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Protected and Priority Species

1. Protected Species

Certain species listed below are specially protected in UK law, and are a material consideration in planning.

  • Bats (all species)
  • Badgers
  • Hazel dormouse
  • Otter
  • Water vole
  • Nesting birds (all species, some are additionally protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981)
  • Reptiles
  • Great crested newt
  • Invertebrates (some species)
  • Plants (some species).

When planning a development, you should consider the risk of adverse impacts on these species. In many cases, the site and proposals will need to be assessed by a suitably qualified ecologist to determine whether protected species are present or likely to be present, and whether the scheme is likely to cause impacts. This may involve targeted surveys for protected species. The results of all such surveys will need to be included within the Ecological Appraisal; planning conditions will only be used to secure protected species surveys in exceptional circumstances.

If protected species are present, then a licence may be required from Natural England after planning permission is granted, to allow development to proceed lawfully.

2. Bats and buildings

Even small developments with negligible other biodiversity impacts can still have impacts on roosting bats, if an existing building or tree is affected. Any active bat roost is protected by law, even if bats are not present when it is examined. While some species roost internally (such as within a roof space), external cavities on a building (such as between roof tiles) or on a tree (e.g. under loose bark) are also used.  All UK bat species are all small, nocturnal, and unobtrusive, so even an internal roost can be hard to detect if present. If you are the resident of a building and have never seen a bat, this is not a guarantee that roosting bats are absent.

As such, bats are among the most commonly-encountered protected species in planning. If a planning application involves demolition or modification to an existing building(s) or felling of trees, the Council will typically expect the results of dedicated survey (a Preliminary Roost Inspection (PRA)) to be included with the ecology report, unless the buildings or trees are demonstrably unsuitable for bats.

Features of a building or tree that might indicate the need for a PRA include:

  • Traditional construction and/or dating from before the mid-20th century.
  • General poor condition, disused or derelict.
  • External gaps (gaps under tiles or missing/damaged tiles, gaps between roof woodwork and walls, cracks in brick or stonework, gaps in overlapping cladding).
  • Gaps allowing access to the interior, such as rot holes in roof woodwork or broken windows.
  • Mature or veteran trees with rot holes, cracks, very heavy ivy cover, loose bark or woodpecker damage.

 Note that suitable gaps can be very small: a gap measuring 15 mm (the width of a finger) can be an access point for the smaller bat species. The above is a guide rather than an exhaustive list and if in doubt, you are recommended to consult an ecologist. When commissioning an ecologist to undertake a PRA, you are recommended to seek one who holds a personal licence to disturb bats: as well as indicating a high baseline standard of experience, it will legally allow them to inspect cavities with a torch and enter roof spaces, allowing a more robust assessment to be made.

3. Great crested newt district licensing

Natural England has issued the Council a district level licence for great crested newt (GCN). This permits a special approach to mitigating development impacts on this species (“District Level Licensing” or DLL) within Vale of White Horse.

As with the standard approach of applying directly to Natural England for a mitigation licence, DLL allows authorised developers to lawfully undertake works which impact great crested newts, but with DLL the licence is held by the Council and in most cases all mitigation is undertaken offsite by a delivery partner, via a developer contribution. This innovative approach to GCN licensing has a number of benefits, compared to the ‘traditional’ licensing process:

  • A landscape-scale approach to GCN conservation, delivering joined-up aquatic and terrestrial habitats in strategically desirable locations.
  • No requirement for targeted GCN surveys in most cases
  • Streamlined application and response times
  • No requirement for onsite construction measures or habitat creation in most cases

NatureSpace is the Council’s delivery partner for district level licensing and can be contacted for more information. Developers wanting to utilise the DLL must enter the scheme and submit the required NatureSpace documents to the Council with any planning application.

For more information on great crested newt licences please see the Great Crested Newt licensing factsheet. For more information on the conservation results of the DLL, see the website for the habitat creation body, the Newt Conservation partnership.

4. Priority Species

In addition to strictly protected species, certain other threatened species are a material consideration in planning as part of a general “Biodiversity Duty” imposed on the Council by legislation. These “Species of Principal Importance” or “Priority Species” are of national conservation importance. There are a large number of Priority Species, however some examples frequently encountered within planning applications in South Oxfordshire/Vale of White Horse include:

  • Farmland birds: skylark, yellowhammer, linnet, grey partridge, lapwing
  • Hedgehog
  • Brown hare
  • Common toad

The Council will expect impacts on these species should be avoided or mitigated wherever possible, and any losses of habitat for these species should be compensated within a development or offsite. Development can represent an opportunity to create new areas of habitat for priority species, and realistic proposals to do so are welcomed.

5. Species enhancements

The Council is committed to ensuring that development goes beyond mitigating its impacts on biodiversity and provides enhancements, including new nesting and roosting opportunities for protected and priority species. There is usually scope for development to provide at least some enhancement for species, so all major and most minor developments are expected to include features such as bat and bird boxes on buildings and retained trees, plus hibernacula (mixed earth/wood/stone piles) and log piles within any areas of retained or created habitats. Specialist bird boxes are available for declining species such as house sparrow and swift, and these are preferred to generic boxes.

Bat and bird boxes on buildings should be integrated into the structure wherever possible, as integrated boxes are less vulnerable to removal, more durable and better insulated. Siting advice for bird and bat boxes can be found here and here, respectively.