Planning and Biodiversity
The Ecology team at Leicestershire County Council provides biodiversity advice to the planning services at:
- Leicestershire County Council
- Blaby District Council
- Harborough District Council
- Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council
- Melton Borough Council
- North West Leicestershire District Council
- Oadby and Wigston Borough Council
- Rutland County Council
We comment on planning applications when consulted by the local planning authority. We advise the planners on biodiversity matters and make recommendations for how they determine the application, but we don't have the final say about the decision made by the planning authority.
Ecology or biodiversity is a material consideration when determining planning applications. This means that planning authorities must take impacts on wildlife into account when making planning decisions. They can refuse applications that cause significant harm to biodiversity, or can set planning conditions that mitigate or compensate for the harm, for example, by creating new habitats.
The weight of the material consideration depends on the significance of the affected habitat or species in a national or county-wide context, and the severity of the impact.
The presence of a species protected by law is always a material consideration but doesn't mean that a planning application is automatically refused. National guidance on this can be found on page 33 in the biodiversity and geological conservation: circular 06/2005
Protected species include:
- Great crested newts
- Water voles
- White-clawed crayfish
- Barn owls
- Bats (all species)
The national policies on planning and biodiversity are on the National Planning Policy Framework – see Chapter 15.
In addition, the local planning authorities also have biodiversity or ecology policies in their local plans that you can refer to - please visit their websites to find out more:
If the request for information has come from a local authority’s ecologist, they will specify what the ecology or biodiversity surveys should include. If the planners have asked you to provide the ecology report, please check the scope with our Ecology team by emailing email@example.com. This will prevent you from wasting time and money doing unnecessary surveys.
Surveys could include the following elements, depending on your scoping advice:
Preliminary Ecology Assessment (PEA)
This is useful on large sites as it will help to scope out what detailed surveys are needed as a second phase of survey.
On smaller sites, it can be a waste of time and money - it’s best to go straight to the detailed surveys, after taking advice on the scope from the Ecology team.
Extended Habitat survey
A Preliminary Ecology Assessment (PEA) should include this. On smaller sites that don’t need a PEA, it may be requested if there is permanent grassland or another good habitat on site. It should be done between April and mid-October - surveys done outside this season may be rejected.
An Extended Habitat survey should include ‘target notes’, and should identify any habitats that meet Local Wildlife Site criteria:
When you are commissioning the survey, please make sure this is part of the brief - it should save you time when the application is being considered, and will smooth the process.
Under national planning policy, development should provide measurable net-gains for biodiversity by creating or enhancing habitats to compensate for those that have been lost because of the development. If you can’t do this on the development site, you may have to arrange some off-site habitat improvements, either on your own land or on third party land.
Unless yours is a householder application, or your site is without any vegetation (e.g. is completely on tarmac or concrete), it is very likely that you will need to provide a biodiversity net-gain assessment and biodiversity improvement plan, using the standard methodology and metric from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). There is some guidance on preparing for mandatory biodiversity net-gain from Natural England.
Your ecologist should be able to do this when they do the habitat survey.
The government’s plan is that it will become the law in late 2023 for most developments to provide at least 10% net-gain in biodiversity.
Read more about applying the biodiversity net-gain metric.
Protected and priority species survey(s)
Surveys are usually requested for bats, badgers and great crested newts, but they are also sometimes needed for otters, water voles, white-clawed crayfish, barn owls, swifts or other species. There are restricted survey seasons for most species.
Beware of survey reports that don’t give you answers - if they are inconclusive and recommend further surveys, they are liable to be rejected.
We recommend you ensure that your ecologists have completed all the surveys needed before you submit your application. It may be some time before the local authority ecologist is consulted on your application. If you need more surveys, this delay can cause you to miss the survey season and for your application to be refused or deferred.
Bat and great crested newt surveys should be carried out to national guidelines - make sure you ask for this in the brief.
Ecology reports should include impact assessment, mitigation and enhancement proposals.
The extent of this will depend on the survey findings. If there are impacts on significant habitats and species, the report should include recommendations for mitigation, which should be incorporated into the development plans. For instance, if a bat loft is needed, your planning drawings should show this.
Bird surveys, mitigation and nest boxes
Detailed breeding bird or wintering bird surveys are usually needed for large developments such as major housing and infrastructure, windfarms, and solar farms.
Barn owl surveys may be needed for barn conversions or demolitions of agricultural buildings, or similar. Note that barn owls often nest in modern barns as well as traditionally-built barns. Barn owls are protected by law.
Swifts are a declining species in the UK, and a priority species for conservation. Their stronghold is in urban areas, and their traditional nest sites are under threat from building conversions, management, and demolitions.
Developers and householders are sometimes required to install swift nest boxes or nest bricks in new or converted/extended buildings, in suitable location where swifts have been known to breed recently.
Bird boxes are often required as a planning condition:
Who does the surveys?
You will need to commission it from an independent ecological consultant. We strongly recommend that you make sure that the ecologists are members of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM)
Our Ecology team can send you a list of local consultants, but cannot recommend any.
We recommend you prepare a brief and give your ecologist clear information about the development you are planning, and that you ensure the ecologists have full and safe access to the site, including any buildings.
