Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

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Activities that cause ground disturbance, such as ploughing and planting can damage archaeological objects and sites. This guidance will tell you how you can avoid damaging archaeological features and what to do if you find any.

What you must do

Is your site designated?

The law protects many sites, buildings and features as Scheduled Ancient Monuments. These include burial mounds, standing stones and building ruins, as well as the surrounding land.

You must find out if your site has any protected archaeological features. Your local authority archaeologist will be able to tell you if your site is designated.

Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers UK

You can use the Archaeology UK website to search for archaeological sites in the UK.

Archaeology Data Service

In Scotland, you can find out if your site contains a Scheduled Ancient Monument at the Pastmap site.


In Northern Ireland the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) Built Heritage Department maintains a database of sites and monuments.

NIEA: Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record

You will need consent from your regulator for some types of work on or near protected sites.

NIEA: Scheduled monuments

Historic Scotland: Scheduled monuments

If you find human skeletal remains or evidence of a burial ground, you must stop work in that area and contact the police and coroner immediately.

Good practice

If you are applying for grants from the Forestry Commission or the Forest Service to develop woodland or forestry, you will have to follow good practice guidance on protecting archaeological sites.

Archaeological finds

Woodlands may contain a range of archaeological features. These include earthworks, burial sites, standing stones, boundary ditches, pottery and flint.

Most items will be just beneath or within the surface layer of the soil. However, some items may have been buried deeper by tree roots.

Many features will not be visible from the surface and will only be revealed when they are unearthed.

If you find objects such as pottery, flint or bone, which may be of archaeological interest, leave them undisturbed and contact your regional or county archaeologist.

Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers UK

Working in areas of archaeological importance

Do not plough, rip or break up the ground in areas of archaeological interest.

Try to avoid moving machinery across the area. If you do have to carry out tree felling, use brash mats and work during dry conditions to minimise damage.

Cut woody growth and bracken without disturbing the ground surface.

If you have to burn brash or other plant material, make sure that the fire does not get into underlying peat. Get archaeological advice before burning heather.

If you are creating fire breaks or traces in areas of archaeological interest, use tractor-mounted swipes instead of bulldozers.

Restocking after tree felling may lead to more damage. Get advice from the Forestry Commission or the Forest Service before deciding whether to replant or allow natural regeneration.

Forestry grants and licences

Further information

Archaeology Scotland

Forestry Commision: Identifying the historic environment in Scotland's forests and woodlands (Adobe PDF - 4.9MB)

NIEA: Built Heritage Division

Forestry Commission publication: Forests and archaeology

Forestry Commission: Trees and forestry on archaeological sites in the UK (Adobe PDF - 1.61MB)

You need to plan construction and maintenance work on forest roads and paths carefully. Poorly constructed roads and paths can lead to serious erosion problems.

What you must do

You may need permission from the planning service in Northern Ireland or the planning authority in Scotland to construct, alter or maintain forest roads.

Find your local council

Northern Ireland: DOE planning

You may need to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before you can start work. For this you need permission from the Forestry Commission in Scotland or the Forest Service in Northern Ireland.

Scotland - Forestry Commission: Environmental Impact Assessment (Adobe PDF - 881KB)

Northern Ireland - Forest Service: Environmental Impact Assessment

If you pollute the water environment, you are probably committing an offence.

In Scotland, if you carry out building and engineering works in inland waters or carry out activities close to waters that could significantly affect the water environment, you must either:

  • comply with certain general binding rules (GBRs) which apply to low-risk activities
  • register your activity with SEPA
  • obtain a licence from SEPA.

SEPA: Practical guide to the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (Adobe PDF - 562KB)

Pollution Prevention Guideline (PPG) 5 contains guidance on measures you can take to avoid causing pollution during building and engineering work.

 GPP 5 Works and maintenance in or near water (Adobe PDF – 894KB)

SEPA: Silt control while dredging 2015

Good practice

Take all reasonable and practical steps to avoid the risk of pollution during works.

