Southern cliffs of Rathlin Island, proposed reserve for chough

Northern Ireland FAQs

Find answers to frequently asked questions around Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) in Northern Ireland, including what they are and what they're used for.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

What is an EIA?

It is a means of systematically evaluating the potential impacts of a development on the environment. It enables any risks to the environment and the scope of reducing them to be identified early in the planning process so they are properly understood by the public and the planning authority before it makes its decision.

When is an EIA required?

An EIA may be necessary for any planning application whose location, scale or nature are likely to have significant effects on the environment. The UK's legislation on EIA sets out types of development and thresholds to help developers and the local council determine whether EIA is necessary.

A developer can request a screening opinion from the local council to confirm whether an EIA is, or is not, required. A report on the EIA must be submitted with every planning application that requires one. This report is known as the Environmental Statement (ES).

Who commissions an EIA?

The local council will require an EIA if the development proposal falls within certain guidelines. It is the applicant's responsibility to prepare the Environmental Statement (ES).

Who is qualified to carry out an EIA?

It is the developer's responsibility to provide the Environmental Statement (ES) with the application. Normally, qualified ecologists, ornithologists etc are employed to undertake surveys and produce the EIA. While there is no obligation on the developer and their consultants to consult anyone about the information to be included in a particular ES, there are good practical reasons to do so.

Local Planning Authorities/decision makers will, however, consult on the proposal and the ES.

Does the RSPB get involved in EIAs?

Yes. Depending on the proposal, the RSPB may be involved. This could range from providing data on bird distribution and numbers, to providing advice regarding the scope of the EIA and commenting on the Environmental Statement (ES).

If a planning application does not have an Environmental Statement (ES) and I believe it should, what can I do?

Contact the planning department of your local council to voice your concerns.

If the developer submits an EIA with the application, how can I be certain it has been properly carried out and is objective?

The Environmental Statement (ES) is made available for scrutiny alongside the planning application. If you know the site well enough, you may be able to make an assessment on its quality and appropriateness yourself. Include these comments in a letter to the local council within the consultation deadline.

You may also wish to consult a local wildlife expert eg, from the RSPB or Ulster Wildlife (UW). Other organisations, such as the National Trust may also review the application and Environmental Statement (ES) and provide comments to the Local Planning Authority.

Can I object on the grounds of an inadequate EIA?

Yes. Make it clear in your objection why you think that the EIA is inadequate. If the planning authority agrees, the application could potentially be refused, or the developer may be required to provide further information to satisfy the requirements of the EIA regulations.

Cirl Bunting protection site, RSPB Labrador Bay nature reserve, Devon

Evidence

I have concerns about and want to object to a planning application that I believe will damage the wildlife value of an area. What evidence do I need?

Your knowledge of the local area and the wildlife you think will be affected are key. You may also want to consider mentioning relevant Local Development Plans, Area Plans and/or Biodiversity Action Plans in your letter to the local council.

What documents should I consult when formulating an objection?

All the documents accompanying the planning application (any Environmental Statement (ES) or environmental information - should an EIA not have been required), the Local Development Plans or Area Plans and any relevant planning policies, Biodiversity Action Plans, conservation designations on the site (designated and non-designated) and its surroundings, as well as any biological surveys and other records that exist.

How extensive and detailed does the evidence I supply have to be?

The more detailed and the broader the range of valid issues, the more weight your objection will carry.

Formally designated sites, priority species/habitats and species of conservation concern can often be of a higher priority within the decision making process to protect from damage/disturbance.

For more information, see our Local Planning Pack for Northern Ireland page.

How can I gather the necessary evidence?

Consult local conservation groups, bird clubs, and biological records centre etc. Add observations and records from local people, including your own.

If there is time, you can even carry out a thorough survey of the site and present the results with your representation.

Can I object on the grounds that lots of different animals use the habitats that would be affected?

Yes, but be realistic. Some animals, especially rare and protected species, in certain numbers or situations carry more weight than others.

For more information, visit our Local Planning Pack for Northern Ireland page.

Can I object on grounds that bats fly over the area?

If bats hunt over an area it could mean that a roost is present on the site, or nearby. Carrying out a full bat survey might be justified in these circumstances, and the lack of one might be grounds for objection.

The Bat Conservation Trust is a good place to go for more information on this. You should also contact the Local Planning Authority to raise your concerns.

The Northern Ireland Bat Group also provides helpful information.

Can I ask for the deadline to be extended in order to gather the necessary evidence for my objection?

Consultation deadlines are often set by statutory requirements, so it may not be possible for the local council to consider your letter if you do not respond within the deadline. However, contact the planning department of your local council to check this. You can find the details of your local council on The Local Council Planning website.

Where can I find what wildlife information already exists on a piece of land?

You can find this information from a number of places, including local records centres, the Wildlife Trusts, local bird clubs, and bat groups.

You can find more information on this on The Ulster Wildlife website, Northern Ireland Bat Group site and Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CEDaR.

I want to survey a site with a development proposal, but the landowner won't allow me access. What can I do?

