THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO NESTING BIRD SURVEYS
So, you have put in your planning application. The local planning authority has stated a nesting bird survey is required. You probably have a few questions.
Below is probably the most comprehensive guide to nesting bird surveys available online. We hope this guide answers everything there is to know about bat surveys.
- Why do I need a nesting bird survey?
- Will I need to carry out a survey?
- Deciding if you need nesting bird surveys
- I think we need a nesting bird survey
- What happens during a nesting bird survey?
- Mitigation and compensation for nesting bird species
- What happens after a protect nesting bird licence is granted?
- What happens if we discover nesting birds after development has started?
- How much does a nesting bird survey cost?
Why do I need a nesting bird survey?
Well, it’s not uncommon especially if you are demolishing a building, cutting down a tree, hedge cutting or disrupting a habitat which may contain ground-nesting species.
All nesting birds are protected by law, under the Habitats Regulations 2010. No matter what the species! The regulation means that it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct a birds nest.
If a habitat shows potential for nesting birds on a development site, our fully licensed ornithologists will be able to advise on the best nesting bird survey solutions.
At this point, we’d like to give you some good news. Nesting Birds almost never stop your development.
But what is the nesting bird survey and mitigation process? Firstly, the need for nesting bird surveys will generally be identified at the time of a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal also know as a Habitat Walkover or Phase 1 Survey.
If the potential for nesting birds is shown, then presence nesting bird surveys may need to be completed. These nesting bird surveys need to show whether nesting birds are present in the area, what populations are like and how they use the site.
If protected species are detected, then a mitigation plan is designed to show how you’ll avoid, reduce or manage any negative effects on them. Working with your ecologist you need to decide which methods are right for the project you’re working on.
A mitigation licence from Natural England may be required. However, usually, we are able to work to a Reasonable Avoidance Measure (RAM) to keep the process cost-effective and quick.
Will I need to carry out nesting bird surveys?
Most likely. Especially if your development is within 100m of a hedge or tree which may be affected.
If your plans are to carry out development works which could disrupt or harm nesting birds or their habitats. If your local planning authority has asked for an ecology nesting bird survey then you will need to carry out a protected species survey.
Typically demolition of a building, tree/hedge cutting, house extensions and change of land use all require nesting bird surveys and potential mitigation.
Deciding if you need nesting bird surveys
Nesting Birds, no matter the species, and other protected wildlife can be affected by lots of construction work including:
- demolition of buildings
- extensions that affect land usage or are close to trees/hedges
- wind turbines
- barn conversions
- removal of trees or hedgerows
- removal or change of land use, such as meadow to grazing
- building or maintenance of roads
You’re more likely to need nesting birds surveys if the land has favourable features such as:
- a watercourse or body within 500 meters that wading birds may use to ground nest
- is close to woodland
- has hedgerows and trees
- has unmanaged grass
You’re likely to need a nesting bird survey for land-use change if it:
- is in ancient woodland
- is large with good growth
- has mossy areas
- has unmanaged grass
- has hedgerows or trees
- is close to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or Local nature reserve.
I think we need a nesting bird survey
If your planning or development has any of the above bullet points ticked then, YES! you need nesting bird surveys.
So what actually happens during the nesting bird survey process?
Well, it’s fairly simple. Nesting Birds will almost never stop your development.
What happens during a nesting bird survey?
So, now you’ve established why you need a survey, you maybe be wondering what happens during the nesting bird survey process.
The nesting bird survey process is simple. It generally starts with a preliminary habitat assessment and if evidence or potential of nesting birds, we can determine the types of survey that would suit the development best for Phase 2. These may include:
- Habitat suitability index (HSI) assessments
- Presence/absence surveys
However, if your site holds a confirmed nesting bird population then the third phase of mitigation and licensing may be required. In most circumstances, we are able to implement Reasonable Avoidance Measures, also knows as RAMS, instead of having to go through the full mitigation process.
If your local planning authority has asked for a nesting bird survey then you will need to contact a licensed ecologist.
Typically, after a phone or email consultation, the ecologist will then require a visit to your site to undertake a Phase 1 preliminary habitat assessment.
Preliminary habitat assessments
For most planning permission applications or development projects involving nesting birds or other protected, it is appropriate to start with a Phase 1 preliminary habitat assessment also known as a Walkover Survey.
Preliminary habitat assessments involve an initial inspection of a habitat to identify the potential for nesting birds and other species.
As well as an assessment of the building and surrounding habitat to support nesting bird, a phase 1 nesting bird survey may require a data records search. Meaning, records such as known newt populations, previous mitigation sites and the location of Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Local Nature Reserves (LNR) are obtained. These desk-based assessments are a requirement and are usually purchased from third party biological records centres or county councils.
If the habitat itself does not show evidence or potential for nesting bird then this information can sometimes be enough to provide an assessment of whether they are likely to be present on-site and whether they are likely to be impacted upon by the development.
After the data is collected your ecologist will compile a detailed report outlining any further steps, if any, that may be required.
Presence Nesting Bird Surveys
Should evidence or potential for nesting birds be identified then further nesting bird survey effort may be required. This next stage is known as presence nesting bird surveys also known as activity or population surveys.
Unlike preliminary habitat assessments, which can be carried out year-round, presence nesting bird surveys will need to be undertaken between March and August.
Mitigation and compensation for nesting birds
Should evidence show that nesting birds are identified via presence surveys, then a final step of mitigation and/or reasonable avoidance measures will be required.
Working with your ecology consultant you will design a mitigation plan. This may involve applying to Natural England for a protected species licence.
However, you will need planning permission to have been granted prior to applying for this licence.
For the licence to be granted, a mitigation strategy will be required that could involve timings of works, installation of mitigation strategies.
The mitigation plan will address the potential impacts on nesting birds and other protected species and must avoid negative effects on bird populations, such as small alternations to project designs or delayed work which may expose the habitat.
If this is not possible, the use of alternative mitigation measures to reduce the impacts must be implemented.
Mitigation and compensation methods can include:
- Changing work methods or timing to avoid breeding periods. For example, work to be complete during winter on summer roosts.
- Creating new habitats within the same or on neighbouring site
- Improving or creating habitats. Such as new foraging areas or pond
- Long term management of habitats
- Nesting bird population monitoring after the development
What happens after a protect species licence is granted?
So all the correct paperwork is in place and Natural England has granted your protect species licence. Congratulations.
But what happens next?
The ecologist, architect, construction company and yourself will decide on a date whereby work will be started. The ecology consultant will take one or both of two main steps:
- Implement any compensation measures for newts before works are undertaken.
- And/or – Be on-site to undertake ecological clerk of works measures during a soft break of any areas where any species are identified.
Once any nesting birds are ‘mitigated’ into the new habitat, works can continue as normal.
What happens if we discover nesting birds after development has started?
Stop all work immediately.
Continuing work is likely to be breaking the law if nesting birds are found during development works.
Get in touch with your ecologist who will come and mitigate your nesting bird.
How much does a nesting bird survey cost?
Well, it’s hard to accurately say as it varies greatly. There are many factors to take into account.
Phase 1 preliminary habitat assessments and presence surveys range from between £300 – £1000 depending on the ecologists’ fees, location of the development and size or complexity of the site.
As of April 2019, and despite very strong opposition from ecology consultancies including ourselves, Natural England introduced hourly charges for the mitigation licence.