Animal Habitats Protected by UK Law

A guide to UK protected animals and their habitats

What Animal Habitats Are Protected by UK law?

The presence or suspected presence of protected species on site or adjacent to a potential development can present problems for developers, whether large or small scale. In such circumstances, there is a requirement to have a survey carried out which could hold up any development, or in a worse case scenario, could prevent the development going ahead altogether.

Avoiding getting a survey completed is not a real option for developers as there are significant penalties for those who deliberately or inadvertently disturb or harm any species that are protected under law. The presence of particular protected species, if not considered early on in any project, can cause significant and costly delays.

A Protected Species Survey will establish the likely presence or likely absence of a protected species on or adjacent to a proposed development site. Some species are protected by law, due in part to their rarity or population decline, and this can cause issues with some planned developments.

Animal habitats that are protected do not have to be large scale and could be as small as a barn, which may house roosting bats, or there may be larger commercial developments, such as a wind turbine scheme, that could have an impact on the nesting birds. Whatever the scheme, UK and European legislation protects the habitats of animals that reside on or near to the development sites in question, meaning that developers will always have to take this into account when planning any project.


What legislation is there to protect the UK’s native animals?

There is an array of different legislation that affords protection to native animals.  The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 provide protection to a large number of animals. In addition, badgers have their own legislation, the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 which provides comprehensive protection for badgers and their setts, with a requirement that any authorised disturbance or destruction is undertaken under licence.

European law in the form of the Habitats Regulation 1994 also provides protection for European Protected Species (EPS). This legislation also sets out the requirements for assessing plans and projects which may have an effect on European designated sites.

The presence, or possible absence, and status of these protected species need to be confirmed in advance of a planning application for any site works that may harm or disturb them  in both  rural and urban sites.


So which animals are protected by the law?

The various legislation provides protection to many animal species in the UK, meaning that  a Protected Species Survey would be required to support any planning application where some of the following are present:

  • Badgers
  • Bats  (all species)
  • Birds (including owls and breeding and wintering birds)
  • Dormice
  • Great Crested Newts
  • Invertebrates (such as butterflies, moths, snails white-clawed crayfish and stag beetles)
  • Natterjack toads
  • Otters and water voles
  • Reptiles (such as adders, grass snakes, common lizards and slow worms)


Where are protected species likely to be found?

Protected species can be found in various habitats, buildings or land. Advice from Natural England suggest the following places where protected species are typically found:

  • Veteran (historical or important) trees, cellars, ice houses, old mines and caves
  • Buildings with features suitable for bats, or large gardens in suburban and rural areas
  • Traditional timber-framed building (such as a barn or oast house)
  • Lakes, rivers and streams (on the land or nearby)
  • Heathland on, nearby or linked to the site (by similar habitat)
  • Meadows, grassland, parkland and pasture on the land or linked to the site (by similar habitat)
  • Ponds or slow-flowing water bodies (like ditches) on the site, or within 500m and linked by semi-natural habitat such as parks or heaths
  • Rough grassland and previously developed land (brownfield sites), on or next to the site
  • Woodland, scrub and hedgerows on, or next to the site
  • Coastal habitats


Why do you need a Protected Species Survey?

If the presence of a protected species is suspected on or adjacent to a plot of land earmarked for development, or has been identified following a phase 1 habitat survey, then a more comprehensive Protected Species Survey will be required. This doesn’t just apply to new developments but is also relevant for any work due to be carried out on an existing building where animals may be present e.g roosting bats in a dwelling.

Indigo Surveys carry out many types of protected species surveys including some of the following:

  • Bats: scoping inspections, bat activity surveys for all species (including emergence, transect, swarming)
  • Birds: inspections, checks and surveys for nesting birds, breeding birds, migratory and winter birds, barn owls, vantage point surveys (VP), and building & tree inspections
  • Great Crested Newts (GCN): daytime/walkover inspections, pond assessments, Habitat Suitability Index (HSI), detailed surveys (torching, egg searches etc.), bottle trapping
  • Reptiles (all species): daytime inspections, presence/absence surveys, population surveys
  • Badgers: daytime surveys, sett identification, nocturnal population surveys
  • Dormouse: habitat assessment, hazelnut searches, presence/absence surveys (nest-boxes)
  • Otters and water voles: daytime inspections, habitat assessment, presence/absence surveys (evidence-based)
  • Invertebrates – including white-clawed crayfish, stag beetles, daytime inspections, habitat assessment, presence/absence surveys (evidence-based).

A detailed survey provides clients with full information regarding the presence of protected species which could impose constraints on a development or lead to delays. With specialist advice early in the planning process can help save significant time and money and prevent some of the lengthy delays that could result should a protected species be discovered much later in the process.


Protected Species and the planning process

When a protected species survey is required this must be carried out by a qualified ecology consultant. The information relating to animals and the impact on their natural habitat by a development, plus any mitigation plans, must be presented with the planning application when seeking planning permission.

An ecological survey ensures that any development does not breach UK wildlife law and that  any developer will be able to respond to any questions that the local authority may put to them during the planning process. This can help reduce any delays and prepare for any mitigation that may be required on site.

The survey must provide sufficient information so that the impact of a development on a habitat and its native species can be established. If the information is not comprehensive enough then a further survey could be requested, resulting  in further delay and expense.

For certain species a developer will need a wildlife licence before they can start any work on site. Local authority planners need to be sure the licence is likely to be granted before they grant planning permission.


How do I know if I need a protected species survey?

Planning authorities may request a survey from a developer if it is considered likely that protected species are present on or in close proximity to a proposed development site and could be impacted in some way by a development.  Specific features such as hedgerows, water or barns can often be a signal that a survey would be required as it heightens the likelihood of certain protected species being present.

Usually, before any planning application is made, a Phase 1 habitat survey would be carried out which would uncover any evidence of protected species and any habitat suitable to support protected species on site. Where direct evidence of protected species or suitable habitat is found, a more detailed protected species survey would be carried out to confirm the likely presence or absence of a species, and identify important habitat features and population sizes. 

These surveys must  be carried out by a qualified ecologist at the right time of year for the species and its habit, and typically will require repeat visits. They must provide sufficient information to assess the effect on a protected species


If you would like to find out more about our range of protected species and other surveys, speak to our ecological surveying team on 0333 123 7080 or email us at