Homes for People and Wildlife
Across the UK and here in Avon – we face a huge challenge in meeting targets to build thousands of new homes, whilst protecting wildlife, habitats and landscape. The Government has committed to building a further 300,000 homes a year until 2022, and across our region the target is for 110,000 to be built over the next 20 years.
Building and infrastructure developments can damage and destroy wildlife and delicate habitats when the natural environment is ignored and overlooked. But when nature is put at the heart of planning - housing developments can be built in a way that provides people with greener, inspirational homes and allows wildlife to flourish.
Together with our supporters and volunteers, we stand up for wildlife across our region, protecting landscapes and using our voice to highlight nature’s needs when planning decisions are being made.
How is wildlife and nature currently protected?
There are many different laws and policies relating to nature conservation in the UK, ranging from European-wide legislation to local planning policies which affect individual council/ local authority areas. Some policies and laws affect individual species, some focus on particular habitats and sites such as woodlands or wetlands, whilst others are larger in scale and give protection to whole landscapes.
European Directives give protection to many species of wild birds including lapwings, nightingales and hawfinches, and also protect particular habitats by designating sites as significant to nature conservation in Europe. These include Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas for Conservation (SACs). Some of Avon Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves are covered by these designations including parts of Walborough which is within the Severn Estuary SPA, and our Browne’s Folly nature reserve near Bath, which is covered by the Bath and Bradford-on-Avon SAC.
UK Nature Conservation Protection
The UK government has also designated a range of sites of nature conservation significance at a national level. These are mainly designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Several of our Avon Wildlife Trust nature reserves have SSSI sites including Dolebury Warren, Folly Farm and Goblin Combe.
Nature conservation sites are also designated at a local level and these sites receive protection through the planning process. These include Local Wildlife Sites and Sites of Importance to Nature Conservation.
Key UK legislation protecting wildlife and habitats
- The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 transpose the requirements of the European Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC) and Birds Directive (Council Directive 79/409/EEC) into UK law, enabling the designation of protected sites and species at a European level.
- The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) forms the key piece of UK legislation relating to the protection of habitats and species.
- The Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000 provides additional support to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981; for example, increasing the level of protection for certain species of reptiles.
- The Protection of Badger Act 1992 provides specific protection for this species.
- The Wild Mammals Protection Act 1996 sets out the welfare framework in respect to wild mammals, prohibiting a range of activities that may cause unnecessary suffering.
How do these protections work in practise?
All sites protected by European and national legislation are referred to as Statutory Sites and are what’s called a ‘material consideration’ in the UK planning process. This means they must be considered when deciding the outcome of a planning application. Individual species protected by European law, often called European Protected species are also a ‘material consideration’. These include bats, great crested newt and otter.
The general principle for all planning decisions is that councils must require construction and development projects to have minimal impact on biodiversity and enhance it wherever possible. This is described explicitly in the National Planning Policy Framework – which sets out the Government’s planning policies and how local authorities should put them into practise. It clearly states that the planning system should minimise impacts on biodiversity, providing net gains in biodiversity where possible.
Read more about the duties of local authorities and planners for the natural environment
Under the National Planning Policy Framework, all local planning authorities and planning policies should:
Plan positively for the creation, protection, enhancement and management of networks of biodiversity and green infrastructure.
Take account of the need to plan for biodiversity at a landscape-scale across local authority boundaries.
Identify and map components of the local ecological networks, including: international, national and local sites of importance for biodiversity, and areas identified by local partnerships for habitat restoration or creation.
Promote the preservation, restoration and re-creation of priority habitats, ecological networks and the recovery of priority species populations, linked to national and local targets and identify suitable indicators for monitoring biodiversity in the plan.
What we do to influence planning and development decisions
We don’t have the resources to be able to respond to all the planning applications that are put forward across our region but we want to support our members and supporters to do this for themselves where there is a strong case. We do comment on applications which directly affect our nature reserves, and the development of local and strategic plans which set out housing need, location and infrastructure requirements. We have responded to consultations on the West of England Joint Spatial Plan, and you can read our views here. We've also put forward our views on the emerging local plans for Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
As part of the national Wildlife Trusts movement, we also support their work in influencing decision-makers and planners on best practise in building nature-friendly housing developments.
You can read their clear guidance on how to build housing in a nature-friendly way
Together with other environmental and conservation organisations and local authorities, Avon Wildlife Trust is a partner organisation and steering group member of the West of England Nature Partnership (WENP) – a Local Nature Partnership developing and advocating an investment strategy for the natural environment in the region.
What you can do
If you have concerns about a planning application in your area the first thing to do is to check whether the planning application has been submitted with the correct information. Any planning application which may have an impact on local nature conservation should be accompanied by an ecological report (these are not always clearly labelled so you might have to do a bit of digging.) You can search for planning applications for at the relevant local authority website, which should also provide details of how to submit a comment.
Find planning applications listed on your local authority website
To submit a comment on a planning application
If you think your concerns are not adequately addressed in the planning application, we would strongly recommend you submit a comment outlining your views. The Campaign to Protect Rural England have produced a useful guide on How to respond to planning applications, which provides clear guidance on the most effective ways to respond. Together we can all standing up for nature and wildlife across our region and put the natural world at the heart of development in Avon.