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Ecology - further guidance

There are many protected plants and animals in England including their supporting features and habitats. Also, what you can and cannot do legally varies from species to species. There is also a hierarchy for harm and disturbance:

  • First avoid - don’t cause any harm
  • Second Mitigate - have measures to mitigate the unavoidable harm
  • Third and only as a last resort is compensation. Such as biodiversity offsetting

How to know if a proposed development may impact on a protected species?

There is standard guidance on how to check to see if your application may harm protected species and on how you can prepare your planning application where there are protected species on or near the proposed site.

Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits Special Protection Area (SPA)

The Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits SPA and Ramsar site was formally classified by the UK government in 2011 and covers 1358 hectares in North and West Northamptonshire.

SPAs provide increased protection and management for areas which are important for breeding, feeding, wintering or migration of rare and vulnerable species of birds.

A ‘Ramsar’ site is a wetland of international importance designated under the convention of wetlands of international importance, especially as waterfowl habitat.

The SPA and Ramsar site boundaries for the Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits are identical, although the qualifying features are slightly different.

The Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits SPA Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) was adopted by West Northamptonshire Council in November 2021, with the Addendum: Mitigation Strategy adopted in March 2022. Both documents help authorities, developers and others ensure that development has no significant effect on the Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits SPA.

If your residential development is within 3 kilometres of the Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pit (UNVGP) Special Protection Area (SPA) and Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) it will cause significant recreational disturbance on the SPA. As such you will either need to mitigate your development directly as a part of your proposal or pay a Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMM) fee towards mitigation identified in the UNVGP SPA Mitigation Strategy. For residential developments of 10 or more, please discuss your proposal with Natural England. It should be noted that in some cases, individual Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) may be required.

Ecology reports

Please see our Supplementary Planning Documents to see if your development needs to submit an ecology report including details about why this is required. If ecology has not been properly considered, your application may be refused on the basis that your application has not complied with paragraph 57 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the Community Infrastructure Levy regulations 2010 (as amended) (CIL).

What to do if your application does impact on a protected species

If your development site is one that could impact on a protected species or their habitat you will need the guidance from a qualified ecologist.

You can find one using either of the following sites:

We can ask that a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) is submitted where it is not clear:

  • if there are protected species present
  • which species they are
  • if their numbers are significant to the species population as a whole

High quality ecological surveys are very important because Local Authorities can refuse an application if surveys are:

  • carried out at the wrong time of year
  • not up to date
  • do not follow standard survey guidelines
  • do not provide sufficient information to assess the likely impact

What happens when all the surveys/reports requested are submitted?

Our ecology team will be consulted on your application. The team will review the reports and planning application documents submitted and offer comments back to your planning case officer.

The comments will vary from finding that the submission is acceptable and meets the required standards but with conditions to ensure protection and biodiversity enhancement is achieved, or object to the proposal. If the ecology team object to the proposal, but there are ways to make it acceptable, they will offer their recommendations.

What to do if the application is approved with conditions

You need to read your conditions carefully and discharge your conditions in accordance with the wording of the condition.

Failure to discharge ecological conditions that results in causing harm, for some species, is a criminal offence. For example, species (animals or native plants) that have European protected species status, wild birds, their nests and eggs and for schedule 1 birds, disturbing their dependant young or failing to obtain a licence for species that have their own mitigation licences, for example, bats and newts or failing to act in accordance with the details of a licence.

Great Crested Newts Licence

We hold a district licence for Great Crested Newts. Great crested newts (Triturus cristatus) are present in around 32% ponds in the South Midlands region (higher than the national average). This species and its habitats are protected by law.

Ponds are critical to great crested newts for breeding, but they are also dependent on other habitats. They spend most of their life on land in habitats such as woodland, hedgerows, rough grassland, and scrub, travelling up to 500 metres between ponds.

As such, if a proposed development is within 500 meters of a pond, great crested newts could be a planning consideration. A development will be deemed as being within 500m of a pond if a pond is contained within a 500m buffer drawn around the development’s red line boundary (ie the development would be within 500m straight line distance of a pond).

To determine whether great crested newts will be a planning consideration, Natural England’s Standing Advice should be consulted.

Due to great crested newts’ protected status, we must be satisfied that any detrimental effects can be either avoided, mitigated, or compensated. If impacts on great crested newts from the development are assessed as being likely then to satisfy this requirement you will need to obtain a licence, by either:

Before applying for a licence, surveys will need to be carried out during the recognised season (mid-March to mid-June) to confirm whether great crested newts are present. A population size class assessment may also be needed.

When presence of great crested newts is confirmed, details of surveys, mitigation and compensation will need to be submitted and agreed with us as part of your planning application. Also, if newts are absent and then are discovered in construction, work must halt, and further competent ecological advice sought.

Last updated 08 December 2023