Biodiversity: draft planning guidance

Sets out expectations for implementing and delivering National Planning Framework (NPF) 4 policies which support the cross-cutting NPF4 outcome 'improving biodiversity'.

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Development proposals: Core principles

3.1. There are a number of commonly used and widely applied ‘principles’ which can be followed when designing development so that nature and nature recovery are an integral part of any proposal. These principles are discussed further in sections 3.3 to 3.14 below and are applicable to development of all types and scale.

3.2. Applying these principles will not only help to secure biodiversity enhancements, they can also help to deliver wider policy objectives including for green and blue infrastructure, open space, nature-based solutions, nature networks and 30x30 (see para 1.4). Development proposals which follow these steps are also much more likely to result in more pleasant and enriching places to live, work and spend time. The principles are:

  • Apply the mitigation hierarchy
  • Consider biodiversity from the outset
  • Provide synergies and connectivity for nature
  • Integrate nature to deliver multiple benefits
  • Prioritise on-site enhancement before off-site delivery
  • Take a place-based and inclusive approach
  • Ensure long term enhancement is secured
  • Additionality

Apply the mitigation hierarchy

3.3. The mitigation hierarchy indicates the order in which the impacts of development should be considered and addressed i.e. to first avoid, then minimise, restore, and offset. Potential negative effects should be mitigated in line with the mitigation hierarchy prior to identifying enhancements.

Consider biodiversity from the outset

3.4. There are significant benefits to be gained where proposals are designed with nature in mind from the outset. Planning ahead and having an early understanding of the existing biodiversity on site, including any irreplaceable habitats and the species populations they support, can help avoid costly delays as applications go through the planning system and can result in a smoother passage overall. The opportunities for safeguarding and enhancing biodiversity should be considered from the very earliest stages of formulating a development proposal, as a core part of the siting and design process. Once the ecological interests of a site and its connectivity with the wider landscape have been identified, the mitigation hierarchy can be applied. Widely applied design processes such as masterplanning for larger or more complex applications can provide a clear and robust framework for designing with biodiversity in mind. This requires an understanding of site characteristics (such as soil properties, aspect, shelter and drainage), existing habitats and species, and the variability across the site. In nearly all circumstances, retaining and enhancing existing nature is of greater benefit than seeking to provide replacement habitats that will require time to become established and for associated benefits to accrue, and with the associated uncertainty as to their success.

3.5. Early consideration at all stages of project development can also support evaluation of the full range of opportunities for delivering the best outcome for biodiversity. This can lead to improvements early in the design process, capturing the benefits provided by mature habitats and better integrating biodiversity measures and their management needs at the outset (helping to avoid the cost of later ‘retrofit’). Early consideration of existing soil and habitat resources can also help reduce waste and the need to import new material for the reinstatement and improvement of biodiversity.

3.6. The level of detail should be proportionate to the scale of the development and/or the sensitivity of the site. Where appropriate, initial survey work should be carried out by suitably qualified ecologists as early as practical to provide broad assessment findings of the ecological interest of the site, helping to identify where further habitat and species surveys and/or detailed ecological assessments may be needed. Consideration should be given to the timing of seasonally constrained surveys and the timing of certain mitigation activities. Consideration of standing advice and if appropriate consultation with NatureScot, SEPA and Local Authority biodiversity/environmental planners is also recommended. Other stakeholders such as nature conservation organisations and local community groups are also valuable sources of local information, along with Local Development Plans and Local Biodiversity Action Plans and other strategies. These can help to inform the scope for surveys, mitigation and enhancement.

3.7. Discussions between applicants and the planning authority should be carried out at the earliest possible stage.

Case Study: Hagshaw Energy Cluster

The Hagshaw Energy Cluster is a strategic location for large scale renewable energy projects. The Development Framework has been developed together between the local authorities, renewable energy developers and operators, statutory agencies and communities to create a shared vision for the cluster.

The Development Framework sets out a coordinated approach to the enhancement of nature. It details how, through working together, the cluster offers opportunities to deliver landscape-scale restoration, enhancement and the creation of wildlife habitats helping to connect these to other important areas for nature in the surrounding area, in line with the principles of the Glasgow and Clyde Valley (GCV) Green Network Partnership Blueprint for Strategic Habitat Networks.

The sharing of existing habitat management and monitoring data between developers and operators, landowners, agencies and other stakeholders, will inform the development of a Cluster Wide Habitat Management Plan.

