Sea cliffs at Dunnet Head RSPB reserve, Caithness, near Thurso, Scotland, July 2008

Scotland FAQs

Find answers to frequently asked questions around Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) in Scotland, 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 by the planning authority before it makes its decision.

When is an EIA required?

An EIA may be necessary for any planning application (and some other types of applications for consent) 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 decision makers (normally the Planning Authority although in some cases Scottish Ministers or National Park Authority) determine whether EIA is necessary.

A developer can request a screening opinion from the Planning Authority/decision maker to confirm whether or not an EIA is required. A report on the EIA must be submitted by the applicant with every planning application that requires one. This report is known as the Environmental Statement (ES). The decision-maker must advertise the publication of an ES and invite public comment within a specified timescale before considering the application.  

What are screening and scoping opinions?

Screening is the process of determining whether or not EIA is required for a particular project.

For some projects (those identified by Schedule 1 of the EIA Regulations) an EIA is always required. For other developments (those identified by Schedule 2 of the EIA Regulations) the applicant can ask the Planning Authority/decision-maker to give a screening opinion to determine whether an EIA is required.

Scoping is an early step in the preparation of an EIA and usually follows immediately after screening. Scoping is the process of determining the key issues and impacts which will be important in the decision-making process and need to be addressed in the Environmental Statement (ES). The applicant will prepare a Scoping report which is issued to the Planning Authority and key stakeholders, who will have an opportunity to comment on the proposed 'scope' of the EIA.

Are there any clear guidelines about EIAs I can read up on?

A good source of information on EIAs can be found on the Scottish Government website.  

Who is qualified to carry out an EIA?

It is the applicant's responsibility to provide the Environmental Statement (ES) with the application. Normally, a range of experts, including qualified ecologists, ornithologists etc, will be employed to undertake surveys and resulting information will be collated into an ES.

While there is no obligation on the applicant or their consultants to consult anyone about the information to be included in a particular ES, there are good practical reasons to do so. The Planning Authority/decision-maker must, however, consult on the proposal and the ES.

If the developer submits an EIA with the application, how can I be certain that 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 the quality and appropriateness of its conclusions yourself. Include these comments in a letter to the Planning Authority/decision-maker within the consultation deadline.

You may also wish to consult a wildlife expert, eg from the local Wildlife Trust. Other organisations, such as Scottish Natural Heritage (the government's statutory nature conservation advisor) and the RSPB may also review the application and Environmental Statement (ES) and provide comments.

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/decision-maker 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.

RSPB's Hope farm, at the time of the wheat harvest, Knapwell, Cambridgeshire

Evidence

I have concerns about and therefore 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 and/or national planning policies in your letter to the Planning Authority/decision-maker.

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

For more information please see our Local planning pack for Scotland page.

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 and any relevant national planning policies, Biodiversity Action Plans, conservation designations on the site and its surroundings, as well as any biological surveys and other records which exist.

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

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

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

If bats hunt over an area it could mean a roost is present on the site, or nearby. Carrying out a full bat survey might be justified in these circumstances. 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.

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 a Planning Authority/decision-maker to consider your letter if you do not respond within the deadline. However, contact the Planning Authority/decision-maker to check this.

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.

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 to do this without permission from the landowner. However, if you believe a necessary survey has not been done, contact the Planning Authority to raise your concerns.

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

Not normally. 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.

What do I do if I cannot find a recent survey of the site, or I believe that the surveys have been done at the wrong time of the year?

You should let the Local Planning Authority know of your concerns. If further surveys are subsequently carried out for the proposal and supplied to the Planning Authority, 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 Planning Authority.

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

Any decision by the Planning Authority/decision-maker on an application should be made on the basis of adequate environmental information, which includes knowledge of species present which may be affected by the proposed development. Species with a high degree of legal protection are likely to require a dedicated survey top determine their presence, numbers and distribution.

If you are concerned a protected species may be present but no survey has not been carried out by the developer, you should discuss your concerns with the Planning Authority/decision-maker.

Can you give me examples of 'material considerations'?

In planning law, material considerations are any other relevant factors besides the adopted development plan.

Examples are draft policy documents, national policy guidance and newly emerging information (eg 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 the site's wildlife interest, this only means its importance must be considered, not that it 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 Planning Authority's case officer.

For developments that have been granted permission, but where you feel planning conditions are not being met, contact the enforcement officer, and for damage to designated sites such as SSSIs or to protected species, contact Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

 Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra), Balranald nature reserve, North Uist, 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 a local authority to issue a Tree Preservation Order (TPO).

A TPO can only be issued on trees which have historical, landscape or amenity value in their own right. The tree officer at your local council can give you case-specific information and advice.

Trees in Conservation Areas also receive some protection, so anyone wanting to carry out works to trees there must apply to the Planning Authority before carrying out any work. The Planning Authority will consider the contribution the tree makes to the character of the area and, if necessary, make a tree preservation order to protect it.

