A guide to wildlife reports
In this guide, “wildlife report” also covers all the titles commonly used by different consultants and for different cases.
- Ecology Survey
- Biodiversity Survey
- Bat Survey, and Bat and Bird Survey
- Preliminary Ecological Assessment/Appraisal
- Phase 1 Survey, and Extended Phase 1 Survey
- Protected Species Survey
- Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA)
What is a wildlife report?
At the design stage of any development, the existing ecology of the site and surrounding area must be taken into consideration. This may include some or all (depending on the type and scale of development) of the following potential biodiversity features:
- Legally protected species
- Designated sites
- Priority habitats and priority species
- Ecological networks
A wildlife report is used to assess these features and the potential impact development may have on them.
What does a wildlife report cover?
A wildlife report will usually include the following:
- Survey (site visit or inspection) and assessment for the presence, or possible presence, of important species or habitats.
- An impact assessment of possible harmful impacts from the development, whether temporary during the construction phase or permanent due to a change in land use.
- Mitigation proposals for any harmful impacts. The first step should be to consider whether harmful impacts can be avoided (for example, through an alternative design or layout). If they can’t be avoided, then measures to reduce or minimise impacts, and provision of compensation (for example, replacement habitat or features that animals use for shelter) should be part of your proposals.
- Biodiversity enhancement measures as required by NPPF and Local Plan Policy.
Further specialist surveys may also be recommended, in some cases, to determine whether or not particular protected species are present. These will usually need to be completed before the planning application is submitted. Failure to do so may result in your application being delayed or refused.
All reports should include an Executive Summary, including brief summary of dates, methodology, results and recommendations.
The length and scope of the wildlife report will vary and should be proportionate to the impacts and size of the project. The report may vary from a few pages (if there are no or minimal impacts) to a comprehensive report with detailed surveys.
Why do I need to provide a wildlife report?
Protected and priority species are widespread across the district and can potentially be present or affected by almost any development. Often their presence isn’t obvious and may go unnoticed by the owner or occupier.
Planning policies and legislation require that, before we grant planning permission, you need to demonstrate that the biodiversity value of the site is safeguarded and significant harm to protected species and biodiversity value is avoided or mitigated.
A professional ecologist or ecological consultant will use various ways to assess presence or, possible presence, of protected species or other biodiversity interests.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is clear that pursuing sustainable development includes moving from a net loss of biodiversity to achieving net gains for nature, and that a core principle for planning is that it should contribute to conserving and enhancing the natural environment.
When should wildlife surveys be done?
A preliminary assessment can usually be carried out at any time of year. However, many specialist surveys can only be undertaken during certain seasons.
The times of year that surveys can be done for particular species can be found in Natural England’s Standing Advice.
Your ecology consultant will also advise you on timing constraints.
It is, therefore, important that an initial wildlife assessment is undertaken at an early stage in your project in order to identify any needs for further surveys and associated timing constraints, and to minimise the risk of delays.
If further specialist surveys are recommended, these usually need to be completed before you submit your application.
If you have submitted your application, and we decide that further surveys are required but they can’t be provided due to seasonal survey constraints, then:
- Submissions of surveys may be delayed by a short time; you’ll be asked to agree to an extension of time.
- You’ll be given the option of withdrawing your application (if an extension time cannot be agreed)
- Your application may be refused (if an extension time cannot be agreed and you do not withdraw your application)
How (or from who) do I get a wildlife report?
An ecological consultant should be commissioned to complete the survey and provide a report.
Many ecological consultants are members of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM). Membership of this Institute is only available to those with appropriate qualifications and/or experience, and members are bound by a Code of Professional Conduct.
We recommend that you get a number of quotes as prices can vary considerably.
Outcomes and implications of a survey
A wildlife report will have one of the following outcomes:
- ‘All clear’ – no risk of significant wildlife impacts.
- Low risk – precautionary mitigation measures may be required. Surveys can’t always be certain whether protected species are present, or they may arrive after the survey.
- There’s a risk of harmful impacts to protected species or other biodiversity. This will usually require mitigation.
Provided appropriate measures for avoidance, mitigation and compensation are included in your proposals, the presence of a protected species or other biodiversity interest will very rarely result in planning permission being refused.
For all of the outcomes above, you may need to provide some form of biodiversity enhancement.
If protected species, or the places or features that they use for shelter, are affected you may also require a licence from Natural England.
You would normally apply for a licence after planning permission has been granted.
If a European Protected Species is affected, then you may be asked to provide further information to demonstrate consideration and compliance with the 3 derogation tests of the Habitats Regulations.
Planning permission can only be granted if all 3 derogation tests are satisfied. The tests are:
- the development must meet a purpose of “preserving public health or public safety or other imperative reasons of overriding public interest including those of a social or economic nature and beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment”
- “there is no satisfactory alternative”
- the development “will not be detrimental to the maintenance of the population of the species concerned at a favourable conservation status in their natural range”
How long are wildlife reports valid for?
Planning policies and legislation require that planning decisions are based on up to date information. The length of time that a wildlife report is valid will vary according to the circumstances of the case.
In most cases, wildlife reports up to a year old will be considered valid.
If the wildlife report is more than a year old (for example, for re-submitted applications) you may be asked to provide an update report. The original consultant may be able to provide a letter or brief statement to confirm no significant changes.
For surveys over three years old, it’s likely that it will need to be repeated in full.
This is applicable to the majority of non-householder applications.
National Planning Policy expects development to, not only to protect biodiversity, but also to incorporate opportunities to enable and encourage wildlife within developments.
Typically this will include:
- Planting of native species of trees, shrubs and wildflower grassland.
- Incorporating bat and bird boxes – there are various off-the-shelf products available, including many of durable materials that can be incorporated into the fabric of buildings (for example, "bat bricks").
Many wildlife reports will make suggestions in this respect.