The Local Planning Authority needs to fully understand all the impacts, both negative and positive, of a proposed development, including the impacts on wildlife and biodiversity. When submitting a planning application, it may be necessary for you to include an ecological assessment (sometimes referred to as a Biodiversity Survey and Report) to provide this information.
When will a nature conservation or ecological assessment be required?
You should submit an ecological assessment with a planning application when the development proposals (including any associated off-site works) will affect the following:
- Designated sites
- Priority habitats
- Other biodiversity features
- Species protected by law
- Priority species
If, during the course of pre-application discussions, you have agreed with the council's Biodiversity Officer that an ecological assessment is not required, this should be made clear on the completed validation checklist form.
The designated sites are illustrated in the Local Plan 2011 to 2031 and include:
- Internationally designated sites, such as Special Areas of Conservation
- Nationally designated sites, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserves
- Locally designated sites, such as Local Sites, Key Wildlife Sites and Local Nature Reserves.
These are wildlife habitats that are listed at section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 as being habitats of principal importance for biodiversity. In West Oxfordshire District this includes:
- ancient and/or species-rich hedgerows
- floodplain grazing marsh
- fen, marsh, swamp and reedbeds
- lowland beech and yew woodland
- lowland calcareous grassland (e.g. species-rich chalk and limestone grasslands)
- lowland meadows (e.g. species-rich flower meadows)
- lowland mixed deciduous woodland (ancient woodland)
- lowland wood-pasture and parkland
- rivers and streams
- standing open water and canals (e.g. lakes and flooded gravel pits)
- wet woodland
Other Biodiversity Features
There are other important habitats and features that are not included in the national list of priority habitats, but are of great local importance, these include:
- secondary woodland
- mature, ancient or veteran trees
- caves, mines and disused tunnels
- trees and scrub (potential bird nesting areas)
- previously developed land with biodiversity interest
- urban green space (such as allotments, disused railway lines)
There are a number of species that are protected by law, for example under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended and the The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010).
An ecological (protected species) assessment will be required for development that could affect protected species.
These are species that are listed at section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 as being species of principal importance for biodiversity.
What should be included in an ecological assessment
The level of assessment required will vary from a simple biodiversity survey to a complex ecological assessment as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment.
Ecologists carrying out nature conservation/ecological assessments should have the appropriate experience and qualifications.
Any survey or assessment should be carried out at the appropriate time of year, in suitable weather conditions and using nationally recognised survey guidelines/methods. For guidance on appropriate survey methods visit the Institute for Ecology and Environment Management.
It is important that any assessment includes both on and off site impacts. Pipelines and cable runs serving the site which go beyond the site boundary should be assessed because they can cause impacts elsewhere, for example development can lead to changes in hydrology which can affect habitats at some distance away.
Details of ecological consultants
- Name and experience of the ecologist who has undertaken the survey
Desk-based study of the site
- A general description of the site, explaining its location and a map
- The current status of the site (e.g. is it a designated site?)
- Any designated sites within 1km should be identified on a plan
- Presentation and analysis of existing ecological data
- Copies of any consultations with statutory or non-governmental organisations, such as Natural England, the Environment Agency or the Wildlife Trust
Field-based study of the site
- Date, time, temperature and weather conditions at the time of survey.
- Up-to-date survey information for the site, including survey methods, and results (species and habitats present and their extent, frequency and location - all data collected should be included). The type of survey will depend upon the nature of the site and the likely impact of the proposed development. For more information on survey methodologies visit the Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management
Evaluation of the site
- Evaluation of the ecological importance of the site
- Impact of the proposed development on the biodiversity of the site and its surroundings
- If European protected species are affected, consideration should be given to the 'derogation' tests
- Mitigation and compensation proposals (including habitat management, enhancement and creation proposals)
Net impacts of the proposed development
What else should be submitted with an ecological survey?
If mitigation and compensation proposals have been recommended within the ecological assessment, you should illustrate them on your submitted drawings. For example, if a bat loft is recommended within a barn conversion, you should detail the location and the dimensions of the loft in the submitted plans so that the Local Planning Authority can be satisfied that the mitigation measures can be achieved as part of the development.
You should always submit surveys and mitigation proposals as part of the planning application. If you undertake and submit them later in the process, there is a risk that the plans for the development will have to be redesigned or halted (temporarily or permanently) for example if protected species are found on site.