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Writing ecological surveys to inform the planning

With the exception of some very small householder applications, most development proposals will have the potential to impact in some way on local biodiversity. This may be through direct loss of habitat or a reduction in the value of habitats and their ability to support the species that depend on them.  

The purpose of the survey is to examine what habitats and species exist at the site before a planning application is submitted. This ensures the local planning authority (LPA) has sufficient information to make an informed decision, that wildlife can be protected from injury or disturbance during development and makes certain that there is no adverse impact on local biodiversity as a result of the development.

Carrying out appropriate ecological survey of the site will ensure that:

  • Both the developer/applicant is made aware of the ecological constraints at the site at an early stage.
  • The development can be designed so that it has the least possible adverse impact on the biodiversity of the site.
  • The presence of species that are afforded special protection under European or British legislation will be identified within the site and immediate surrounding area, so that the development can be designed to avoid impact on these populations and direct injury to individuals (that may result in prosecution).
  • By knowing the existing ecology of the site and surrounding area, the design of mitigation and enhancement can compliment existing habitats and species. It can also help deliver specific targets in the Wiltshire Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), for the latest Biodiversity Delivery Plan for Wiltshire please visit the Link2Nature web pages..
  • The LPA can take all relevant material considerations into account in determining an application, and demonstrate that any permission issued is defensible against judicial review.

A competent consultant ecologist should be used to carry out the field survey work and to write the report. They should have appropriate experience and hold relevant species licences to the type of habitats and species expected to be encountered on the site.

A list of consultant ecologists who are members of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) can also be found in their membership directory. It is recommended that full members of the institute should be used, as this level of membership indicates a level of general competence in ecology, although particular skills and experience may be required to carry out specialist surveys.

It is the responsibility of the developer/applicant to make sure that the consultant ecologist will be competent to carry out the survey required. They should make it clear to those tendering for the work that the purpose of the survey is to inform a planning application and provide them with sufficient information about the proposals to make an assessment.


When you have chosen an ecologist they should be fully informed of the proposed location and the exact nature of the development, so that they are fully able to judge the effect of that development against the biodiversity of the site, through an appropriate level of survey. It is the responsibility of the developer/applicant to make sure that all such information is made available before surveys begin.

For an overview of surveys likely to be required in a variety of situations, refer to the Wiltshire ecological checklist in the downloads section

The consultant ecologist should also refer to the Wiltshire & Swindon Biological Records Centre (WSBRC) for details of existing species records and statutory and non-statutory designated sites within 2km of the application site, before the survey work starts.

While there are other sources of ecological data available on the internet the resolution of these data sources is not sufficient for planning applications. This data is only held at the WSBRC and cannot be sourced from other sites. Please note: the main alternative source of data is the National Biodiversity Network (NBN). While this is appropriate for a scoping exercise it is not an acceptable substitute for a WSBRC data search in a commercial or professional report. The use of NBN data for commercial purposes is also contrary to the NBN Gateway terms and conditions.

Additional guidance in relation to specific sensitivities and requirements of European designated sites may also be useful they can be found in the download section.

Bath and bradford on avon september 2015 bat sac guidance

Guidance for developers: protecting the River Avon SAC 

Guidance for developers - HRA and Mitigation Strategy for Salisbury Plain SPA 


The consultant ecologist will carry out the agreed surveys at the appropriate time of year, in line with recognised species and habitat survey guidelines.  The appropriate time of year document can be found in the download section.

The developer should be aware of the contents of these documents but should also be guided by the consultant ecologist as to the optimum timing of surveys and the number of surveys required for each species as adequate to inform the planning application.

For large sites where pre-application consultation is held with the LPA the number of surveys or survey days per species may be agreed at a scoping meeting; however in some circumstances this may change once the initial surveys have been completed. The consultant ecologist may recommend that a further survey is necessary to determine ecological issues at the site.

In case of uncertainty in relation to the need for a further survey, the LPA ecologist should judge whether or not a sufficient survey has been undertaken to inform the planning decision. Applications may be refused in cases where insufficient information is available to determine the application.


The consultant ecologist will produce a report detailing the survey findings, together with an assessment of how the proposed development could be expected to impact on the habitats and species that exist at the site and suggested mitigation designed to reduce those impacts. It is vital that the applicant agrees with those recommendations and that they are taken up within the site design before the application is submitted to the LPA.  Preferred ecological survey headings can be found in the downloads section..


If the consultant ecologist finds that further survey is required to determine the ecology of the site in relation to the proposal, this must be clearly stated in the ecology report, together with justification and recommendations for the nature of further survey. This requirement should then be discussed with the developer and arrangements made for additional survey to be carried out and reported on BEFORE the planning application is submitted. Additional surveys cannot be the subject of conditions attached to a planning consent as the permitted mitigation strategy may depend on the results of further survey.


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Last updated: 13 March 2020 | Last reviewed: 13 March 2020