Pink footed geese Anser brachyrhyncus, in flight past wind turbines, Near Diepholz, Lower Saxony, Germany,

Spatial Planning Guides

The creation of spatial plans can be an important tool in protecting nature through the planning system.

What are Spatial Planning Guides?

The RSPB has created several spatial planning guides which help to alert developers, local authorities, statutory agencies and other stakeholders to areas of ecological sensitivity to help avoid ecologically damaging development proposals.

These maps help to identify areas which may be better or worse for renewable energy development, which must then be explored further through ecological surveys.  

We have been concerned for some time that the areas lying outside statutory nature conservation designated areas have not been accurately mapped. We worry that Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which support important populations of birds, are not adequately protected through the planning system. 

Some areas without statutory nature conservation designations are 'functionally linked' to an SSSI/SPA because the bird species which are associated with the SPA cannot be sustained from within the SPA alone and birds regularly occur outwith the protected area network. A good example of this are wintering geese and swans, which roost within an SPA and feed on surrounding (non-designated) farmland.

Such areas can often extend several kilometres away from an estuary. Such functionally linked areas come under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (the Habitats Regulations), as they often support internationally important numbers of qualifying bird species of adjacent SPA's.

The aim of the Spatial Planning Guides is to identify areas which support important populations of bird species (plus deep peat areas) sensitive to wind farm developments or biomass energy crop plantings.

A series of 'alert' maps have been produced (based upon existing data sources) which have been developed to trigger detailed consultations between developers, local authorities, statutory agencies and other agencies, including the RSPB.

The Four Spatial Planning Guides

Four Spatial Planning Guides have been produced to date which cover the North West of England.

We comment on all major wind farm developments across the north west and submit detailed responses on dozens of wind farm related planning applications each year.

  • On-shore wind: Cumbria
  • Deep peat: Cumbria
  • On-shore wind and deep peat: Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire (produced in partnership with the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and north Merseyside).
  • Biomass energy crop production: North West
  • The documents are supported by Natural England and the data is included in Biodiversity Evidence Bases.

As well as important bird areas, areas of deep peat (one metre deep or more) have been mapped to illustrate areas where deep peat occurs and where there may be associated areas of high nature conservation interest which maybe undesignated.


A Spatial Planning Guide for on-shore wind farm developments in Cumbria. PDF, 4.5Mb.

Wind turbines and sensitive bird populations

A Spatial Planning Guide for on-shore wind farm developments in Cumbria. PDF, 669Kb.

Wind Turbines and Peat Soils

A Spatial Planning Guide for on-shore wind farm developments in Lancashire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside. PDF, 2.1Mb.

Wind Turbines, Sensitive Bird Populations and Peat Soils

A Spatial Planning Guide for biomass energy crop planting in North West England. PDF, 3.1Mb.

Biomass planting and Sensitive Bird Populations