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Reptiles and amphibians

Development advice

Amphibians and reptiles are two ancient animal groups. Both groups of animals are referred to as herpetofauna or herptiles.

There are six species of native amphibian and four of these are indigenous to Bridgend County Borough. These are the:

  • common frog (rana temporaria)
  • common toad (bufo bufo)
  • common or smooth newt (lissotriton vulgaris)
  • palmate newts (lissotriton helveticus)
  • the great crested or warty newt (triturus cristatus)

For great crested newts also see ‘Guidance Sheet B5: Great Crested Newt and Development’.

Frogs, toads and newts often live in the undergrowth and provide a free pest control service. This is why allotments benefit greatly from having their own wildlife pond.

Of the UK’s six native reptile species, four are present in Bridgend County Borough. These are:

  • the slow-worm (anguis fragilis)
  • grass snakes (natrix natrix)
  • adder or European viper (vipera berus)
  • the common or viviparous lizard (zootoca vivipara)

Herpetofauna live in a variety of habitats throughout South and West Wales. The most important factors regarding suitable habitat for amphibians are access to water for breeding and safe refuge on land. Reptiles need areas that receive a lot of sun and a complex structure at varying heights.

Herpetofauna are under increasing pressure throughout Britain for various reasons such as habitat loss, colony isolation and human encroachment.

Typical herpetofauna habitats are:

  • ponds their surroundings
  • heathland
  • woodland rides and edges
  • bramble and gorse banks
  • coastal paths and sand dunes

Reptiles may be found in a range of habitats including both countryside and some urban situations. Typical reptile habitats are:

  • brownfield sites
  • allotments
  • compost heaps
  • railway/road embankments
  • south facing banks
  • chalk grassland
  • rough grassland
  • areas where there is a diverse structure like grassland with scrub edges

Grass snakes will often favour habitats near wetland areas and ponds. Woodland sites are often important reptile hibernation areas.

Sections 9 (1) and (5) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (as amended) protect reptile species like the grass snake, adder, slow worm and common lizard. This makes it an offence to intentionally and recklessly kill, injure or take any member of a reptile species.

Widespread amphibians which include the palmate newt, smooth newt, common frog and common toad are listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. They are protected (section 9[5]) but only regarding trade as with the prohibition of sale and advertising for sale.

Great crested newts have the highest level of protection. Individuals, their breeding sites and sheltering places receive full statutory protection from:

These make it an offence to kill, or injure, take or disturb any great crested newt, or damage or disturb any breeding site or sheltering place.

The maximum penalty for non-compliance with Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) for each offence is:

  • a £5000 fine and/or six months imprisonment in the Magistrates’ Court
  • a £5000 fine and two years’ imprisonment in the Crown Court

Any equipment used to commit the offence may be forfeited. Both the company and individuals can be held liable. The smooth snake, sand lizard and natterjack toad also carry additional penalties, similar to that of the great crested newt. However they are not in the Bridgend County Borough.

Guidance note one:

Activities like site clearance, earthworks or construction operations can usually, reasonably be predicted to kill or injure reptiles. Running such activities without appropriate mitigation could legally constitute intentional or ‘reckless’ killing and injury. Therefore, applicants should get advice from a suitably qualified ecologist before works begin, which should be mitigated accordingly.

An assessment of reptiles should be considered at an early stage on any sites that may support them.

The presence of reptiles may affect the programming of work and the scope for development. Early consideration can resolve most potential conflicts and avoid expensive delays. It is wise to do this even before purchasing a site, as the presence of reptiles could affect the scope for development. The field survey should confirm if reptiles are there or likely to be there. It should assess how important the site is for reptiles.

Where reptiles’ presence is known locally and the site has reptile habitat, you must give us survey and mitigation plans before we determine planning applications. Planning conditions and other agreements may be imposed on consents to ensure effective reptile conservation.

Sometimes formal environmental assessments are needed before planning permission will be considered. This is mainly for large-scale projects.

Where surveys are not needed

However, you may not need a new survey if your ecological advisers are sure that development impact will be minimal based on existing information and a habitat assessment. Also, they must be satisfied that further survey information would neither change this view nor significantly modify mitigation proposals.

