This site and its content are under development. We would welcome your feedback

Responding to planning issues

Prepared By
BSBI Science and Data working group: Jo Parmenter, Shane Brien, Simon Smart, Jim McIntosh, Julian Woodman, Martin Rand January 2021
Approved By
Board of Trustees 22 June 2021


The Policy on Conservation sets out that the BSBI will:  provide guidance to Vice County Recorders and Members when they wish to respond independently to local issues. This document sets out that guidance and is intended for use by Members and Vice-County Recorders.

It should be noted that BSBI is not part of the statutory planning process, and wholesale engagement with the planning system would be very time consuming.  We are data collectors, collators and providers and our main role within the planning system is to provide information, for example to wildlife trusts and county ecologists as opposed to making formal comment or judgements.  While we support conservation, and particular plant and habitat conservation, we are not a political or campaigning organisation, and it is important that BSBI remains independent and evidence-based.  In particular, too much involvement in political matters may influence the way in which our surveyors are seen by landowners.

That said, the Policy on Nature Conservation  makes it clear that BSBI staff and Trustees may get involved on national matters.  The Committee for Scotland has in the past engaged with the planning process in exceptional circumstances, for example on Menie Links golf course and Coul Links golf course, both being SSSI with a notable rare plant population, with the prior approval of the BSBI Council.  Very serious and exceptional cases where input from the BSBI could help safeguard important plant sites should similarly be put forward to the Board of Trustees and escalated to BSBI Officer level.

The nature of queries to VCRs and Members

Queries to VCRs and Members have mainly arisen in the past with regard to

  • Provision/use of BSBI records 
  • Commenting on planning applications, for example as requested by local objector groups, or occasionally by developers.  Local wildlife trusts etc will also approach VCRs for comment. 
  • Invitations to undertake surveys or comment on habitat / management
  • Advice on the suitability of sites for local designations such as county wildlife sites

1. What sorts of queries are likely to be made?

  • Requests for information on notable species data in and around proposed developments.
  • Requests for comment on development schemes at a variety of levels, such as giving evidence at PI, commenting on site allocations (either for objectors or at the request of the Local Planning Authority (LPA), commenting on contentious projects such as major highways or housing schemes (either at the request of the developer, or on behalf of an objector or as part of a collective of objectors such as the local wildlife trust);
  • Requests for comment on specific issues such as views on planning objectives e.g. Biodiversity Net Gain or appropriateness of creation of a particular compensatory habitat;
  • Requests for comment on scheme proponents’ survey methodology or validity of results;
  • Approaches by private landowners for conservation advice;
  • Questions from local people as to the appropriateness of a development scheme.

2. What sorts of information might be provided?

  • Provision of (usually notable, such as Red Data List or Nationally Important) species lists within a defined search area without formally giving an opinion or making judgement; 
  • Provision of information about species status without formally giving an opinion or making judgement within a defined search area;
  • Formally or informally giving an opinion or making judgement, for example on the botanical value of a site or on a list of species at a site;
  • Assistance with interpretation of data – e.g. is this species assemblage suggestive of an important habitat? (if the individual has the relevant level of expertise).

Where a request is made to an individual member for data, in the first instance encourage the person to approach the Local Biological Records Centre, noting that this will only produce useful information where there is a data sharing agreement with the VCR.  In these instances, if the VCR is unable or unwilling to respond, a request for data provision should be made directly to the BSBI.  

Note that data/records should only be provided for non-commercial requests and only be used for the purposes of the request.  If the enquiry is commercial in nature then a request should be made directly to the BSBI. Refer also to BSBI guidance Using our Data.

If a formal opinion or comment is sought, then it is acceptable to decline to comment but it is always polite to acknowledge the request or consultation, even if you do not have the time or inclination to respond. 

If interpreting data or making a judgement then such judgments should use standard published assessment/value systems as much as possible, for example Rare Plant Registers, local planning policy or the CIEEM impact assessment methodology

Should Members/VCRs be able to respond to planning matters on behalf of the BSBI? 

If Members and VCRs have the energy and enthusiasm to engage with the planning system to further plant and habitat conservation, then this is very much welcomed by the BSBI, but they should never respond in the name of the BSBI.  If a very significant issue arises then it should be escalated to BSBI staff and thence the Board of Trustees.  There may also be local issues that BSBI would not want to comment on, but could devolve the issue to the local VCR/Members. In these instances, it may be wise for any written comment by the VCR/individual Members be reviewed by the BSBI prior to it being issued.  

Where there are competing and equally strong interests, it is easy to be drawn into debate.  What individuals do in their own time is a private matter; but it is important that the status and experience of individuals is not misrepresented.

In some instances, an individual Member or a VCR may give an opinion, for example on a high profile planning debate such as a contentious road scheme, and an objector group may seek to represent their views as being those of the BSBI.  A caveat to any responses to planning enquiries is therefore essential, whether or not the individual is providing comment as a VCR or as a Member.

While I am the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland Vice-County Recorder for [insert as appropriate], the views and opinions expressed are mine as an individual and are not necessarily those of the BSBI, nor its membership in general.” 

This may be particularly relevant if a situation arises where the local VCR gives an opinion which differs from other BSBI Members.  For example, individual members may be motivated by very local issues whereas a VCR is often considering issues at a larger scale.  VCRs in adjacent VCs, and indeed joint VCRs, may have differing opinions.

How should Members/VCRs respond to questions raised on social media?

Commenting on social media can be fraught with issues and can generate heated debate.  Always be polite and remember that only one side of the story may be presented.  Remain evidence-based, and try to find out the background before giving an opinion.

Can Members carry out voluntary survey work on behalf of objector groups?

Provided that that Member/VCR limits input to data gathering and provision and does not seek to comment on a development scheme on behalf of the BSBI, carrying out such voluntary survey work may actually serve the interests of the BSBI for example in enabling access to land which is not normally accessible.  If involved in this sort of activity, it is important to stress the point that the surveyors are not seeking to comment on the scheme, only gather data.  If an individual member does later decide to comment, it must be made clear that this is as an individual and not on behalf of the BSBI and any limitations such as time of year or ability of the surveyor clearly stated.

Useful background information

The planning system contains useful guidance on the planning system in England. contains information on the planning system in the Republic of Ireland contains information on the planning system in Northern Ireland contains information on the planning system in Wales

A Guide to the Planning System in Scotland - ( contains information on the planning system in Scotland

How to comment on a planning application

The following weblinks provide information on how to comment on a planning application:

Planning Objections FAQs | Planning Objections Scotland (

Campaigning and political activity guidance for charities

Campaigning and political activity guidance for charities - GOV.UK ( contains information relevant to Scotland and to Northern Ireland. contains similar guidance for Ireland.