Do I need a data search?
A data search is:
- needed for large sites and major developments. Usually this will be an area covering 1-2 kilometres buffer outside the site boundary, depending on the size of development, and it should cover protected and priority species and designated sites. Some developments with potentially high indirect impacts - e.g. wind farms, major road and rail, industry, minerals and very large development - will need larger areas of data search.
- possibly needed for smaller sites, if there are good habitats on site or close by - 1 kilometre buffer around the site should be adequate.
- rarely needed for a householder application, unless the property is very large.
If your site is close to the county boundary, you may also need to commission a search from the neighbouring record centre.
The Ecology team will not reject your application if it doesn't have a data search. It will provide useful information to your ecologists. For most major developments (apart from householders), it would be negligent of them not to commission one, unless it has been agreed in discussion with the Ecology team or local authority that one isn’t needed.
Ways to search data
Usually the ecology consultant will commission the search, and it will carry a fee. The search should be from the Leicestershire and Rutland Environmental Records Centre (LRERC) which has further information, including costs of standard searches.
Searches of the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) are free, but can’t be used for commercial purposes, and they don't produce results that are detailed enough to use locally.
Searches of the Multi-Agency Geographic Information for the Countryside (MAGIC) will show some site designations, like nationally important wildlife and geological sites (Site of Special Scientific Interest, etc.), but they don't show Local Wildlife Sites which are referred to in the local plan.
The information above is also available as a download:
What is a wildlife crime and how do I report it?
Wildlife crime is any activity that goes against legislation protecting the UK's wild animals and plants, and should always be reported to the Police - phone 101 or visit the Leicestershire Police website.
Your local council has no powers of investigation or enforcement.
- Hare coursing
- Persecuting badgers, birds, and bats
- Egg theft and collection
- Collecting or trading in protected species and animal products
- Not registering animals which require a licence
- Taking protected plants
- Using poisons, snares or explosives to kill or injure animals
- Animal cruelty
- Hunting with dogs
- Introducing invasive species
- Killing or capturing, damaging or destroying the habitat of any protected animal (such as a bat, badger or great crested newt)
Leicestershire Police have information on wildlife crime
There’s a protected species on a site that is due to be developed - what should I do?
Contact the planning authority or our Ecology team with your concerns.
You will need to provide some evidence of the protected species concerned - there is more information on how to do this:
Someone’s chopping trees down - what can I do?
Check with your local planning department whether a tree has a Tree Preservation Order or is in a conservation area.
If you think it is on council-owned land, contact the local council’s parks officers or tree officers.
A felling licence for woodlands may be needed from the Forestry Commission – it is quite complicated to work out when a licence is needed, but you can check and report any suspected illegal felling to them. If trees aren’t protected or woodland felling doesn’t fall under felling licence criteria, then the owner is probably within their rights to fell their tree(s).
A developer has removed/cut a hedgerow during the bird-breeding season - can you help?
This is bad practice unless the developer has asked an ecologist to check the hedge for nesting birds beforehand.
It's not illegal to remove hedges in the nesting season (generally considered to be from March to July for hedgerows and scrub).
It’s also not illegal to harm a nest, egg, or nesting bird if it can be shown that the act was the incidental result of a lawful operation which couldn't reasonably have been avoided.
If, however, the person cutting the hedge knew birds were nesting in the hedge, and cutting could have been delayed until they had finished nesting, it could be a wildlife crime. More information can be found on the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
How can I be sure that I’m not harming bats and birds if I want to re-roof my house?
If you think you have a bat roost within your property, it’s important that any works are planned to avoid harming bats. The Bat Conservation Trust have some helpful information explaining the law, what you need to consider and who to talk to for help.
If you have birds nesting within your building or under the eaves, try to plan all of the works outside of the bird-breeding season (extending between March to September for some species). If that’s not possible, you must wait until all young have fledged the nest.
If your works will destroy the place where birds are nesting, do consider adding some bird boxes for compensation. This is particularly important for species such as swifts which are a priority species within Leicestershire and Rutland.
I think I’ve seen a great crested newt - who do I need to tell?
Great crested newts are 10-16cm long and have warty skin. Other species such as the smooth newt also have crests and an orange belly, and these characteristics are not unique to the great crested newt. Further tips on identification can be found on the amphibian identification guide produced by ARG UK.
If you’ve found a great crested newt, then please share your records with LRERC.
I’ve found an orchid on a verge - how do I stop it being mown?
To report issues within Leicester or Rutland, please contact the authorities directly.
In this is in Leicestershire, please contact the highways helpdesk:
- Telephone: 0116 305 0001 (Monday to Thursday 8.30am to 5pm, Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm)
- Fill in our online contact form
Find more information on grass cutting
You should also report your sighting to LRERC.
How can I find out what wildlife is in my area?
Leicestershire and Rutland Environmental Records Centre (LRERC) can provide you with a list of species recorded in the vicinity of your house.
For more detailed records, or for records requested to fight planning applications, this may be subject to a charge in accordance with the charging and data supply policy
Someone is polluting a watercourse - who should I tell?
Pollution incidents should be reported to the Environment Agency