European Protected Species (EPS) Disturbance Licensing 

For information on the impact of Brexit on oil and gas environmental legislation, please refer to the pdf document downloadable from the Home Page.

Key Legislation:

For more detail on the Legislation relevant to this page, please use the following links:

Supporting Legislation:
Guidance Notes:

Protected species licences – references for applications: When applying for a Protected Species licence, written references must be provided if you have not held a licence for the species in the last 3 years; or if you have a licence but want to add new activities. This document provides guidance on who can be a referee and the experience needed from both the operator and the referee.



Requirement for Species Licence(s): If there is a risk which cannot be removed or sufficiently reduced by the taking of mitigation measures then an EPS Disturbance (or Wildlife) Licence may be required to be granted by the regulatory authorities for a number of “purposes”. Purposes include “over-riding public interest” and “scientific and educational purposes”. Licences can however only be issued where there is no satisfactory alternative. The onus is on the developer carrying out an activity to:

  1. Assess the likelihood of committing a disturbance offence
  2. Consider the need for mitigation measures
  3. Decide whether to apply for an EPS Licence

It is expected that the majority of offshore activities will not require an EPS (or Wildlife) Licence since their potential for disturbance will fall below the threshold of the Regulations. This will be ascertained during the appropriate consent application process e.g. for Seismic, Geological Survey or Well Abandonment. Also see the Pending Legislation tab.

A species licence (or species licenses) allows an individual or organization to carry out an action in relation to a protected species that might otherwise be against the law.

Details relating to the EPS licensing requirements within Scotland (for inshore marine and onshore species) can be found on the SNH website. All cetacean species in Scotland are given protection under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended).

EPS licensing requirements within England (for marine and onshore species) can be found on the Natural England (NE) website.

The JNCC is in the process of finalising draft guidance on Marine European Protected Species Disturbance (see the Pending Legislation tab).

Natural England’s Revised Standing Advice for European Protected Species

In October 2013, it was announced by Natural England that Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) and developers will no longer have to wait for 21 days for advice from Natural England on wildlife species covered by European law.

These latest improvements follow a wide-ranging review that Natural England carried out looking at how standing advice can be used more widely to help reduce red-tape for LPAs, which included carrying out pilots with Cornwall County Council and 60 authorities in South East England.

How to apply for it: The application process for an EPS licence for offshore activities is via the new PETS system. EPS licenses can be applied for as a standalone application or, alternatively, it can be raised as a Subsidiary Application Template (SAT) to the relevant Master Application Template (MAT). PETS applications are made on the UK Oil Portal. In Scotland (for inshore waters and onshore) a licence can only be granted for a specific purpose. Species Licence Applications forms and guidance for Scotland are available for download from the SNH website.In England and Wales (for inshore waters and onshore) it may be possible to achieve a general licence (dependant on the proposed activity) although these general licences are only available for activities which carry low risk for the conservation and preservation of the protected species in question.The type of information required in an application includes (but is not limited to):

  • Details of the species that will be affected by the work and what the details of the planned work are. This include details of the mitigation work that is planned to be carried out which will affect European protected species.
  • Justification for carrying out the proposed work including explaining why the proposed work is necessary. This is the legal basis of the application.
  • Consideration of why there is no satisfactory alternative. This could include the other options that have been evaluated, including alternative sites or methods of carrying out the work.


Who to Apply to: For offshore oil and gas activities, BEIS is the regulatory authorities (see the Pending Legislation tab). Application for an EPS licence in Scotland is made to the Species Management Team, Scottish Government. Upon the receipt of all relevant information the application is sent to SNH for their consideration. Scottish Government Licensing Section can be contacted at:Species Management Team, Natural Resources Division
1-D North
Victoria Quay
Edinburgh EH6 6QQ
Tel: 0131 244 6549 Licensing Section can be contacted at:Licensing Section
Scottish Natural Heritage
Great Glen House
Leachin Rd
Inverness IV3 8NW
Tel No. 01463725000 note these details remain outside the control of this site and may be amended or altered without reference to this site)Natural England is the primary licensing authority for species licences in England and Wales. NE licensing service can be contacted at:Wildlife Management and Licensing Service
Natural England
Burghill Road
Bristol BS10 6NJ
Tel: 0845 601 4523 (local rate)
When to apply: Licence(s) should be applied for and permission granted prior to any licensed activity commencing. The time scale between submission and a decision is given as a guideline of 6 to 8 weeks.Lack of response within 30 days from the licensing authority should not be assumed as tacit approval.
Disturbance: It an offence to deliberately disturb wild animals of a European Protected Species in such a way as to significantly affect:

  1. The ability of any significant group of animals to survive or breed, or
  2. The local distribution or abundance of that species.
Monitoring Requirements: Natural England and SNH monitor activities carried out under the terms of licences and permits to ensure compliance of licence conditions.
Reporting: Not directly applicable.
Non Compliance: The planning authority is obliged to take proper account of the obligations stemming from the Birds and Habitats Directives to protect and conserve the marine environment. Natural England (NE) have powers to enforce the obligations set out under the conditions of licence. Enforcement will be applied following Natural England’s Enforcement Policy. Complaints or reports of an alleged offence will be investigated. Enforcement powers can range from a simple caution to prosecution under the relevant legislation.Scottish Natural Heritage cannot instigate proceedings in Scotland. The law is enforced by the police and each force in Scotland has its own Wildlife Crime Officer.
 Not directly applicable.

Increased protection for endangered marine life of the North-East Atlantic:

The OSPAR Commission has agreed measures to protect iconic species in the North-East Atlantic from threats faced by these species from sea users and harmful waste getting into the marine environment. The measures also extend to the protection of several important habitat types.

The press release which came out in December 2013 can be downloaded from the OSPAR Comission website.

Planning the future sustainable use of marine resources:

The MMO is consulting on the draft plans and supporting documents for the east inshore and offshore areas for England. The statement of public participation for the east plan areas details how stakeholders, i.e. offshore operators, can be involved in the development of these plans.

The policy statement came out in November 2013 and is accessible via the UK Government website.

Report on the Work of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives – Marine Evidence Group (Update on progress from the Marine Evidence Group on key evidence gaps identified in the Habitats and Wild Birds Directive Review):

The Marine Evidence Group was established in mid-2012 to fulfil measures on improving marine data and evidence set out in the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives Implementation Review. In particular, it was a response to ongoing difficulties in assessing the impacts of marine developments on protected sites and species.

The Group is conducting this by addressing gaps in evidence that can create uncertainties when undertaking Habitats Regulations Assessments which may hamper fast, effective and proportionate decision-making.

This report provides an update on the progress made so far by the Marine Evidence Group in addressing these key evidence gaps identified in the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives Implementation Review and on improving access and use of data.

The report can be accessed on the Defra website (PDF document).

Wildlife Licensing Consultation Outcome Report The outcome report is now available for the proposed policies for European protected species licensing.