What does NPPF say about ecology or wildlife ?

National Planning and Policy Framework has quite extensive consideration of ecology and wildlife, including the need for a landscape scale approach to planning and for wildlife gain during development.  We find it quite a big document to download, so the following are the relevant extracts from the National Planning and Policy Framework. We have added in titles for ease of navigation. Continue reading

Which tree survey do I need ?

Sycamore canopy in spring bud

Clients are often asked by planners or others for a tree survey, but are not always sure what type is needed.   We have outlined the different types of tree surveys and the reasons they are needed.

A. Development survey = BS5837:2012 ‘Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction- Recommendations’

A Development Survey also called BS5837 survey is the one normally required by Local Planning Authorities (LPA) for development and planning permission.

A competent “arboriculturalist” [ = tree person ] must inspect the trees on and adjacent to the site. The trees on site are assessed in terms of their retention value which includes their health, longevity and amenity impact.

Trees that are marked for retention, as well as any adjacent trees not on site but affected by development need to be protected from any potential harm that may occur during the demolition and construction phases of the project. This involves both above and below ground precautions. Above ground, the crown spread and dimensions of the tree will need protecting, below ground the roots of the tree are a constraint governed by the Root Protection Area (RPA).

( The RPA is the area the tree’s roots occupy – this requires fencing and ground cover to protect it from above ground operations.) Information on protective measures for the trees on site will be provided as part of the BS5837 report.

B. Tree Hazard Surveys

Where you are concerned about your “duty of care” over a tree, then a Tree Hazard Survey is the one you require.

All tree owners have a legal responsibility as their “duty of care” to ensure others are not at risk from falling trees and branches. You need to assess the level of risk involved on your land. The risk is generally assessed based on :

  1. The level, extent and type of access that people have to the land on which the tree stands or where the branches could fall.
  2. The condition and health of the tree.

The factors underlying the condition and health of the tree will dictate how often the tree should be re-inspected for potential hazards. Advice on mitigating hazards by undertaking tree work can be suggested as part of the inspection, which you need to act upon.

C: Advice on Tree Works

Tree works on trees in Conservation Areas or on those with Tree Protection Orders on them need a “Tree Works” application.

When carrying out any tree work it is always advised that a competent arborist be consulted, whether it is a consultant or a tree surgeon. Work should be carried out in line with the British Standard, BS3998:2010 ‘Tree Work- Recommendations’. Trees should be inspected before the work is carried out too ensure the best management practices are employed.

Trees in Conservation Areas and with TPOs often have high amenity value and are well loved by their owners, so are felt to be worth the extra investment.

D: Surveys for underground utility installations

As stated in NJUG Guidelines for the Planning, Installation and Maintenance of Utility Apparatus in Proximity to Trees, there are generally low incidence of damage to underground apparatus by trees where these installed within hard surfaces ( e.g. pavements ). However trees can have variable growing patterns in term of root structure, especially if there are below ground obstructions to root growth. This can make any changes on site in the trees RPA potentially hazardous. Work on operational land for utilities often requires no LPA application, however it is considered good practice to follow BS3857 to implement tree protection methods where possible.

What is a BS5837 tree survey?

In April 2012 the revised BS 5837: 2012 ‘Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction – Recommendations’ came into practice. The British Standard provides guidance in respect of trees on development sites.

When conducting the tree survey onsite the arboriculturalist will make decisions on which trees are to be retained by looking at the condition of the tree and the potential is has grow and develop healthily. Useful questions to ask as part of a tree inspection are: does the tree have any structural defects? Is it significantly contributing to the amenity of the area? Are there any signs of early disease? What is the estimated remaining lifespan of the tree?

Information will also be collected on the spatial dimensions of the tree such as stem diameter, height and crown spread. The tree survey data can then be used to inform design stages and establish methods for tree protection during the demolition and construction phases of the project based on which trees are marked for retention.

If trees are to be retained, constraints to be considered are both above and below ground. The root protection area (RPA) is the constraint below ground, this is the area in which the tree has established its root network and must be protected throughout development. The constraints above ground are dictated by the height and spread of the tree, future growth potential, shading potential and what you are proposing to construct. This applies to planning applications for most developments.

If the work you are proposing does not involve Local Planning Authority (LPA) consent it is advised that surveys be carried out as described in BS5837 to inform good design practice.

If your trees are subject to Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs), or are within a conservation area the legislation that covers protected trees overrides any permitted development rights. Work carried out without consent from the LPA can lead to prosecution.

