Biodiversity and development
Wiltshire's natural environment is one of its greatest assets and includes a particularly large proportion of nationally and internationally important habitats and species.
New developments, large and small, can have a significant effect on:
- Our natural environment
- Implications for important habitats
- Wildlife species that they support
- The ability of people to experience and enjoy nature
It is vital to maintain and enhance wildlife corridors.
- Wooded areas allow wildlife species to move between different habitat areas, enabling their populations to be more resilient to change
Published in March 2012 requires that planners and developers should aim to conserve and enhance the natural environment through the planning system. These pages offer advice on the measures you can take to ensure that your development meets the requirements of European and domestic legislation that protects our natural environment.
All new development should contribute proportionately to the enhancement of biodiversity and create habitat wherever possible, from small measures such as the installation of nest boxes to the design and integration of large Sustainable Drainage Systems (SUDs) and even landscape-scale schemes of several hectares.
How should developments protect and enhance biodiversity?
At the design stage of any development, the existing ecology of the site and surrounding area must be taken into consideration. Ecological assessment of the proposed location will identify existing habitats and species present on the site and any potentially damaging effects on them, as a result of the proposed development.
Does your planning application need to be supported by an Ecology Survey?
Surveys are not needed for all applications. If your application is for any of the following, an ecology survey is unlikely to be required:
- A minor amendment or variation to a previous planning permission
- Just works to a single dwelling in an urban area that is not in either Devizes or Corsham
- Just works to an isolated metal-clad building
- Just works to a single storey extension or 'lean-to'
- Just for a garage in an urban area
- Just for minor alterations to an existing building that do not involve works to the roof e.g. loft conversion of installation of rooflights
Under the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended), it is an offence to disturb or harm any protected species, or to damage or disturb their habitat or resting place.
This statutory protection remains applicable to everyone, irrespective of involvement in the planning system. In the event that your proposals could potentially affect a protected species you should seek the advice of a suitably qualified and experienced ecologist and consider the need for a licence from Natural England prior to commencing works.
For all other applications use the guidance form to understand if your application needs to be supported by an ecology survey.
Ecological surveys and assessments should be:
- Carried out by suitably experienced, trained and qualified ecological consultants holding, where relevant, protected species licences
- Carried out at appropriate times of year in suitable weather conditions - surveys conducted outside optimal times may be unreliable
- Carried out to published guidelines and methodologies
Consideration should also be given to how the proposed development fits into the existing landscape, including:
- Adjacent parks
- Open spaces
- Designated sites
All of these make a valuable contribution to green infrastructure and wildlife corridors in urban areas and the likely effects of development should not be overlooked.
It is important to note that an absence of evidence of a species does not necessarily mean that the species is not there, or that its habitat is not protected. Once an assessment of existing ecology has been carried out, the potential to enhance wildlife value within the new development should be evaluated.
Do you have great crested newts on your site? Would you be eligible for district level licensing (DLL)?
There are now a few different ways to apply for a licence from Natural England to do development or other work that may affect great crested newts and find out how much you may need to pay:
- Swindon and Wiltshire has a district level licensing scheme, a quicker and simpler option compared to obtaining a GCN mitigation licence.
- Applying for a GCN mitigation licence.
- Or via an ecologist who is a registered consultant under our low-impact class licence scheme.
Benefits of DLL
- Better conserves great crested newts
- Is simple to use
- Offers developers certainty in terms of costs and timescales
- Means developments that have been through planning will not be held up by protracted post-planning licensing
- Results in lots of high value, secure ponds for newts which are managed and monitored for the long term.
In autumn 2019, Natural England ran a series of webinars with the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) to provide more information on district level licensing:
District Level Licensing: How the NE-led scheme works - scheme overview
District Level Licensing: eDNA Survey and Data Collection - evidence base #1
District Level Licensing: Species Distribution Modelling - evidence base #2
District Level Licensing: Habitat Delivery for the NE-led scheme
District Level Licensing: How to apply
Data open to all
As part of the district level licensing project, Natural England completed the largest ever survey of its type for great crested newts across England, funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). Read their gov.uk blog to find out more.
Other things of interest
Read more about Natural England's Geography in Government Award for their species distribution modelling for the district level licensing project.
Avoidance of potential impacts should be a major factor in the design of the proposal and such measures should be outlined within the Design and Access statement.
Consideration should be given as to how this might be achieved, e.g. by moving the site boundary or by altering the construction method.
Mitigation will only be considered where potential impacts cannot be avoided. The relevant industry guidance for species-specific mitigation can be searched for via the CIEEM website.
Where necessary, mitigation should be proposed to reduce the unavoidable impacts of the development on the ecology of the site. Mitigation should be designed in accordance with established best practice, although innovative mitigation designs will be welcome providing they can demonstrate a high level of confidence that they will succeed. For further information read avoidance, mitigation and compensation of impacts to biodiversity.
Instigating best practice on site for all but the smallest developments will require the production of a Construction Method Statement (CMS), which would normally be secured through a planning condition of any permission granted. The CMS will describe how each element of the proposal is to be carried out and what measures are taken at each stage to ensure the protection of biodiversity both within the site and in the surrounding area, and where it is possible that an impact may occur off site as a result of on site processes. For more on construction method statements read writing a construction method statement to support a planning application.
Habitat enhancement (as required by the National Planning Policy Framework) should be specifically designed, to help meet targets set out in Wiltshire's Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), for the latest Biodiversity Delivery Plan for Wiltshire please visit the Link2Nature web page. It should name the habitats/species it is designed to benefit and give justification as to its appropriateness. The consultant ecologist should input into the design of habitat enhancement which should be submitted as part of the planning application for approval by the local planning authority's planning officer and ecologist.
Core Policy 50 of the Wiltshire Core Strategy requires all development to demonstrate no net loss of biodiversity and for major applications the expectation is that development will deliver a net gain. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) also encourages applications to deliver measurable net gains (para 175 d) and the government has signalled its intention to bring forward legislation to require development to deliver 10% net biodiversity gain. This is covered in its response to the Net Gain consultation and in the Environment Bill 2020 which is currently at the Commons committee stages. Natural England has prepared version 2.0 of the Biodiversity Metric and expects this to be finalised in summer 2020. At the current time therefore, the council expects all applications to demonstrate no net loss of biodiversity and where appropriate to deliver a net gain.
In addition, applicants should make themselves aware of advice and policies in Neighbourhood Plans, for example the Corsham Batscape Strategy. Applications in the Trowbridge Community Area extending towards Westbury must also comply with the which has specific habitat requirements in relation to the Bath and Bradford on Avon Bats SAC.