In most situations less formal assessments may be needed to determine the effect on reptiles. Where mitigation and compensation are required, you should present these plans with the application. This will allow a full evaluation of the net effects of development and reptile protection measures, and can help speed up the decision-making process.

Further advice can be found in ‘Natural England: Reptiles: Survey and Mitigation for Development Projects’. 

Advice for plans

Herptile friendly features can be incorporated into landscape design. In combination with mitigation, these can avoid affecting herptiles, and achieve net gain.

When work starts

If planning permission is granted, the law protecting reptiles still applies even if there are no conditions relating to reptiles. Because of this, developers must make every reasonable effort to safeguard reptiles. Some damaging activities like archaeological investigations may not need planning permission but could still be unlawful if without proper care.

The need to run surveys for amphibians

An assessment of amphibians should be considered at an early stage on any sites that may support them.

The presence of great crested newts will affect the programming of work and development scope.

Other considerations will also need to be reviewed. For example the common toad is:

Our Local Development Plan Policy ENV6 on nature conservation expects developers to avoid or overcome harm to nature conservation assets. This includes wildlife which may be resident, in-situ or which have been shown to have frequent habitats at the site on a migratory basis.

Enhancement and protection

As part of the green infrastructure approach, habitats should be identified, protected and enhanced where possible. Examples include incorporating existing ponds and a buffer into the development’s design or by ensuring appropriate mitigation if ponds are lost to development. Enhancements can be made by promoting pond construction in appropriate new developments, and ensuring roads built across known migration routes have wildlife tunnels.

Helpful partners

Ask South East Wales Biological Records Centre to search for herptiles to inform the survey effort. In addition, other relevant organisations may hold useful data including NRW, and local amphibian and reptile groups.

If the proposed development is within eight metres of a watercourse, please consult NRW.

Guidance note two:

We will only accept survey/assessment work which has been done by a suitably qualified person to the recognised survey guidelines.

When to run a survey

Reptile activity is highly seasonal and weather dependent. This means there are limited windows of opportunity for survey and mitigation work, which developers must allow for when programming development.

Reptiles are most effectively surveyed in April, May and September. Don’t run surveys during inactive periods, which are typically from November to February inclusive, and occasionally during very hot, dry weather in July to August. These timings can vary due to local weather patterns or species differences.

A suitably qualified person’s site assessments for common lizards, slow worms, adders and grass snakes will provide a good idea of the likelihood of reptiles being there. It will also suggest their impact on proposed activities. Experienced surveyors can run site assessments of habitat suitability at any time of year.

Population assessment

If deemed necessary, a reptile presence or likely absence survey should be run following approved guidelines. If their presence is confirmed, carry out a population assessment to guide the mitigation strategy.

Surveys, other mitigation and compensatory measures may not be needed for reptiles and other protected species under certain circumstances. This would require incorporating and enhancing green infrastructure assets into the design which is integrated with the surrounding environment along with avoidance measures. We expect a net gain for biodiversity in all schemes.

As well as direct effects on reptiles and their breeding or resting places, development activities can cause indirect effects. These should be fully considered at the application stage.

An example of an indirect impact could be on connectivity and habitat linkages. Losing or severing key habitat linkages such as hedgerows, woodland, shelter belts, rough grassland, heathland and scrub may indirectly affect reptile population/s. It could restrict their access to other parts of their habitat, even if that habitat is kept.

Development could sever the summer and hibernation sites for reptiles. Since much of the survey effort for reptiles focusses on summer sites, it is important to consider possible hibernation sites as well.

In addition, the scheme must not be considered in isolation. It should allow access to all required resources, like summer feeding grounds or hibernation areas, which may be offsite, and of considerable size. Development of such a site could create a barrier to movement.

Where surveys show development proposals will affect reptiles, we will require a method statement with the planning application before it will be registered. If it is considered that the proposed avoidance, mitigation, compensation measures are unsatisfactory, the local planning authority will refuse the planning application.

Except great crested newts, licences are not needed to capture or disturb adders, grass snakes, slow-worms, common lizards and amphibians. However, the reptiles themselves are still protected. Thus there is a risk you will commit offences if damaging habitats harms reptiles. We expect all mitigation to maintain high standards.