Bat licence delays – May update

Brown long-eared bat captured during demolition work

Brown long-eared bat caught in demolition work

Finally some good news for bat licences !  The bat queue seems to be declining and the delays are down from four to three weeks. Not brilliant, but better than nowt. Our forecast is for no improvement in the immediate to near future seems to have been wrong ! We don’t have May data for newts, cos we are too busy doing surveys still.

There are still staff shortages within the species protection teams, so the reduction must be down to the effort of the staff. We suspect that they will now be given a large pay rise in recognition of their efforts.

Natural England delays remain in reviewing European Protected Species Licence applications. If you need to gaining a licence and how it might affect your project, please contact us as soon as possible.

The following are based on ‘New’ Application processing time during the four week period 06th April 2015 to 08th May 2015 :

Bat Update (as of 8th May 2015)

  • 202  ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ 368 on 6/4/15 ; 355 on 10/2/15 ; 279 on 22/12/14 ]
  • “New application processing time: Average delay of 14 days (44 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ Reduction from 47 days on 6/4/15 ; 48 days in February and 47 days in 22 December ]

Similar processing times were reported for Modifications and Resubmissions.


Great crested newt mitigation and translocation

When should I think about great crested newt mitigation ?

If you are planning on developing a site and have had an ecological survey to assess impacts to wildlife read on. The results of this survey have identified potential impacts on great crested newts in and around the proposed development area.  You need to start thinking about mitigation for great crested newts at this point. For example you may need to create new habitats offsite to offset any damage on site.

What happens if there are great crested newts in an area for proposed development?

You must apply for a European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licence from Natural England (NE). There is no charge by NE for EPSM licenses, however, the development must pass three legal tests. The activity must be for a purpose of public interest (for example, for providing housing ). There must be no satisfactory alternative that will cause less harm to the species. The activity must not harm the long-term conservation status of the species.

Planning permission for any development of the proposed site should be granted prior to applying for an EPSM licence. Once a licence has been applied for, you can usually expect a licensing decision within 30 days, but NE is currently assessing a large volume of applications.

A mitigation strategy forms part of the licence application. This both safeguards the great crested newt population before and after works and prevents harm to the individual animals. There will be a legally binding Method Statement which will include methods e.g. for translocation to remove individual newts, and a timetable.  Although these can be varied if something unexpected happens, not complying with the licence is a legal offence, so they need to be well thought through.


Sometimes it is not possible to retain newt populations within a development site. In this case they will need to be moved – known as “translocation” or trapping out.  Translocation of Great Crested Newts will always involve a licence application to Natural England.

In the application Natural England will want to see that :

– The translocation site is as near as possible to the original site. In general over a mile would be unacceptable to them except in exceptional circumstances.  This is because the mitigation needs to maintain the populations at a local level, but also due to the risks of spreading chytrid and other amphibian diseases across the countryside.

– Any ponds removed or adversely affected will be replaced, preferably at a least a 2:1 ratio, . This is based on the presumption that not all ponds will be successful for newts.  Sometimes enhancement of existing ponds is possible e.g. old overgrown ponds now unsuitable for newts. SUDS ponds or balancing lagoons are not suitable.  The pond needs to be specifically for the species.

– There will need to be new habitat created or enhanced at least equal in area to that lost and/or of a higher quality. Examples might include arable land being replaced by grassland or improved grass leys replaced by scrub and woodland.

– In general you will need a survey to see if there are newts already at the translocation site. Translocating newts into ponds with existing populations is not acceptable, as there is no net gain for the species, since they just compete with newts already there.

– The management of the site will need to be guaranteed “in perpetuity” – normally by a Section 106 agreement with the landowner.  This is clearly less complex where the land is within the blue line of the development site owner or even with the red line.

Trapping a site out can be a lengthy process and take over a year allowing for licence application and seasons.  Trapping will normally be for 60 suitable days, but with additional requirements for breeding ponds. Suitable days are normally during spring and autumn, when temperatures are warm enough but not too dry for the newts to move around. When conditions are not suitable ( e.g. there is no rain for several days or it is too cold ), then trapping nights become “invalid” and the period of time needs to be extended.  Thus 60 trapping nights could in reality extend over an additional nights say or be caught short by the autumnal frost or a summer drought.

Planning law says that the local planning authority have to assess whether a European Protected Species for a site is likely to be granted by Natural England ( e.g. Morge versus Hants and more recently Elsworthy Farm judgement ) prior to granting permission.

How does the licence work when developing a site?

You need to keep a copy of the licence on site, and you may be inspected by Natural England to see if you are complying with it – they can request to see this copy.  Certain works will be carried out or supervised by your licenced ecologist, but there will be other responsibilities resting on the client. Make sure all contractors coming on site are inducted on it, and stick to what it says. At the end of the works, you need to make a licence return to prove that they have been carried out, and monitoring of any new ponds is necessary to give some measure of success.

