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Biodiversity is the term used to describe the variety of life on earth, including all species of plants and animals, their genetic variation, habitats and the ecosystems they are part of. It includes not just the rare or the threatened but also the wildlife that is familiar to us.

The most recent State of Nature report (2019) from the National Biodiversity Network suggests there has been a steep decline in the abundance of wildlife in the UK since the 1970s.

The scale and pace of nature loss is having critical impacts on the natural systems on which all life on earth depends. Locally, nationally, and globally it is recognised that urgent and more action is needed.

Although in the UK certain sites and species are protected, there are limited mechanisms to value, maintain, enhance and create wildlife habitats beyond protected sites.

The planning system plays an important role in helping to protect the natural environment. This is demonstrated by planning policy and legislation relating to biodiversity.

Biodiversity net gain

From January 2024, all planning permissions granted in England (with a few exemptions) will have to deliver 10% biodiversity net gain under the Environment Act 2021.

Biodiversity net gain (BNG) is an approach to development which means that habitats for wildlife must be left in a measurably better state than they were before the development occurred.

It means designing developments in such a way that provides benefits to both people and nature and also reduces impacts on the wider environment.

BNG is achieved by retaining and enhancing existing habitats and creating new habitats and can be delivered on site, off site, or via credits.

An ecologist is required to assess the baseline habitats on site before development using Defra’s biodiversity metric and habitats will need to be secured and monitored for at least 30 years.

Detailed guidance is set out in section Chapter 6 and 8 of our draft Supplementary Planning Document – Biodiversity and planning: guidance for new developments

In addition, in November 2023 we produced a BNG Technical Advice Note which contains further information including what type of developments will be exempt from achieving BNG and what BNG information will need to be submitted as part of a planning application.

Government policies relating to biodiversity

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied.

Section 15 (Page 50: “Conserving and enhancing the natural environment”) explains how planning policies and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment. It describes how to protect and enhance biodiversity, and geodiversity (the variety of rocks, minerals and landforms and the processes which have formed these features throughout geological time).

The NPPF is accompanied and complemented by Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) circular 06/05 on biodiversity and geological conservation. This provides guidance on the application of the law relating to planning and nature conservation within England.

Biodiversity is also protected through Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act of 2006.

Local policies relating to biodiversity

Biodiversity links to a range of our council priorities including:

  • responding to the climate and nature emergency
  • place-making to create more greener and nature-rich places where people and nature thrive
  • planning, design and management of high-quality green infrastructure
  • improving access to green space and nature
  • encouraging good mental and physical health and wellbeing of residents
  • increasing local resilience to flooding, high temperatures and drought
  • improving air and water quality

Our vision for nature recovery of ‘More, Bigger, Better and Joined Up’ habitat for wildlife is set out in the South Gloucestershire Biodiversity Action Plan and our Greener Places Green Infrastructure Strategy 2021.

Where applicable, we expect planning applications to be supported by the relevant ecological surveys to satisfactorily demonstrate that development will not adversely affect local biodiversity.

Protected species

In England, rare, notable or endangered species of plants and animals are protected under a range of legislation and planning guidance.

A variety of species of wildlife referred to as European Protected Species (EPS) are protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 as amended (known as the Habitats Regulations). These include:

  • otters
  • bats (all species)
  • great crested newts
  • dormice

Legally, any development affecting these species has to be subjected to three tests under the habitats regulations. To satisfy these tests, planning applications need to include a survey for the relevant species; and if present a mitigation strategy which satisfactorily demonstrates that the proposal will not be illegal or adversely affect the species.

Applicants should be aware that if protected species are not considered at the early stages, and before the application is submitted, their proposals may lead to significant delays further in the planning process.

Read more in our draft Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) – Biodiversity and planning: guidance for new developments.

Protected species and historic buildings

Historic buildings can often be a home to wildlife such as bats, barn owls and other nesting birds.

When making an application for planning permission or listed building consent it is often necessary to submit an assessment carried out by an appropriately licensed ecologist to show if bats are likely to be present in the building(s) and if so, how they would be affected by the proposals. As stated above, this may lead to the requirement for more detailed surveys and mitigation strategies if bats are found.

Building owners should also consider the needs of protected species when carrying out works to their buildings which do not require permission, such as minor repairs in roof spaces. Complying with the relevant law by protecting species, including obtaining and complying with the terms and conditions or any licences required, is compulsory even where planning permission is not required.

Great Crested Newt District Level Licencing Scheme (DLL)

DLL is a new strategic approach to licensing for great crested newts.

Traditional licensing requires on site mitigation measures to be carried out. However, this can delay development as some measures can only be carried out at certain times of the year.

DLL does not require on site mitigation. Instead developers make a payment based on the impact of their development. This conservation payment is used to create compensatory habitat off-site, which is targeted to areas where it will most benefit great crested newts.

Across South Gloucestershire there is a Natural England led scheme and applicants will need to enquire with Natural England to confirm their eligibility to use DLL. Read more in our draft Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) – Biodiversity and Planning: guidance for new developments.

Other species, such as slowworms, grass snakes or water voles, and particular species of birds and plants also have varying degrees of protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000.

Badgers and their setts are protected under separate legislation (protection of Badgers Act 1992 on www.legislation.gov.uk).

Protected sites

South Gloucestershire contains a network of nature conservation sites which are protected in law (or under planning policy) for their local, national or international importance for wildlife.

The Severn Estuary is internationally important for a range of species and assemblages of waterfowl and a variety of marine and inter-tidal habitats and species. In recognition of this, it is designated as a Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation under European Directives. It forms part of a network of sites across Europe known as ‘Natura 2000’ or ‘European Sites. Any development affecting the Severn Estuary European Site will be subject to assessment under the Habitat Regulations 2010 as part of determining the application.

South Gloucestershire also contains over 20 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and over 300 ‘Local Sites’. This is a catch-all phrase for sites which have been identified as being locally or regionally important for their:

  • species and habitats – Sites of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCIs)
  • geological features – Regionally Important Geological Sites (RIGS)

Whilst not protected in law, these sites are designated through a partnership of statutory and non-statutory nature conservation bodies and are protected under policy PSP19 of the South Gloucestershire Local Plan. The advantage of this is that they are given additional policy protection by being part of the council’s statutory development plan due to the status given to such plans under planning law. This means that, development resulting in significant harm to SNCI and RIGS will be refused unless the mitigation hierarchy has been appropriately complied with.

Some of these sites are also designated as local nature reserves to give people the opportunity to get closer to nature and learn about wildlife.

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