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We carry out Habitats Regulations Assessments both on Council plans and planning applications, to ensure that no harm happens to a Natura 2000 site from a plan’s or project’s adoption.

Natura 2000 sites are nature conservation sites of European importance and are designated either Special Protection Areas (for birds) or Special Areas of Conservation (for animals and habitats). In addition, Ramsar sites (Internationally Important Wetlands) are treated as if they were Natura 2000 sites in accordance with Government policy.

Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) of plans and planning applications considers the impacts of plans and proposed development on Natura 2000 sites. It is required under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. There are four steps in the process.

Step one: Screening Stage

This identifies the likely impacts of a plan or planning application, directly or indirectly, upon a Natura 2000 site, either alone or in combination with other projects or plans. It considers whether these impacts are likely to be significant. Most assessments do not go beyond this step.

Those submitting planning applications will need to provide survey data to inform the assessment. A lack of such data can delay a planning application’s progress. We are happy to advise on survey requirements before an application is submitted.

Step two: Appropriate Assessment

An evaluation of the evidence gathered on impact and consideration of whether changes to the plan are needed to ensure that it will have no adverse effect upon any Natura 2000 site. Alternative options should be considered to avoid any potentially damaging effects.

Where adverse impacts remain, the plan may only be adopted for ‘Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest’ (Step 3) and compensatory measures must be ecologically viable to replace that lost (Step 4). The Secretary of State must be consulted and will inform the European Commission about the compensatory measures adopted.


Habitat Regulations Assessment is made on the following plans:

Our plans, including:

  • Minerals and Waste Local Plans
  • Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Management Plans (Mendip Hills and Quantock Hills)
  • Future Transport Plan
  • Other strategies that may affect Natura 2000 sites
  • Local Plans or Core Strategies
  • Site Allocation Development Plan Documents
  • Supplementary Planning Documents

Where it is

The following Natura 2000 sites are located in Somerset:

Special Protection Areas (SPA)

  • Somerset Levels and Moors
  • Severn Estuary (Bridgwater Bay)

Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)

  • Exmoor and Quantock Oak Woodlands
  • Exmoor Heaths
  • Hestercombe House
  • Holme and Clean Moors
  • Mells Valley
  • Mendip Limestone Grasslands
  • Mendip Woodlands
  • North Somerset and Mendip Bats
  • Quants
  • Severn Estuary (Bridgwater Bay)


Ramsar sites are designated under the international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands 1971. The sites are required by Government policy to be assessed in the same way as Natura 2000 sites. The two sites in Somerset are:

  • Somerset Levels and Moors
  • Severn Estuary (Bridgwater Bay)

You can find details about these sites on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website.


The National Planning Policy Framework states: ‘The presumption in favour of sustainable development does not apply where development requiring appropriate assessment [Habitats Regulations Assessment] under the Birds or Habitats Directives is being considered, planned or determined’.

Laws and regulations

  • European Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora
  • Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds
  • Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010
  • The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017

Contact the team

Contact: Ecologist, Somerset Ecology Services
Address: Planning Control, Somerset Council, County Hall, Taunton, TA1 4DY
Opening Hours: Monday to Thursday 9.00am to 5.00pm, Friday 9.00am to 4.30pm, Saturday and Sunday closed. If you require work to be completed outside of these hours, please make a request to

Last reviewed: February 5, 2024 by Jenny

Next review due: August 5, 2024

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