To protect our natural environment from destruction and harm many plants and animals are legally protected under both National and European legislation. This protection extends not only to the animal but also the place they inhabit for the purpose of breeding, feeding, or shelter. Many animals need large areas to forage for food at different times of the year when food is scarce, or an assortment of landscape types in which they can select suitable breeding grounds or hibernation sites. This includes some animals where their time is divided between living in water or on land.
The possible presence of protected species is a material planning consideration in deciding any planning application. This consideration translates into requesting ecological reports to be submitted with planning applications where it is reasonable to assume they are present. This could be due to the proximity of a proposed application to a site designated for its inherent beauty with landscape features capable of supporting a range of plants and animals.
Where protected species are found to be present planning conditions will reduce any harmful effects of a proposed development. Great crested newts, otters, reptiles, bats, badgers, barn owls and water voles are all given particular protection under both National and European legislation, and extra consideration and care is also needed not to disturb nesting birds within the breeding season.
Policies to protect the variety and abundance of life, commonly referred to as biodiversity, are included in the Unitary Development Plan. The County of Wrexham has 4 Special Areas of Conservation and 18 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) 200 Wildlife Sites and 1 Local Nature Reserve. In particular, the area is well known for its large population of Great crested newts. These amphibians can travel long distances up to 500 metres. They are found in a variety of habitats that include damp areas, shallow ditches, ponds, grassland, and derelict land. They are likely; for example, to be found in areas of rubble in built up areas.
Protected species surveys
In order for a full assessment to be made of the effects of a development on protected species, a detailed protected species survey will usually be required to be submitted with the planning application in accordance with Technical Advice Note 5 – “Nature Conservation” published by the Welsh Assembly Government.
Surveys are only successful when they are carried out within the correct season to confirm a presence or absence of protected species. The time of year when a survey can be undertaken may vary according to the species, but the majority of survey results can be relied upon at the optimum time of year, which begins in the spring and is known as the breeding season. This may give rise to a prolonged period before development can begin, waiting for the most appropriate time of year to undertake the survey. To be accepted by the Council, surveys must be undertaken
- at the correct time of year
- by a suitably experienced surveyor
- using the correct methodology
- properly and fully reported
The following information sets out some of the more common circumstances when ecological surveys may be required and details the best times of year to undertake them. It is hoped this information will allow applicants to plan ecological surveys in advance and help reduce the potential for unexpected delays.
Development within 500 metres of a pond: Great crested newt - survey from mid March to mid June, including at least two visits between mid April and mid May.
Development within 15 metres of a ditch, stream or river: Water vole and Otter - survey March to October.
Demolition or change of use of buildings:
- Bats (survey any time of year, but survey in spring to autumn may be required in some circumstances) to determine the species of bat present.
- Barn Owls - Breeding season is March – August, but surveys can usually be undertaken throughout the year to determine likelihood of presence.
- Breeding Birds - Survey only required between 1st March and 31st August, (work can usually be done outside this period once planning permission has been granted).
Development involving the removal of hedges or scrub or the felling of trees: Breeding bird’s survey, only required between 1st March and 31st August, (work can usually be done outside this period once planning permission has been granted).
Development involving the felling of trees with holes, hollow trunks or crevices:
- Bats - Survey time varies greatly depending on the species of bat, but surveys will generally be required to be undertaken during spring – autumn.
- Barn Owls - Breeding season is March – August, but surveys can usually be undertaken throughout the year.
Development involving the loss of semi-natural habitats or features of nature conservation value such as woodland, ponds, grassland or waste ground:
A full ecological survey of the site may be required to cover all protected species and also to assess the overall nature conservation value of the site. A full ecological survey may take many months to undertake. Consideration should be given to undertaking such a survey at the earliest stages of planning a development.
Once a survey has been completed
A detailed report of the survey and its findings should be submitted to the Council as part of a planning application. If no evidence of protected species is discovered during the survey, then no further action will be required. If however, protected species are present it may be necessary to submit details of how any adverse effects of the development will be reduced. In many cases this may simply involve undertaking work at particular times of the year or maintaining areas of natural habitat on site. In exceptional cases proposed developments may need to be substantially revised to accommodate protected species or the application may be refused permission
It should be born in mind that as the circumstances where protected species can occur are often difficult to predict, it is always beneficial to consult a specialised ecological consultant for advice at the earliest stage of planning a development.