This is standing advice to help planning applicants seeking permission for development that could affect pine martens, and to assist planning officers and other regulators in their assessment of these applications. It avoids the need for us to advise on individual planning consultations in relation to pine martens. We will only provide further advice in exceptional circumstances that are not covered by this standing advice.
Consideration of protected species in development management
Scottish Planning Policy requires that the presence (or potential presence) of legally protected species is factored into the planning and design of development proposals, and that any impacts on protected species are fully considered prior to the determination of planning applications.
Where impacts on a protected species cannot be avoided, certain activities may only be undertaken with a licence from NatureScot. It is important that any licensing issues are considered as part of a planning application to avoid any unnecessary delay to a development proceeding.
Legal protection for pine martens
Pine martens and their dens are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981(as amended) and by the Nature Conservation Act 2004. It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly:
- kill, injure or capture a pine marten;
- disturb a pine marten in a den*;
- damage, destroy or obstruct access to a pine marten den*.
* unless the den is in the roof space or other part of a house, where it is not an offence to discourage a pine marten from using the den, or to block access to the den, provided a pine marten is not in the den at the time and does not have dependent young. Further details can be found in Living with Pine Martens (The Vincent Wildlife Trust 2014).
This means that if pine martens could be affected in these ways by a development, and no action is taken to prevent it, an offence may be committed. The advice below will help ensure that impacts on pine martens are minimised and no offences occur.
When a development could affect pine martens
Pine martens are widely distributed throughout much of mainland Scotland and the islands of Skye and Mull, and the distribution continues to expand. The largest current gaps in range are in the Central Belt and southern Scotland. For an up to date map of pine marten distribution see Living with Pine Martens (The Vincent Wildlife Trust 2014). Local Record Centres may have additional information that can help determine if pine martens are likely to be present. See also the Atlas of the Mammals of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (The Mammal Society/Pelagic Publishing 2020).
Pine martens are mainly found in woodlands, including conifer plantations. They may also venture into more open country to hunt, including rocky hillsides. Their dens are usually hollow trees, among rocks or in disused bird nests or squirrel dreys. In some parts of Scotland, pine martens use enclosed spaces in buildings as dens.
A pine marten survey should be carried out if a proposal is in, or adjacent to, forest habitat within the pine marten range, and includes felling or other works that could damage or disturb a den.
Carrying out a pine marten survey
Surveys should be done by persons with the appropriate knowledge of pine marten ecology and practical experience of pine marten survey work. They include a systematic search for signs of pine marten presence and potential den sites within 250m of a development. Pine martens are elusive and largely nocturnal, which makes them difficult to see, but their scats are often quite distinctive and the most commonly encountered field sign. Scats are most easily found along forest tracks, though frequent vehicle use can remove signs. Pine martens are active all year round but are best surveyed between May and September, and ideally in June-August when scats are most abundant.
The use of hair tubes and remote infra-red cameras can also be used to confirm the presence of pine martens. Camera traps can also be used to confirm the occupation of den sites and to determine if they are being used for breeding (March-June inclusive). Using camera traps close to a potential breeding den can cause disturbance and will require a survey licence from NatureScot (contact [email protected]).
UK BAP Mammals: Interim Guidance for Survey Methodologies, Impact Assessment and Mitigation, a book published in 2012 by the Mammal Society, is a useful resource providing further detail on survey methods.
The survey information needs to be sufficiently up-to-date when a planning application is submitted. Pre-application pine marten surveys normally remain valid for two more survey periods, and should be repeated if the application is going to be delayed beyond the start of a third survey period. Unless it is clearly evident that there has been no substantive change in number, distribution or activity of pine martens since the original survey was undertaken.
Reporting survey results
If a development proposal has needed a pine marten survey, a survey report must be submitted as part of the planning application. The report should include:
- names and experience of surveyors;
- details of any information gathered from Local Record Centres or other sources;
- descriptions of habitat surveyed and any limitations to the survey, such as access;
- survey methods, including survey area, date, time and weather conditions;
- a map showing pine marten habitat and the location of pine marten signs and any dens in relation to the development;
- an assessment of how the development might affect pine martens.
If pine martens could be affected by the proposal, the report must include a protection plan. The plan should include:
- measures proposed to minimise impacts on pine martens, including annotated maps and/or photographs showing the location of any measures proposed and how they relate to survey information and construction work;
- a summary of any residual impacts once the above measures are taken into account;
- details of any licensing requirements.
Measures to minimise impacts on pine martens
Measures to minimise impacts on pine martens should follow a hierarchy of avoidance, mitigation and compensation:
- Design the development and construction methods to avoid the felling of trees and ground works within forest habitat.
- Mark work exclusion zones around any pine marten dens. For dens where pine martens aren’t breeding, the boundary of the exclusion zone should be a minimum of 30m from the den. An exclusion zone of at least 100m is necessary where dens are known or suspected of being used for breeding, and works in the breeding season cannot be avoided (March-June inclusive). Where exclusion zones of the required size aren’t possible, works will require a licence from NatureScot before they can proceed.
- Erect breeding boxes to replace any natural dens that have to be destroyed. The destruction of a den will require a licence from NatureScot.
- Create new woodland habitat where there is significant tree felling and loss of existing habitat.
Further detail regarding these measures can be found in UK BAP Mammals: Interim Guidance for Survey Methodologies, Impact Assessment and Mitigation (The Mammal Society 2012).
For all development proposals where pine martens are a consideration, pre-construction surveys should be timetabled into project plans. This is to enable checks for any new dens that may have become occupied after the original survey, and to ensure the measures proposed to minimise impacts on pine martens remain appropriate. Pre-construction surveys should be completed as close to the start of works as possible, and always within the most recent survey period.
Licensing development works affecting pine martens
Licences for development works that would otherwise result in an offence with respect to pine martens can only be issued if:
a) the development will give rise to significant social, economic or environmental benefit (see Protected Species Licensing: Licences for ‘social, economic or environmental purposes’) and
b) there is no other satisfactory solution.
For advice on whether or not a licence is likely to be granted, planning applicants and planning officers may contact the NatureScot licensing team. An up-to-date pine marten survey and a pine marten protection plan for the proposed development must be submitted with the enquiry, together with details of the development proposals. We would normally only expect these enquires when proposals may reduce available pine marten habitat to such an extent that the local population viability may be affected and/or trapping and translocation may be required.
Guidance on applying for a pine marten licence for development purposes, along with the application form can be found on our website.
For further information on protected species licensing see Protected Species Licensing: Legislation, Appropriate Authorities and Licensing Purposes.
If you already have a licence number, include it in the subject line of your email, or have it to hand when you call.