Avoid using acidic, metal or sulphide-rich spoil from mine workings for road construction. Drainage water rich in metals, acid or sulphide can be extremely toxic to all species living in nearby streams or ponds.

Avoid using very fine material such as quarry dust for road surfacing as rain can wash it into watercourses.


Keep disturbance and silt levels to a minimum when using road construction equipment around watercourses. Disturbed soil can damage riverbed ecology and water quality.

Avoid unnecessary work within watercourses. If you have to carry out essential in-stream work, you should:

  • avoid wet weather, when run-off from bare ground can pollute the water with silt
  • avoid the summer months, when river flows are low and work can damage fish habitats and spawning areas.

DAERA (Northern Ireland) has produced a handbook is for landowners and people and organisations involved in carrying out activities that may alter the physical characteristics or flows of rivers and other waterbodies. The activities covered include dredging and substrate addition, removal of bankside vegetation, bed and bank reinforcements, flow manipulation and culverting.

DAERA: Surface Waters Alterations Handbook


Keep drains and culverts clear of debris, and only carry out maintenance in dry weather.

Make sure that roadside drains do not directly discharge into watercourses. Use a buffer area with an adequate width.

Make sure that roadside drains do not intercept large volumes of water from the ground above.

Where culverts are necessary, they should not obstruct the passage of fish or increase flood risk.

Working close to water


The Forestry Commission and Northern Ireland Forest Service have produced guidelines which describe measures you can take to protect and improve the freshwater environment.

Forestry Commission: Forests and climate change guidelines

Forestry Commission: Forests and water

What you must do

You must not dig up wild plants. You must not even pick some species such as the Fritillary and several orchid species.

You will need permission to gather or pick any wild growing plants or fruits for commercial or private use. This includes:

  • wild plants
  • mosses
  • lichens
  • heather
  • acorns
  • nuts
  • fungi
  • resins.

To get permission:

  • on private land, you will need to contact the landowner
  • on Forest Service land in Northern Ireland, contact the Forest Service
  • on land in the public estate in Northern Ireland, contact the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) Natural Heritage Division
  • on land that is owned by the Forestry Commission, or is in the public estate in Scotland contact the Forestry Commission.

Forestry Commission

DAERA: NI Forest Service

NIEA: Natural heritage division

Special or important sites

You must take extra precautions to avoid causing damage to plants if the site is:

  • an area or site of specific scientific interest (ASSI or SSSI)
  • a regionally important geological or geomorphological site (RIGS).

If your site is designated as an ASSI, SSSI or RIGS, you must also contact your conservation regulator for permission and advice.

NIEA: Biodiversity

Scottish Natural Heritage

Good practice

When picking wild plants, you should take great care and always consider the impact on the environment. Flowers produce seeds and removing flowers will reduce the seed crop the plants require to produce a new generation.

Forestry Commission: Forest biodiversity

Harvesting can damage:

  • surface waters, if you do not manage run-off properly
  • soil, if the equipment and techniques you use to extract and transport timber are not appropriate to the site.

Good site planning and good felling and extraction practices will help minimise your impact on the environment.

What you must do

Felling trees - planning and permission

Before you start harvesting you must assess the site and draw a detailed map of your findings. Include any sensitive areas, streams, drains, protected wildlife or other relevant features. You can then decide on the most appropriate harvesting techniques, methods and machinery to use on different areas of the site.

Make sure that felling teams, extraction teams, and supervisors fully understand and follow any special working instructions. Hold a pre-commencement meeting where all parties discuss the site plan.

Check with your planning authority, or Local Council in Northern Ireland, to find out if a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) covers any trees in the area you plan to work in.

You will need permission before felling, topping, lopping or uprooting a tree covered by a TPO. If you carry out any of these activities without permission you will be committing a criminal offence.