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 (generally 1 March to 31 July) because of the risk of damaging active nests.

In England, countryside hedgerows are protected against removal by the Hedgerow Regulations, which protect all important hedgerows. Removal can only be done with the permission of the planning authority. There is currently no such protection for hedgerows in Scotland. 

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

It is unlikely that the presence of nesting barn owls would prevent the development going ahead. However, the legal protection afforded to these birds means the work cannot commence whilst the nest is in use.

Consider asking for a planning condition which requires either a segregated compartment with an owl window in the new building design, or a permanent nest boxes to be put up nearby and maintained for long-term use. For further information visit the Barn Owl Trust website.

How do I protect roof nests from roofers and builders?

Such work cannot legally be carried out if it impacts on any nest while it is in use. It is recommended that roofing work should not be done during the birds' breeding season. For most species this is 1 March to 31 July but some may be earlier or later - house martins often have young in the nest as late as October.

If the roofing work results in the loss of a nesting site, 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?

It is unlikely that the presence of ground-nesting birds is going to stop a development going ahead, but it is worth consulting the Biodiversity Action Plan to see if the Planning Authority has pledged to protect or promote the species in question.

Also, the legal protection afforded to the birds means work on the site cannot commence, or continue, if nests would be damaged or destroyed. It is also an offence to disturb certain species of birds on or near the nest, if they are listed on Schedule 1A of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

How can I find out more about the planning system in Scotland?

Planning guides are available on the Scottish Government website.

Which applications are considered by the Scottish Ministers?

Applications to construct and operate power stations and power lines of more than a certain capacity will be considered by the Scottish Ministers under sections 36 and 37 of the Electricity Act 1989.

Contact the Government's Energy Consents and Deployment Unit for applications:

  • in excess of 50 megawatts (MW) for onshore wind farms and power stations which are not wholly or mainly driven by water (such as coal/gas fired or nuclear plant) 
  • in excess of 50 megawatts (MW) for hydropower schemes 
  • overhead power lines and associated infrastructure, as well as large gas and oil pipelines.

Applications below these thresholds are made to the relevant local planning authority.

Contact Marine Scotland for applications:

  • for offshore wind farms and wave or tidal electricity generating devices.
  • Information in relation to the consenting process for the above developments is available on the Scottish Governments website. 

You can find more information about this on the Scottish Government: energy consents application process website.

Who must be informed about planning applications and how?

It is a statutory requirement that planning applications are publicised in the locality to which they relate, but the form of publicity varies according to the type of application and the location.

Planning applications are often publicised via site notices at/near the location of the proposed development and possibly also in a local paper. Immediate neighbours will also be notified, as will statutory consultees (such as Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) etc).

Full details of the application, including the planning documents, can be viewed at the planning authority offices and also often on their website. Applications considered by the Scottish Ministers can be viewed on the Scottish Governments website.

How long do I have to object to different types of planning application?

Generally 21 days, but this can vary, so it is always best to consult the Planning Authority/decision-maker for precise information.

Find out more information about this on our 'Land planning pack for Scotland' page.

Where can I find the development plans and other local authority documentation?

They are available to view at local planning offices, and are often on local authority websites and at the local library. You should contact the planning office to find out.

A planning permission has been granted – is there anything I can do to stop the development going ahead?

Once a planning permission has been granted, in almost every case it is too late to stop it, or to vary its terms and conditions. This should be done during the consultation process.

Is the RSPB involved in this planning matter? If not, why not?

We will always target our efforts to those planning applications which have the greatest impact on wildlife. You can check with our regional office to find out whether we are involved, or not.

I'm concerned about the way the Local Authority is handling the application/my concerns. What can I do?

You should first raise your concerns with the Planning Authority to see if they can be resolved. If you are still unhappy after discussing with the Planning Authority, you can take up your concerns with the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

What rights do I have to speak at Planning Committee?

Planning Committee meetings are public. If you have submitted a representation (either an objection, or in support), the Local Authority may allow you to speak at the meeting where the application is decided on. You should contact the planning department well in advance to check.

What happens if I ask the Local Authority to keep me informed about the development of a project, and they don't?

The Local Authority is not under an obligation to keep you informed. You need to contact them at intervals to find out about progress.

How do I find out if the planning conditions imposed on a planning permission have actually been carried out? What do I do if I suspect they have not?

Contact the case officer at your planning department to find out about compliance, and report any breaches to the enforcement officer.

Planning conditions state that a group of trees must be retained. The developer has started to fell them? What can I do?

This should be reported to the enforcement officer at your planning department. If active birds' nests are involved, also report it without delay to the Wildlife Crime Officer at your police constabulary as damage or destruction of active nests is an offence under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

"Desirable nestbox to let - no Great Tits please"