If the development site is private property, you may not be allowed access without permission from the landowner. However, if you believe a survey is necessary and has not been done, contact your local council to raise your concerns.

Visit The Local Planning website for more information.

Can the RSPB carry out a bird survey on my behalf?

No. However, we can advise on appropriate methods, the best season to carry out a survey, and in some cases suggest a source of local voluntary help for surveys or other sources of useful information.

For more information please see our Local Planning Pack for Northern Ireland page.

The Developer has surveyed the site for a particular species, but I think that it has been done at the wrong time of the year

You should let the local council know of your concerns. If further surveys are subsequently carried out for the proposal and supplied to the local council, it is very likely that you will have extra time to respond to that new information.

However, you will need to check this with the local council. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) can advise best on this aspect of a planning application.

Can a developer ask the planning authority to grant permission with a condition requiring a protected species survey to be done before development starts?

If there is the potential for a protected species to be present, a survey should be carried out and a report submitted to the local council before any decision on the application is made.

If you are concerned there may be a protected species present and a survey has not been carried out by the developer, you should discuss your concerns with the local council.

Can you give me examples of 'material considerations'?

In planning law, material considerations are any other relevant factors besides the adopted area plan. Examples include draft policy documents, planning policy statements and newly emerged information such as on wildlife interests.

Material considerations do not include things such as effects on the value of neighbouring property, or the identity or reputation of the applicant.

When an issue is a material consideration, eg wildlife interests, this only means that (for example) wildlife interests are considered, not that they would automatically stop the development.

What do I do if I see damage going on?

If this is a development with an 'active' planning application, contact the case officer with the local council.

For developments which have been granted permission, but where you feel that planning conditions are not being met, contact the enforcement team either located in the appropriate local planning office, and for damage to designated sites such as Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) or to protected species, contact the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

Common Pipistrelle Bat hunting at twilight, Pipistrellus pipistrellus, Berwickshire, Scotland

Habitat and nest protection

How can I protect trees? How do Tree Preservation Orders (TPO) work?

The only way to permanently protect a single tree, or a group of trees is for the local council to issue a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). A TPO can only be issued on trees that have historical, landscape or amenity value in their own right.

In Northern Ireland, the planning departments of the 11 local councils are responsible for TPOs. The relevant officer at your local council may be able to give you case-specific information and advice.

Anyone wanting to carry out works to trees with TPO protection need to apply to their local planning office before so or be fined. A link for the Local Council Planning website can be found on this page.

Please visit our Local Planning packs for Northern Ireland page for more information.

How can I prevent hedges being cut/removed?

Hedges need periodic cutting to keep them in good condition, but it is recommended that this should not be carried out during the birds' breeding season, which generally lasts from 1 March to 31 August because of the risk of damaging or disturbing active nests – eggs, chicks and adults. Hedgerows can be maintained outside of this period and help ensure compliance with the law.

If a hedgerow has six or more native woody components in its structure then it can be considered an example of a species rich hedgerow. These may be more worthy of protection in a Habitat Action Plan (HAP) if there is a length of 30m or more. If your Council has a Local Biodiversity Officer (LBO) they should be able to provide further information.

For more information on this topic please visit the Northern Ireland Environment Agency website which is linked on this page.

Old farm buildings are being converted. How can I protect the nesting barn owls?

If there are barn owls in the area then both the RSPB and Ulster Wildlife (UW) would like to know.

Barn owl nests are protected all year round under the Wildlife (NI) Order (as amended) 1985 which means that work cannot commence even if the barn owls are currently not nesting (ie during the winter period for example). The applicant must apply to the NIEA for a special licence if they wish to go ahead with the development. If this licence application is successful, we would encourage asking for a planning condition that requires either an owl window in the new building design, or that requires permanent nest boxes being put up nearby that will be maintained for long-term use.

For more information on Barn owls please visit the Barn Owl Trust website and Ulster wildlife website.

How do I protect roof nests from roofers and builders?

Such work cannot legally be carried out if it impacts on the nests themselves. Under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985, all birds’ nests are protected and any damage or destruction to an active nest can result in a fine and/or imprisonment. Thus, it is recommended that roofing work should not be done during the birds' breeding season, which generally lasts from 1 March to 31 August.

The applicant must apply for a licence from the NIEA if they wish to carry out work which will impact on an active birds’ nest. If this application is successful, you can ask if the householder would consider the birds and put up nestboxes to replace the sites lost.

How do I protect skylarks and other ground-nesting birds from development?

The legal protection afforded to the birds means work on the site cannot commence or continue if nests, eggs, chicks and/or the adult birds would be disturbed, damaged or destroyed. If you are aware of an area commonly used by skylarks then measures can be put in place to time works appropriately.

It is also an offence to disturb certain species of birds by special penalty if they are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985 (as amended). Schedule 1 does not include skylark but does include, for example, curlew.

Please visit legislation.gov.uk and Northern Ireland Environment Agency sites for more information.

Nest & eggs of Cirl bunting Emberiza cirlus. RSPB Cirl Bunting Project. Devon,