You do not require consent to fell a tree if the felling is urgent to prevent danger. However, you should get advice from the Forestry Commission or your Local Council in Northern Ireland, beforehand. You could be prosecuted if it is shown that the tree did not present a real or immediate danger and you may be required to replace it.

In Scotland you will normally need permission from the Forestry Commission to fell growing trees. The Forestry Commission will usually give its permission in the form of a felling licence or an approval under a dedication scheme.

Forestry Commission: Quick guide to felling licences

In Northern Ireland you should contact the Forest Service for advice on felling.

Forest Service Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland owners of private woodlands of 0.2 hectares or more need a licence to fell trees and are required to re-establish the woodland under an approved felling management plan.

Felling trees does not always require a licence. For example, you do not need a felling licence if you are felling:

  • coppice stems with a diameter of 15cm or less
  • trees with a diameter of 8cm or less when they are measured at a height of 1.3m from the ground.

However, you should still consult your local planning authority or, in Northern Ireland, your divisional planning office and the Forest Service.

Clearing land for agricultural use

Before clearing land for agricultural use, you must contact:

Scottish Government: Rural Payments

Protecting the water environment during harvesting

If you pollute the water environment, you are probably committing an offence.

In Northern Ireland you must have consent from the Rivers Agency before you place structures in any waterway that are likely to affect its drainage. Contact your local Rivers Agency office for further information.

Northern Ireland: Rivers Agency Area Offices

In Scotland, if you carry out building and engineering works in inland waters or carry out activities close to waters that could significantly affect the water environment, you must either:

  • comply with certain general binding rules (GBRs) which apply to low-risk activities
  • register your activity with SEPA
  • obtain a licence from SEPA.

SEPA: Practical guide to the Water Environment Regulations (Adobe PDF - 540KB)

Good practice

Limiting soil damage

Cable-crane extraction causes much less soil disturbance than skidding or forwarding. Place runners or bearers on the ground before dragging trees. This protects the ground surface and prevents the formation of worn trails.

Choose the best machine combination for ground conditions to limit damage to the soil. This could include traction or flotation aids. Avoid ground skidding on soft soils. Try to avoid long straight ground extraction routes on steep slopes. Always use suitable extraction techniques to minimise erosion, siltation and water movement, especially in high rainfall areas.

Consider using horses for extracting timber. This will minimise the disturbance to soil, flora and fauna. For more information see the British horse loggers website.

British Horse Loggers

On soft soils, provide and maintain an adequate supporting brash mat for the main vehicle routes. Use brash thatching to protect roads from tracked vehicles. Consider using thatching or ramps of stones or logs to protect heavily used access points.

Where possible, only pile large brash heaps on dry ground.

Avoid leaving bare ground when harvesting. Bare soils are particularly at risk from erosion by wind and rain. Install collecting drains to control run-off and reduce the risk of erosion.

Further information

Forest Service Northern Ireland: Forest planning

UK Forestry Standard (Adobe PDF - 974KB)

Forestry Commission: Forests and climate change guidelines

Forestry Commission: Forests and water

The law protects designated sites because of their distinctive plants, animals, habitats, geology or landforms. You should take care when working in, or near to, designated nature conservation areas, including:

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), in Scotland or Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI), in Northern Ireland

  • Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)
  • Special Protection Areas (SPA)
  • Regionally Important Geological/Geomorphological sites (RIGS) nature reserves.

You should make provisions for nature conservation at the planning stage.

What you must do

When considering any forestry operation that could damage a designated site, you must contact your conservation body.

Northern Ireland Environment Agency: Biodiversity

Scotland: Scottish Natural Heritage

Protected species

Take expert advice on whether it is likely that any protected species are on your site. Protected species include:

  • badgers
  • bats
  • amphibians
  • otters
  • water voles.

You must avoid harming or disturbing these species or damaging setts, dens, nests and roosts once you begin work. It is an offence to disturb or harm protected species, or to damage any structure that they use as shelter, unless you hold a licence.

