Reptiles: tips for making planning decisions

This is Natural England’s “permanent advice” for reptiles. This is a physical planning consideration for local planning authorities (PLA). You should consider these tips when making planning decisions. It is part of a collection of standing advisories for protected species.

Following this advice:

  • saves you from having to consult on the impacts of planning apps on reptiles in most cases
  • can help you make decisions about development proposals

You may need a qualified ecologist to advise you on the planning application and supporting evidence. You can find one using:

How Reptiles Are Protected

Smooth Snakes, Sand Lizards and Pool Frogs are designated and protected as European Protected Species (PES). PES are protected under the Habitat and Species Conservation Regulations 2017.

It is an offense of:

  • deliberately kill, harm, disturb or capture them
  • deliberately taking or destroying their eggs
  • damage or destroy their breeding sites and resting places
  • possess, control or transport them (alive or dead)

For smooth snakes and sand lizards, it is also an offense under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to intentionally or recklessly:

  • disturbing them while they are occupying a structure or place providing shelter or protection
  • obstruct access to a place of shelter or protection

Other native reptiles are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is an offense to kill or injure:

  • adder
  • grass snake
  • common or viviparous lizard
  • slow worm

All native reptiles are listed as rare and most endangered species under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006). You must consider the conservation of Section 41 species as part of your planning decision. Learn more about your biodiversity duty.

The promoter must respect the legal protection of reptiles.

You must determine whether the proponent has taken appropriate measures to avoid, mitigate and, as a last resort, compensate for any adverse effects on reptiles in its development proposal.

The developer may need a license for a development proposal or activity that affects sand lizards or smooth snakes.

When to request an investigation

You should request an investigation if:

For example, the proposal site:

  • change the water levels of the site or surrounding area
  • breaking suitable habitat for reptiles

The lack of registration does not mean that there are no reptiles. This could mean that there is no survey data available for this location.

The National Amphibian and Reptile Registration Program (NARRS) provides guidance on types of surveys for reptiles. This document is available on the NARRS website and may not be accessible to assistive technologies.

Survey work may include research:

  • to laze the animals on the banks, piles of wood and edges of wood
  • over and under artificial shelters, such as corrugated sheets or roofing felt

A survey should, at a minimum, assess the likely presence of reptiles in the area affected by the proposed development. The scope of the study should be proportionate to the potential adverse effects of development on reptiles. This may mean a survey of the abundance of reptile habitat and how it is used at the proposed site.

You need to check if the ecologist is qualified and experienced in carrying out reptile surveys. CIEEM publish:

The conservationist should also follow the Biodiversity Code of Practice for Planning and Development (BS 42020:2013) available on the British Standards Institute website. These documents may not be accessible to assistive technologies.

The ecologist must hold the appropriate and up-to-date inventory permit to conduct inventories of smooth snakes and sand lizards.

Assess the effect of development on reptiles

As far as possible, proposals should avoid affecting reptiles. Where this is not possible, you should seek adequate mitigation or compensation measures in the development proposal to enable you to make a development decision.

Activities that can harm reptiles include:

  • loss of links between habitat patches, including hibernation sites and sites used in the active season from April to September
  • reduction in habitat quality, such as deterioration of vegetation
  • increasing the risk of fire on heathland from accidents or arson
  • the effect of increased waste if the proposal increases public access

The promoter will have to verify if he needs a wildlife permit for these activities.

Avoidance, mitigation and compensation measures

To avoid possible effects on reptiles, the developers could redesign the proposal to:

  • altering landscaping and not landscaping areas used by reptiles
  • change the pace of work
  • change working methods

Mitigation and compensation measures could include:

  • use temporary and secure reptile fencing to prevent reptiles from moving into dangerous areas
  • encourage movement by making habitats unsuitable, for example by cutting vegetation in stages during the active season
  • create links with other habitats
  • create a new habitat
  • improvement of existing habitat

Translocation

If there is no reasonable alternative habitat nearby, the proposal could include capturing reptiles and moving them to another location, called a translocation. The new habitat must be able to support reptiles. The proposal should include evidence that the translocation would benefit reptile conservation. Translocation should be considered as a last resort.

In case of transfer of reptiles, the proposal requires a receiving site:

  • close to the development site, and in the same PLA if possible
  • that is at least the same size as the habitat that will be lost, and larger if the habitat lost is of high quality
  • which will perform the same function as the habitat to be lost, for example it has hibernation characteristics
  • with habitat similar to the area that will be lost, including water bodies
  • which does not currently support the same species, but can be improved to make it suitable
  • that will be protected from future development and managed over the long term

The proposal could introduce a small number of reptiles to an area with an existing population if the habitat is improved to support the increase in numbers. He must allow enough time for new habitats to become suitable for reptiles before capturing them.

For more information on mitigation plans and offsetting measures, see the Planner’s Guide to Protected Species and Development.

Planning and licensing terms

If the proposal is likely to affect a protected reptile, the proponent must apply for the appropriate wildlife permit.

Before you can grant a building permit, you must:

  • ensure that any mitigation or offset conditions you impose do not conflict with the requirements of a mitigation license
  • be sure that Natural England will issue a license

You do not need to consult Natural England on the wording or release of any conditions you place on a planning proposal. Natural England are unable to advise on this.

Improve biodiversity

To meet your biodiversity duty, you must suggest ways for the developer to:

  • create new or improved habitats at the development site
  • achieve a net gain in biodiversity through good design, such as green roofs, street trees or sustainable drainage

Site management and monitoring

You should consider the need for site monitoring and management. These measurements will likely be required for licenses for sand lizards, smooth snakes or pool frogs. For the non-PES native reptiles, management and monitoring may be required if the species population is affected by development.

A site management and monitoring plan should aim to maintain a diverse vegetation structure. The plan should include controlling the growth of vegetation, including brush and ferns, by cutting, mowing or grazing. Other fern control methods include herbicide application, rolling or cutting.

The proponent may need to consider controlling the risk of fire and managing predators, such as house cats and pheasants.

Monitoring could include additional investigative work to verify that mitigation measures are working as intended, followed by remedial work if necessary.

The Reptile Management Handbook available on the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust website provides more information on habitat management. This manual may not be accessible to assistive technologies.

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