Provide synergies and connectivity for nature

3.8. No single action should be considered in isolation, but as an important component of the site and its wider setting. Existing, well-established habitat, either retained on site or found in adjacent areas, is of particular value as new habitat can require significant time to mature. Every opportunity should be taken to safeguard, enhance and extend connectivity between the development itself and adjoining areas of habitat, ensuring ‘permeable boundaries’ are incorporated. Hedgerows, woodland and scrub, meadows and verges, street and feature trees, as well as ponds and wetlands can all provide stepping stones and corridors that aid the movement and dispersion of species, address fragmentation and can help avoid creating isolated pockets of nature. Ensuring suitable habitat connectivity for wildlife across the landscape is important for most species, particularly where cover avoids predation, or protects from exposure to the elements. Improved connectivity will help build and strengthen the resilience of nature networks, which may be specifically identified in Local Development Plans, Local Biodiversity Action Plans and other strategies, or more generally encouraged by specific species initiatives.

Integrate nature to deliver multiple benefits

3.9. Development should consider opportunities to maximise contributions to ecosystem services more generally and deliver multiple benefits for both people and nature. Nature-based solutions, such as sustainable drainage systems (SuDS), green roofs and walls, street trees and green space, are increasingly being utilised in development. These provide a cost effective and climate-resilient solution to issues such as extreme temperatures, high energy use, noise, water quality and quantity, and poor amenity. Not all nature-based solutions automatically maximise biodiversity potential, however integrating biodiversity rich nature-based solutions into the early design phase of a development proposal offers opportunities to directly enhance nature, for example by providing suitable nesting, foraging and shelter habitat. Nature-based solutions can also have a wider positive impact on nature, for example in helping to maintain suitable temperatures for wildlife, limiting disturbance by reducing noise and light pollution, and reducing pollutant run-off. Examples of often very simple ways to integrate nature within developments can be found in NatureScot’s Developing With Nature guidance as well as NatureScot’s information on nature-based solutions available online.

Prioritise on-site enhancement before off-site delivery

3.10. Wherever possible measures for enhancing biodiversity should be provided within the development site, where the loss of, or damage to, biodiversity is taking place. This is an equitable approach, that seeks to ensure that areas of land do not become ‘nature poor’ as a consequence of development, to the detriment of both people and biodiversity. Where purely on-site enhancement is not possible, section 4.19 sets out further considerations for off-site delivery.

Take a placed-based and inclusive approach

3.11. An understanding of the main natural assets of the site and its surroundings and the opportunities they provide for enhancement will be important. Consideration should be given to any opportunities to contribute towards restoring and enhancing any habitats and species identified as national, strategic or local priorities. The local environmental records centre, Local Biodiversity Partnership officers or wildlife group may be able to advise on appropriate habitat and species choice.

3.12. Local stakeholders, including community councils and local community groups can apply their knowledge to identify broader benefits of biodiversity measures to both people and place. At the same time this can raise understanding and encourage involvement in, and protection of, nature. The place standard tool provides a simple framework to structure conversations about place.

Case Study: RSPB Insh Marshes Nature Reserve

RSPB Insh Marshes Nature Reserve is a 1,000-hectare floodplain of the River Spey in the Cairngorms. It is part of Cairngorms Connect: a partnership of neighbouring land managers who have committed to a long term vision to enhance habitats, species and ecological processes.

“A long-term vision is being developed to transform RSPB Insh Marshes into a prime example of a better-connected floodplain and less modified river system. The project will make the reserve more climate resilient whilst helping to reduce flood risks in communities surrounding the reserve and keep ongoing management requirements sustainable. The partnership committed to engaging with the local community at as early a stage as possible, to shape proposals well before any planning application is made. Since 2020, ongoing conversations, updates and engagement events with local communities have kept this key stakeholder group up to date and informed with the restoration project. This commitment has facilitated a two-way conversation around any potential issues or concerns.” – Cairngorms Connect, October 2023

Ensure Long-Term Enhancement is Secured

3.13. Nature is uncertain and not fully within our control. Securing positive effects for biodiversity inevitably entails a degree of risk as to whether the intended outcomes will be delivered in practice. This is likely to increasingly be the case as local environments adapt to climate change. Incorporating a contingency to compensate for this risk, designing for resilience and taking an adaptive approach that can respond to nature’s uncertainty can help ensure successful outcomes.

3.14. Consideration will be required as to the need for on-going management and future monitoring to ensure the intended enhancement is achieved in practice. See section 4.22 on securing long-term benefits.


3.15. Within a plan-led system, ensure enhancement delivered is additional to any measures which would have been likely to happen in the absence of the development.



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