The law protects all wild birds, their nests and eggs. You must not destroy or disturb birds' nests while they are in use.

The law protects all species of bats and their roosts (whether the bats are present or not). If you suspect that bats are present, seek professional advice from your conservation body.

Good practice

When planning your work, you should consider the impact on any wildlife and habitats and what you will do to protect them. This may be a condition of any woodland or forestry grants that you apply for.

BS 42020: Biodiversity. Code of practice for planning and development

This new British Standard 42020 aims to integrate biodiversity into all stages of the planning and development process.

It is of relevance to professionals working in the fields of ecology, land use planning, land management, architecture, civil engineering, landscape architecture, forestry, arboriculture, surveying, building and construction.

BSI: Smart Guide to BS 42020

BSI: BS 42020 Biodiversity. Code of practice for planning and development.


Dams of large woody debris do not generally obstruct fish from moving up or downstream. They can in fact create valuable diversity and habitats in watercourses. However you should avoid putting in large amounts of brash during harvesting operations, as it can seal dams, stopping fish from passing and destabilising the channels.

Consider removing old sediment-laden dams which may create a barrier to fish movement. You may need to remove some naturally occurring large woody debris where it causes a flood hazard.

Contact your environmental regulator for advice on the best time of year to remove woody debris from streams.

SEPA has produced information on protected species and habitats:

SEPA: Protected species and habitats

Woodland ecology

Old trees and 'deadwood' are very valuable wildlife habitats. Do not remove all dead or rotting log and branch material, or standing dead trees as these can form important habitats.

Where possible, position large brash heaps on drier ground away from watercourses.

You should match tree species to site conditions. You can get guidance through the Ecological Site Classification Decision Support System (ESC-DSS) which the Forestry Commission has developed. ESC is a computer based system to help forest managers and planners match ecologically suited species to sites.

Ecological site classification decision support system (ESC-DSS)

Forestry Commission: Managing open habitats in upland forest

Climate change is having an impact on the composition and condition of our forests. The Forestry Commission has produced guidance on planning ahead for the effects of climate change.

Forestry Commission: Climate change and British woodland (Adobe PDF - 2.35MB)

Forestry Commission: Climate change - Impacts on UK forests

In sensitive areas natural regeneration of a site can be better for wildlife than planting. This allows a range of plants and trees to grow that are best suited to the local conditions.

Semi-natural woodland provides a good wildlife habitat and acts as a potential seed source.

The Forestry Commission provides grants for enlarging and reconnecting existing native woodland remnants to Forest Habitat Networks. Forest Habitat Networks provide an ecological basis for planning woodland expansion.

Forestry Commission: Forest habitat networks

Deer and grey squirrels

You should manage deer and grey squirrels to prevent damage to woodland and wildlife.

Forestry Commission: Managing deer in the countryside (Adobe PDF - 7.70MB)

Forestry Commission: The impact of deer on woodland biodiversity (Adobe PDF - 127KB)

Forestry Commission: Management of grey squirrels

Forestry Commission: Controlling grey squirrel damage to woodlands (Adobe PDF - 1.70MB)

Short rotation coppice involves growing trees on two to five year cycles, mainly for wood-fuel. Other uses include garden mulches and particle board manufacture.

Willow and poplar trees are the most common species used for short rotation coppice. They can be productive for 30 years or more.

Forestry Commission: The establishment and management of short rotation coppice - a grower's guide (Adobe PDF - 117KB)

Forestry Commission: Short rotation coppice in the landscape (Adobe PDF - 6.19MB)

Forestry Commission: Short rotation coppice information

For information on varieties and yields from trials across the UK, see the Forestry Commission's research pages.

Forestry Commission: Short rotation coppice

Scottish Rural College (SRUC): Willow short rotation coppice

Forest Service Northern Ireland: Short rotation coppice scheme

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