For great crested newt legislation, see this post.

How many surveys for great crested newts ?

Great Crested Newt on handGreat crested newt captured by nettingGreat crested newt fence with bucket

We thought it helpful for clients to have set out what actual Natural England requirements are for licencing – how old your survey can be  – and how many surveys are necessary.

Natural England guidance

Natural England guidance on presently acceptable levels of survey effort is set out in their EPSL method statement form – which we present below – slightly tweaked.  This sets out both the type and age of data viewed as acceptable.  You can use the filters to find your project type.

This is our Excel table here : Great crested – survey effort and age

Deconstructing this gives some interesting insights about the age of data required, but also whether as to whether a full six surveys or repeat surveys are necessary.

Low impact licences and survey data

If we read through this table, you will find that low impact or temporary development can often use presence/absence data alone, which makes sense.  You may only need four instead of six visits ( or possibly only one if you find them first time ! ). Newt numbers decline rapidly away from ponds ( either the creatures are too unfit or simply due to dispersion effects ). The effect a long way from ponds can therefore be predicted as being low, based on their presence alone.  Far enough away and you can assume de minimus effects, and possibly avoid surveys all together.

The age of data is based on spring/summer survey seasons elapsed ( but see also later for a potential complexity here ):

Survey done Age of survey (before May[?] 2015)
March to May 2015 0 (before May 15)
2014 1
2013 2
2012 3
2011 4
2010 5
2009 6

So this year, data from the 2011 summer season is 4 years old, assuming you apply before end of May[?] 2015.  This also means that for some low impact schemes, older data will be helpful.  There are various caveats to this.

It is not 100% clear from the footnote on the NE guidance whether the age of the survey is the number of survey seasons missed, inclusive or exclusive of the present year.  It would seem more logical that 2015 data is 0 years old until March 2016, but in fact it appears to be 1 after May this year. However it would be impossible to survey, get planning and apply in the time period. We will take this point up with Natural England for clarity [ thanks to someone for pointing this out to me ].

What survey effort is most helpful ?

This raises for us an interesting question about proportionality and efficiency – what solution for survey effort allows most accurate information most efficiently ?

Given that most ponds are in the small or medium range and that large counts are generally from aggregation across ponds, should we focus more on the number of ponds involved and their functional nature ?

eDNA difficulties for presence/abscence

A difficulty of eDNA for results is that it shows us nothing of the pond’s function.

Four nocturnal visits will not only give a very good guide for impact assessment,  but also should generally reveal if the animals are breeding successfully and may turn up eggs or efts dependant on timing.

Many ponds around a breeding pond have occasional newts, but are not of high enough quality for breeding – this issue was never tackled by HSI.  Vice versa large numbers of males lecking at a pond indicate one thing.  Knowledge about successful breeding at a pond seems to us essential in stating the effects on the population.


So to return to the question only four surveys with presence or possibly even eDNA to prove absence could be sufficient for your needs, or you may be able to rely on existing older data. However really your consultant needs to have some understanding of population ecology to advise you on mitigation and obtaining a licence. Following guidance verbatim is not a good solution and could waste your money – sorry that slipped out.

With this in mind we advise you not to rely on this article for formal advice, but let us discuss with you how it applies to your suituation – please contact us directly if you have a licencing query or you have some observations about the article.

There is more Natural England advice on their website : https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/great-crested-newts-apply-for-a-mitigation-licence

Great Crested Newt Surveys

Why are great crested newt surveys needed?

Great crested newts have suffered serious declines in numbers over the last century. Where a development project might impact this species or habitat it uses, great crested newt surveys may be required to determine whether newts are present to assess if they will be affected by the project.

Who can do surveys ?

The great crested newt is protected both under national and European law.  An experienced great crested newt surveyor is required to complete the surveys and make this assessment.  Our staff have the necessary licences in place to do this and can work efficiently to do the surveys for you.

This great crested newt was found during pitfall trapping in 2014

This great crested newt was found during pitfall trapping in 2014

Smooth newt found during bottle trapping

Smooth newt found during pitfall trapping








Where are they found ?

Great crested newts are not only found in ponds, but spend much of their life on land in habitats such as grassland, woodland, hedgerows, and can even spend winter in building foundations. Because they can travel long distances and are found in a range of places, it is typical for all ponds within at least 250m of a proposed development site to be assessed.

