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Building Near Protected Areas and Species

Legislation provides information for land and property developers to follow to help avoid harming protected sites and some animal species.

This section explains how several environmental laws affect construction and developments near protected areas and wildlife in Britain and Northern Ireland.

Check if Your Plans affect a Protected Area

Before engaging in any construction work, you must find out if it could affect any nearby protected areas or sites.

If so, the local planning authority (LPA) is unlikely to grant planning permission for developments that may damage the region.

The ‘MAGIC‘ mapping tool is useful for checking whether your development is inside (or near to) a protected land site.

Note: You can contact Natural England for environmental advice about planning proposals relating to nationally significant infrastructure projects. They may charge a fee for this service.

List of Areas Protected by Legislation

A European protected site may also be, or proposed for becoming, a Ramsar wetland, SAC, or SPA. In this case, the planning authority will need to conduct a Habitats Regulations assessment before you can start work.

List of Protected Sites

Some development proposals might affect nearby sites that are protected by legislation (e.g. Ramsar, SAC, SPA, SSSI). Thus, you should check how your construction activities could affect it, using:

The planning authority in your region might decide to consult with Natural England about the project. As a result, they may follow that up by asking you to (any):

  • Change the plans to something less harmful to wildlife.
  • Conduct the work using ‘specified’ methods.
  • Scrap the plan altogether because they are refusing to grant planning permission.

Note: Natural England offers further guidance about needing consent for a proposed operation or management change on land in a SSSI – and how to make an application.

Protected Plant and Animal Species

Many of the laws in England protect certain delicate or endangered species of plants and animals – including their habitats. Thus, each specific law determines what you can and cannot do if it will impact their existence.

European Protected Species and Groups

Species protected by European law get the highest level of protection, and they include:

You will be breaking the laws that protect areas and wildlife in the United Kingdom if you get caught:

  • Capturing, disturbing, injuring, or killing any European protected species (whether deliberate or through a lack of care).
  • Damaging or destroying a breeding or resting place (even if it was accidental).
  • Obstructing access to their resting or sheltering places (whether deliberate or through a lack of care).
  • Possessing, controlling, selling, or transporting live or dead individuals, or any of their body parts.

In simple terms, ‘disturbing a protected species’ would include any deliberate activity or action that affects or impacts their (either):

  • Ability to breed, raise their young, or survive.
  • Population (e.g. collective numbers of the species) or range in the local area.

Other protected species include:

  • Ancient woodland, ancient trees and veteran trees
  • Badgers
  • Freshwater pearl mussels
  • Water voles
  • White-clawed crayfish
  • Wild birds

You must use (A24 and LR24) to apply for a licence to interfere with badger setts during development work and then report your actions.

Note: Being found guilty of committing an offence can result in an unlimited fine and up to six (6) months in jail.

Legislation for Exceptional Cases

There are ways to avoid causing harm to protected species of wildlife (e.g. timing the activity). Even so, avoiding harm may not always be possible.

To meet the criteria of exceptional cases (incidental result defence) and carry out activities that would usually be illegal, you must be able to show that you are:

  • Unable to avoid the overall impact of the activity.
  • Conducting a lawful project (e.g. you already have planning permission for the development).

Applying for a Mitigation Licence

As a rule, you will need to get a ‘mitigation licence (A12)‘ if a project is going to affect a protected species or the habitat that it lives in. An ecologist can give you expert advice if you are unsure.

Even so, you should consider this route as the last resort because getting permission to carry out work that may affect European protected species is rarely given. An ecologist will conduct surveys showing:

  • How the species uses the area.
  • What mitigation plans can be developed to reduce negative impacts.

Note: The law does not require you to appoint an ecologist per se. But, you would need the help of an expert to complete a mitigation licence application.

Commissioning a Survey by an Ecologist

You may need to get a survey done by an experienced and qualified ecologist if there could be protected wildlife species on (or near to) the development site.

Assuming the survey shows no evidence of a protected species, you would be able to continue with the planning application or the construction work.

But, if the survey shows that protected species are using the site, the ecologist will assess how the development is going to impact the area, and:

  • Adjust the plans (if practical or possible).
  • Arrange mitigation strategies to try and reduce (or compensate for) any damage.
  • Inform you about getting a mitigation licence from Natural England.

An ecologist will already know the most appropriate time to survey (e.g. for the presence of protected species) – which is usually dependent on the regional weather conditions.

Wildlife Licensing

Natural England
Horizon House
Deanery Road

Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 020 8026 1089
Check the cost of making the call

Note: You can get further information about the criteria that planning authorities look for when developers are planning a construction near protected areas and wildlife.

Related Help Guides

Note: The main section contains more advice and information about native flora and fauna across Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Legislation for Construction Near to Protected Areas and Wildlife