A free online tool has been launched to help householders and developers considering a planning application check whether they are likely to need expert ecological advice.

The new Wildlife Assessment Check was created by the Partnership for Biodiversity in Planning which includes 18 organisations from the conservation, planning and development sectors working together to streamline and improve consideration of biodiversity in the UK planning process.  The project was funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC), as the leading voice for the UK’s frogs, toads, lizards, newts and snakes, is one of the partners.  Among the wildlife charity’s species, great crested newts in particular often hit the headlines in planning disputes.

The Partnership, which is led by the Bat Conservation Trust, also includes the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts together with bodies such as the Home Builders’ Federation, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Town and Country Planning Association.

Dr Tony Gent, Chief Executive Officer of ARC, said: “Householders and small developers may be unaware that it is a statutory requirement as part of the planning process to consider the ecological impact of developments and promote a positive contribution to biodiversity. 

“Reptiles and amphibians, and notably great crested newts, often feature in planning disputes, being seen either as a barrier to building new homes or the last line of defence against unpopular development.

“This simple-to-use online tool aims to smooth out the planning process for applicants by encouraging them to address potential ecological impacts early on, reducing unnecessary delays and costs.”

Since 1970 many UK wildlife species have been in decline, with over 1,200 species now extinct or threatened with extinction (State of nature report, 2016).  One of the factors that has caused this decline is land-use changes from urban development.

The Wildlife Assessment Check considers whether there are any protected and priority wildlife species and statutory designated sites that may be impacted by a development project. It enables users to undertake a simple check at the pre-planning application stage, before a planning application is submitted. This helps clarify for applicants and planners whether a proposed site needs professional ecological advice and further assessment.