This pond in South Norfolk was home to 120 great crested newts, 50 smooth newts and a number of frogs and toads

This pond in South Norfolk was home to 120 great crested newts, 50 smooth newts and a number of frogs and toads

The picture on the right shows a pond surveyed in 2014 that had the largest great crested newt population seen by NWS staff for a few years, with a total count of over 120 newts on one night!




How is a survey carried out?

The first stage of a great crested newt survey is normally to carry out a daytime assessment of ponds in the vicinity.  We would normally carry out a Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) assessment on these water bodies. This is a predictive tool which looks at the likelihood that great crested newts are present, and can be undertaken at any time of the year. Low HSI scores are sometimes sufficient to conclude the likely absence of newts, but for higher scores, further surveys will be needed.

Great crested newt captured by netting

Great crested newt captured by netting

Because great crested newts are nocturnal and can be spread across a large area, surveys  take place at night between mid-March to mid-June when they gather in ponds to breed. Four visits are required to determine presence or likely absence, and two of these must take place between mid-April to mid-May during peak breeding activity. If great crested newts are found during these surveys, an additional two visits are needed to estimate the population size more accurately.  The survey will involve looking for eggs, searching for adults with a bright torch and netting for adults and larvae.  Where there is poor visibility or the site is unsafe to enter at night, then bottle trapping can be used.  This technique is more risky as it can potentially drown animals if the traps are not set correctly.

An alternative and new technique to work out if newts are present is to collect water samples from the pond and have them analysed for great crested newt eDNA. This technique can quickly rule out a number of ponds and avoids unnecessary night surveys. However, if the results come back positive, six nocturnal visits will still be required to determine the population size. Water samples can only be collected between mid-April to end-June and must be collected using a strict methodology.  We have used this technique in 2014 and can advise you if it is suitable for you.

How is the information used by planners?

The Local Planning Authority responsible for considering a planning application need to know if great crested newts are present, and in what numbers, so they can make sure that the development will not impact the species long-term. Where an impact is likely, a European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licence from Natural England will be required, which will detail how and when the work can take place. This will usually be conditioned on to any planning decision, but will need to be demonstrated as deliverable prior the planning stage.









What bat boxes should I use ?

Bat boxes are something we have a lot of inquiries from clients about .

The type of bat box to use will depend on what species of bats you need to provide for or want to attract.  Brown long-eared bats will prefer boxes with large cavities, whereas pipistrelles prefer flatter boxes that they can squeeze up into.  Maternity roosts will often look for much larger boxes or in the case of Brown long-eared bats the use of roof spaces or attics.

However clients also want bat boxes to look pretty and fit the style of the house.

Many bat boxes are designed more for modern architecture than a renovated building.  For example Schwelger [http://www.schwegler-natur.de/index.php?main=produkte&sub=fledermaus ] have the biggest range of “concrete” boxes and their very helpful website contains pictures and specifications for what they look like in reality and how to fit them.  The bigger ones are surprisingly heavy and nearly the size of a postbox, an important consideration for aesthetics and safety.  They are widely available via resellers in the UK.

On buildings where appearance is very important, especially listed buildings, built-in bat boxes may be a better option. Soffit boxes are a possibility and bat boxes can also be built into walls, where there is sufficient thickness or a double skin arrangement with a wide enough cavity.  Both these options leave only a small external access slot, which looks a bit like a letter box.

Wildcare stock a wide range of bat boxes and can send you a very nicely illustrated catalogue quickly by post : http://www.wildcareshop.com/product/nest-boxes-artificial-habitats/bat-boxes.html

You may also wish to consider installing bat access tiles as an alternative provision for bats.

[Footnote : Liz from the Sales Team at Wildcare has told us there is a wider selection of Schwelger boxes on their website than in their catalogue at the moment if you want something specific.  ]

Selected bibliography for ecological consultancy

We have included in this page for ease of reference some of the standard texts for reference for ecological consultants and developers. We hope that this bibliography of assistance to you.


Dept for Communities and Local Government (2012) National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), March, 2012 DCLG, London, UK

Natural England (2014) Protected species and sites: how to review planning proposals https://www.gov.uk/protected-species-and-sites-how-to-review-planning-proposals <Natural England’s standing advice on ecology and development >

Norfolk County Council (2004) Biodiversity supplementary planning guidance for Norfolk. Norfolk County Council, UK


JNCC (2010 )Handbook for Phase 1 habitat survey – a technique for environmental audit
JNCC, Peterborough. UK  Available online at: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-2468

DEFRA (2007) Hedgerow Survey Handbook: A standard procedure for local surveys in the UK. 2nd edition. DEFRA, London, UK

DEFRA (2011) Biodiversity offsets. Available online at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/natural/biodiversity/uk/offsetting/


