctly or objectives have been achieved.

 

Further information on ecology and protected wildlife

You can find some helpful resources on ecology and protected wildlife below.

Glossary of terms

  • Wildlife - all forms of native life which are not domesticated.
  • Ecology - the branch of biology which deals with the study of the interactions between organisms and with their environment.
  • Biodiversity - the combination of the words ‘biological’ and ‘diversity’, it also includes a consideration of abundance.

 For frequently asked questions on designations, please see our planning FAQs.