Investigating the potential for a protected species on site is essential to stay within the law, and the timing is critical. Rosie Lodge, Ecologist and Sustainability Consultant, Eight Associates asks, do you know what to look for, and when?
In the UK, certain wildlife is protected by legislation which makes it illegal to kill, injure, capture or disturb the species in question. Conducting a survey of the habitat is essential to gain planning consent, and finding potential for these species on site during a project can mean work has to stop at once. Breaking the law could result in a fine of £5000, up to six months in prison and serious reputational damage.
It is vital to plan accordingly; there are only certain times of the year when surveys can be carried out, and identifying and investigating the wildlife as early as possible within the survey window can avoid lengthy delays.
Bats and birds
If there are existing buildings or trees on site, then you should be aware of the potential for bats and breeding birds. All bats are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. It is illegal to deliberately or recklessly kill, injure, capture or disturb bats, obstruct access to bat roosts or damage or destroy bat roosts, whether occupied or not. Changes made in 2007 makes incidental damage to the breeding site or resting place of any European bat species an offence too.
Both modern and traditional buildings provide roosting opportunities similar to the crevice and tree-cavity spaces found in the natural environment, for example behind fascia, beneath roof tiles, chimneys, attics and cellars. Moreover, roosts vary in size and bats can crawl into openings of just 15 x 20mm. If your project requires planning consent, the first step is for a suitably qualified ecologist to conduct a bat survey to assess the potential for or evidence of bats.
Inspections of trees and buildings can occur at any time of year. However detector surveys should only be conducted during the main bat activity season, from May to September inclusive. The best time to complete evening / dawn surveys is from May to late August when bats congregate in large maternity colonies. Missing the survey window can lead to insufficient evidence for, and significant delays in, the planning process.
There is a range of possible mitigation or compensation actions, which should first aim to avoid impacts, then minimise impacts and as a last resort, compensate for remaining unavoidable impacts. These can include retention of bat roosts and foraging habitats, design modifications, timing works to minimise disturbance and the provision of replacement roosts in the form of artificial roosting sites (bat boxes, bricks or tiles).
All wild birds, their nests and young are protected throughout England and Wales. It is illegal to kill, injure, or take any wild bird or damage or destroy the nest or eggs of breeding birds. Vulnerable species, such as barn owls, have enhanced protection when breeding.
Birds may nest on machinery, scaffolding, structures, buildings and trees. Typically breeding birds lay eggs between March and August. If nests are found on site, any works with the potential to damage or destroy the nest, egg or young birds, must stop until the young have fledged. Where a Schedule 1 species is involved, mitigation for impacts, e.g. loss of nesting site, should be implemented. Mitigation measures include installing artificial nesting sites (bird boxes or bricks).
Other protected species include dormice, whose small woven, spherical nests are found in scrub or trees in summer and below ground level in winter. If evidence of dormice is found on site after works have started, these must stop immediately to avoid breaking the law. Surveys are best undertaken in March and from September to November.
All reptiles are protected and rare reptiles receive additional legal protection under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and local authorities have a legal duty to take their conservation into account. Surveys can only be carried out from April to September. If reptiles are confirmed to be present, it will be necessary to undertake mitigation procedures, usually involving translocation, to ensure that reptiles are not harmed by the proposed development preparation and construction works.
If you have any form of watercourse on your project, be aware of great crested newts. A species of principle importance in England, it is illegal to deliberately injure, kill, capture or disturb a great crested newt or to damage, destroy or obstruct any places used for shelter and protection.
Pond surveys can take place between March and June during breeding season. Also protected under law, otters live in a variety of watercourses and use a range of places to breed and shelter. Works must stop immediately if an otter or its place of shelter is found on site after works have started. Water voles are legally protected too, and surveys should be conducted between March and September.
Investigating the potential for a protected species on site is essential for planning permission. Timing is critical; surveys can only gather sufficient evidence when the species are active and missing the survey window can result in delays of over nine months. Proceeding without undertaking a survey – or regardless of the survey findings – can result in fines or even a prison sentence.
Don’t leave it to chance, and don’t leave it too late: Avoid delays by working with a suitably qualified ecologist who follows all relevant good practice and is pragmatic in their approach. When the survey results are known, the ecologist will help plan the next steps and a mitigation strategy if required.
Some of the species to be aware of on development sites
Protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, and under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 198, badgers are relatively common in the UK and tend to occupy managed landscapes.
There are 18 species living in the UK, roosting in trees or cavities, including buildings. Surveys to determine roosting potential can be undertaken year round, however conclusive detector surveys should be conducted between May and September.
All wild birds, their nests and young are protected throughout England and Wales. Any active nest must be protected. Vulnerable species have enhanced protection.
Dormice are found throughout the UK, particularly in the south of England. Surveys are best undertaken in March and October, and September to November.
Great crested newts
These amphibians, identified as a species of principle importance, are found throughout the UK, but less likely in south west England, northern Scotland or west Wales. Great crested newts can live in in rural, urban and suburban habitats.
Otters live in a variety of watercourses and breed year round. Works must stop immediately if an otter or its place of shelter is found on site after works have started.
All reptiles are protected and it is illegal to intentionally kill or injure a common reptile. Local authorities have a legal duty to take their conservation into account. Surveys can only be carried out from April to September.
Found in slow flowing rivers, ditches and around lakes, water vole surveys can be conducted between March and September.