Amphibians and Reptiles

Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the United Kingdom (2010) ARG UK Advice Note 5 :
Great Crested Newt Habitat Suitability Index. May 2010. Available online at http://www.arguk.org/download-document/9-great-crested-newt-habitat-suitability-index-arg-advice-note-5 <Update to original Oldham(2000) paper>

Arnold, H. R. (1995) Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Britain. Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, HMSO, UK

Baker, J., Beebee, T., Buckley, J., Gent, A. & Orchard, D. (2011) Amphibian Habitat Management Handbook. Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bournemouth, UK

Bray, R. & Gent, T. (1997) Opportunities for amphibians and reptiles in the designed landscape. English Nature Science Series 30, English Nature, Peterborough, UK

English Nature (2001) Great crested newt mitigation guidelines. English Nature, Peterborough, UK  Available online at : publications.naturalengland.org.uk/file/791789 <Standard technical reference text for development, which includes specifics for survey and mitigation such as trapping and fence specifications.>

English Nature (2004) Reptiles: guidelines for developers. English Nature, Peterborough, UK. Available online at : publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/76006  <Easy to read general introduction to reptiles and development.>

Froglife (1999) Reptile survey: an introduction to planning, conducting and interpreting surveys for snake and lizard conservation. Froglife Advice Sheet 10. Halesworth, Suffolk, UK. Available online at : http://www.devon.gov.uk/froglife_advice_sheet_10_-_reptile_surveys.pdf

JNCC (online) UK BAP priority herptile species. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough, UK. Available at: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/

Langton, T. E. S, Beckett, C. L. & Foster, J. P. (2001) Great Crested Newt Conservation Handbook. Froglife, Halesworth, Suffolk, UK

Oldham, R. S., Keeble, J., Swan, M. J. S. & Jeffcote, M. (2000) Evaluating the suitability of habitat for the Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus). Herpetological Journal 10, 143-155. Available online at http://aps.group.shef.ac.uk/level-4-web-sites/l4-websites-10/watt-keziah/Oldham%20et%20al%202000.PDF  <Original Great Crested Newt paper on which later guidance on ponds is based – worth reading to establish limitations of approach for establishing absence>


Barn Owl Trust (2009) Barn Owls and Rural Planning Applications. “What needs to happen”: A Guide for Planners. Barn Owl Trust, UK

Eaton M.A., Brown A.F., Noble D.G., Musgrove A.J., Hearn R., Aebischer N.J., Gibbons D.W, Evans A. and Gregory R.D. (2009) Birds of Conservation Concern 3: the population status of birds in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. British Birds 102. Available at: http://www.bto.org/science/monitoring/psob

Water Voles

Strachan, R. & Moorhouse, T. & Gelling, M. (2011) Water Vole Conservation Handbook 3rd edition. The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, UK


Natural England (2008) Advice and legislation relating to otters. Natural England, Peterborough, UK. http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/regulation/wildlife/species/otters.aspx


Bat Conservation Trust (1997) Bats and Trees. The Bat Conservation Trust, UK. Available online at: www.bats.org.uk

Bat Conservation Trust (2012) Encouraging bats – a guide for bat-friendly gardening and living. Bat Conservation Trust. http://www.bats.org.uk/publications_detail.php/231/encouraging_bats

Hundt, L. (2012)  Bat surveys: Good practice guidelines, 2nd Edition. Bat conservation Trust, London, UK.  Available at: http://www.bats.org.uk/publications.php?keyword=bat+surveys&month=&year=&category=&search=search

Mitchell-Jones A.J. & McLeish A.P. (eds). (2004) Bat Worker’s Manual, 3rd edition. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, UK. Available at: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-2861

Mitchell-Jones A.J. (2004) Bat mitigation guidelines. Version: January 2004. English Nature. Available at: http://www.wildlifegateway.org.uk/site/pdfs/naturalEngland/Batmitigationguide2.pdf [Mitchel Jones Bat Mitigation Guidelines 2004]

Gunnell K., Grant G. & Williams C. (2012) Landscape and urban design for bats and biodiversity. Bat Conservation Trust, UK. Available at: http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/landscapedesign.html



DEFRA (2001) The Hedgerows Regulations 1997 : a guide to the law and good practice. HMSO, UK

Statutory Instrument (1983) Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. HMSO, UK

Statutory Instrument (2000) Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. HMSO, UK

Statutory Instrument (2010) Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/490). HMSO, UK


BSI (2005) Trees in relation to construction. Recommendations. British Standards Institution BS5837, UK

Emorsgate Seeds (2013) Price list for seeds of wildflowers, wild grasses and mixtures. Available online at: http;//wildseed.co.uk