THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO REPTILE SURVEYS
So, you have put in your planning application. The local planning authority has stated an ecological reptile survey is required. You probably have a few questions.
Below is probably the most comprehensive guide to reptile surveys available online. We hope this guide answers everything there is to know about newt surveys.
- Why do I need a reptile survey?
- Will I need to carry out a survey?
- Deciding if you need reptile surveys
- I think we need a reptile survey
- What happens during a reptile survey?
- Mitigation and compensation for reptile species
- What happens after a protect reptile species licence is granted?
- What happens if we discover reptile after development has started?
- How much does a reptile survey cost?
Why do I need a Reptile survey?
Well, it’s not uncommon especially if you are demolishing a building, breaking ground or your development is close to forest or heathland.
All UK reptile species are protected by law. Six native species of reptile can be found in Britain. Reptile species including the common lizard, grass snake, slow worm, and adders are commonly found, whereby, Smooth snakes and sand lizards are found mainly along the Dorset & Hampshire coasts.
If a habitat shows potential for reptiles on a development site, our fully licensed ecology consultants will be able to advise on the best survey solutions.
At this point, we’d like to give you some good news. Reptiles almost never stop your development.
But what is the reptile survey and mitigation process? Firstly, the need for reptile 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 reptiles is shown, then presence reptile surveys may need to be completed. These reptile surveys need to show whether any reptile species 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 is required. Once received the moving of reptiles to a new home can then take place.
Will I need to carry out Reptile surveys?
Most likely. Especially if your development is within 500m of forest, grass meadow, heathland or water source.
If your plans are to carry out development works which could disrupt or harm any reptiles or their habitats. If your local planning authority has asked for an ecology reptile survey then you will need to carry out a protected species survey.
Typically demolition of a building, barn conversions, house extensions and change of land use all require reptile surveys and potential mitigation.
Deciding if you need Reptile surveys
Reptile and other protected species can be affected by lots of construction work including:
- demolition of buildings
- extensions that affect land usage
- wind turbines
- barn conversions
- removal of trees, hedgerows or heathland
- removal or change of land use, such as meadow to grazing
- building or maintenance of roads
You’re more likely to need Reptile surveys if the land has favourable features such as:
- a watercourse or body within 500 meters
- has damp patches or bogs such as field soakaways
- is close to woodland or water
- is close to heathland
- has hedgerows and trees
- has unmanaged grass
- has moss available
You’re likely to need a Reptile survey for land-use change if it:
- is in ancient woodland
- is large with good growth
- has damp mossy areas
- has unmanaged grass
- has hedgerows or trees
- has heathland
- is near an allotment
- is close to heather moors or heathland
- is close to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or Local nature reserve.
I think we need a Reptile survey
If your planning or development has any of the above bullet points ticked then, YES! you need reptile surveys.
So what actually happens during the reptile survey process?
Well, it’s fairly simple. Reptiles will almost never stop your development.
What happens during a Reptile survey?
So, now you’ve established why you need a survey, you maybe be wondering what happens during the Reptile survey process.
The Reptile survey process is simple. It generally starts with a preliminary habitat assessment and if evidence or potential of Reptiles, 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 involving reptile matting, bucket traps, and refuge search’s
However, if your site holds a confirmed Reptile population then the third phase of mitigation and licensing may be required.
If your local planning authority has asked for a reptile 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 newts 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 reptiles and other protected species.
As well as an assessment of the building and surrounding habitat to support reptiles, a phase 1 reptile survey may require a data records search. Meaning, records such as known reptile 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 reptiles 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 Reptile Surveys
Should evidence or potential for Reptiles be identified then further reptile survey effort may be required. This next stage is known as presence or population surveys.
Unlike preliminary habitat assessments, which can be carried out year-round, presence reptile surveys will need to be undertaken between March and September.
The weather conditions must warm and dry.
Mitigation and compensation for Reptiles
Should evidence show that reptiles are identified via presence surveys, then a final step of mitigation and compensation will be required.
Working with your ecology consultant you will design a mitigation plan. This involves 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 reptiles and other protected species and must avoid negative effects on reptile 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.
- 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
- Reptile 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 reptiles are ‘mitigated’ into the new habitat, works can continue as normal.
What happens if we discover Reptiles after development has started?
Stop all work immediately.
Continuing work is likely to be breaking the law if reptiles are found during development works.
Get in touch with your ecologist who will come and mitigate your reptiles.
How much does a Reptile 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.