Guidance note four:

Avoidance measures built into development proposals may remove the need for detailed survey work. We will seek expert advice from NRW in determining cases when this may apply.

Avoidance measures are those which can reasonably be implemented to avoid an offence occurring. As such, these Reasonable Avoidance Measures (RAMs) can often avoid the requirement for a licence. RAMs are the preferred approach when considering a scheme’s design, and they may include measures ranging from:

  • revising the site layout to avoid losing an important feature
  • carrying out works when it is less likely to cause disturbance
  • amending working methods to reduce impacts to acceptable levels

If RAMs are practical in a scheme, a method statement must detail them and you should send it to us for approval. Implementing the measures in the RAMs method statement will likely be a condition of the resulting planning consent.

If the RAMs avoid all anticipated impacts on great crested newts and their habitats to acceptable levels, a licence is unlikely to be required. This can often avoid or reduce delays to commencing development, and it often reduces costs as well.

Therefore, it is important to create channels between your architects whether they are landscape or otherwise and your chosen, suitably qualified ecologist during master-planning. This will help to guide the design and programme at an early enough stage to identify whether RAMs may be a suitable approach.

Early identification and incorporation of green infrastructure assets into a development helps reduce a scheme’s development impact. It provides opportunities for RAMs, and avoids more complex mitigation and compensation schemes which may need a license.

Reptiles can only be managed when they are active, which is between April and October. Over spring, summer and early autumn, grasses should be cut in phases through the site toward refuges left onsite or adjacent to it. This can leave a conflict with site clearance occurring when birds are nesting. To avoid conflict, the following method statement for site clearance can help avoid harm to these protected species.

Method Statement for Site Clearance

Nesting opportunities can be removed before mid-February by cutting all grasses and isolated shrubs to a maximum height of 150mm. This will leave more significant scrub untouched, as reptiles may be hibernating in the surrounding ground. Potential hibernation sites should be identified and marked by a suitably qualified ecologist before works begin.

Over the following spring, summer and early autumn, the grasses should be cleared so reptiles can easily move to adjacent suitable habitat/wildlife corridor, if present. Following ‘Evaluating Local Mitigation and Translocation Programmes: Maintaining Best Practice and Lawful Standards (HGBI)’, a 2m wide strip of vegetation should be cut to 10 to 15cm, for example. This will avoid harming reptiles, but make it less hospitable to them.

After waiting at least a day, this strip should be cut down as much as possible, with an adjacent 2m strip cut to 10 to 15cm. This should be continued in the direction of the suitable habitat, and away from any roads. Surface contaminants such as asbestos can be trapped by covering cut areas with a thin skim of new soil.

Debris like cuttings should be removed so as not to leave reptiles shelter. Should they be found onsite a competent ecologist should be available to capture any reptiles and amphibians, and relocate them to a safe area.

Once bird nesting season ends, the residual scrub patches can be removed. The same method of vegetation clearance can be used to encourage reptiles to move out of the development site between September and October. You may need the whole site to be cleared during the bird nesting season. If so, show that nesting birds are absent by giving the local planning authority an appropriate survey immediately before works commence. Alternatively, a method statement should be included in the clearance methodology, and agreed in writing with the local planning authority as well as fully implemented.

Vegetation clearance methods like phased site clearance can encourage species like reptiles to move offsite provided they have suitable habitat to disperse to.

Therefore, it is recommended that a condition of consent be that the local authority receives a site clearance method. It must consider reptiles and nesting birds, and be fully implemented.

The above approach would comply with the Adopted Bridgend County Borough Local Development Plan (2006 to 2021) Policy ENV6.

Where habitat opportunities exist for birds and reptiles, the site clearance method can be adapted to suit, but must be considered early in the development.

Where European protected species occur onsite, vegetation clearance may only be undertaken under a licence from Natural Resources Wales (NRW). See the checklist for species that may occur on your site.

When potential refugia are found on an urban development site, some animals can often be moved by hand to minimise harm to them. In that environment, potential refugia include structures like stone piles, log piles, wooden planks and metal sheets lying on the floor.

Guidance note five:

Developers/applicants must provide sufficient evidence to show that avoidance is impossible before mitigation or compensation are considered as viable alternatives.

Mitigation measures built into proposals may also reduce the amount of survey work needed including survey effort and spatial extent. However there must still be sufficient information supplied to understand the nature of impacts, and their likely effect on the species’ conservation status.

Guidance note six:

Where harm is unavoidable, mitigation is needed to minimise any harm. The mitigation must be established by a suitably qualified ecologist and in agreement with us.

RAMs and the method statement

Depending on the development’s scale and predicted impacts, it may be impossible to just use RAMs to fully address all potential impacts affecting reptiles or their habitats. Early communication across the design team promotes greater understanding of all constraints whether ecological or otherwise, and allows a balanced approach to the development design.

Where RAMs cannot satisfactorily avoid impacts to reptiles, mitigation measures are needed to ensure no harm comes to them and no net loss of habitats results. The exact measures required will depend on the population size, distribution and proximity to works, and the works’ scale, timing and duration. Amongst others, measures could include trapping out the site to remove any reptiles and amphibians. It could also mean installing fencing to prevent reptiles and amphibians re-entering the site during construction.

Mitigation measures to be implemented will be detailed in the method statement. Schemes must therefore be carried out in strict accordance with the method statement.

Mitigation schemes may include a combination of hand catching reptiles under refugia and translocating the animals to an on/offsite receptor habitat. To achieve a ‘clear’ site, exclusion fencing systems may be needed along with habitat manipulation to restrict animals’ movement. Mitigation schemes must include enhancement works and long-term habitat management commitments, especially with large, animal populations.

Herptiles should be accommodated within existing and/or new created habitats on the development site, which is usually preferable to offsite translocation. This is especially important for species such as the adder whose faithfulness to hibernating spots and other resources make successful translocation more difficult.

If the scheme involves translocation, the developer must identify and survey both the development site and the receptor site. Also, it must produce a translocation strategy that must be sent to and agreed by us. The most effective time to do reptile translocations is between April and late June and again between August and late September. Transfers can be done outside these optimal periods.

Translocation will only be considered as a last resort when reptiles cannot be accommodated onsite. The transfer strategy must include a long-term management plan for the receiving site.

Any proposals for mitigation and transfer should follow best practice advice and guidance. You may find some of this in:

Guidance note seven:

Compensation will only be considered where the developer/applicant has satisfactorily demonstrated that avoidance and mitigation are impossible. Also they must have shown that the compensatory measures result in no net loss of habitat.

Where mitigation cannot satisfactorily reduce all potential impacts to sufficient levels, more compensation measures will be likely.

Compensation measures most frequently involve habitat losses. For example if losing a pond cannot be avoided in the proposed development, a compensatory pond/s should be created before the pond’s loss.

The loss of land habitats also needs offsetting. Sufficient land habitat must be provided to maintain breeding, foraging, refuge and dispersal functions for the affected population. The population size and natural range must also be maintained. Thus it will be important to consider the connectivity between retained habitats, new habitats and existing habitats in the wider area.

Habitat compensation must be provided before the site’s exclusion, and the capture of reptiles and amphibians. This enables the transfer of animals to the compensation area/s before development disturbs them.

Compensation should ensure that once completed, there will be no net loss of breeding or resting sites. In fact where significant impacts are predicted, it is expected compensation should enhance habitat by quality or area compared with that to be lost. Compensation should also remedy any loss of connectivity the development creates.

Large development sites have the opportunity to enhance surrounding habitats and connecting corridors for amphibians, reptiles, other animals and plants. Also, they provide natural interest for residents.

Examples of enhancement can consist of:

  • incorporating wildlife ponds including suitable adjoining terrestrial habitat into new developments even if the development does not affect herptiles
  • creating ‘networks’ of ponds linked by suitable terrestrial habitat
  • creating/enhancing refuges/over-wintering sites within existing as well as new habitat

If herptiles are affected, mitigation measures should recreate ponds on a two for one basis.

Image credit: 'Frogger' by Chad Horwedel. Licence credit.

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