The Natural Environment in South Somerset

South Somerset is a large, rural area that enjoys a high quality natural environment representing a wide range of landscapes and habitats from flower rich calcareous grassland to acid heathland; wet fen and grazing marshes, rich in invertebrate and bird life, to hay meadows, bluebell woods to orchards and parklands with veteran trees, supporting rare insects and lichens. These reflect the varied landscape and topography in the district, which in turn is underlain by an extensive and varied range of geological formations of limestones, clays and greensands.

The Council is committed to protect the character and diversity of landscapes of local and national importance, their distinctiveness, wildlife and biodiversity.

Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth and includes all species of plants and animals and the natural systems that support them. It is a key component of sustainable development and has an important role to play in developing locally distinctive and sustainable communities in South Somerset.

The variety and biodiversity interest in South Somerset is demonstrated by a significant number of sites designated for nature conservation; 4 National Nature Reserves, part of the Somerset Levels and Moors European Special Protection Area, along with 39 nationally designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest and nearly 600 Local Wildlife Sites.

The Council seeks to maintain and enhance the extent, quality and diversity of the area's heritage of wild flora and fauna and, in its role as local planning authority, to safeguard this wildlife and its habitats from harm where new development is proposed. All Planning applications are screened and assessed for wildlife impact. Where there is a reasonable  likelihood  of any impact, developers  are required to employ ecological consultants to survey sites and to propose mitigation to ensure that protected species are not harmed. Protected species are animals and plants that receive protection under The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 as European protected species.

European Protected Species

The following European Protected Species occur in various locations across South Somerset.



These species and their places of shelter are fully protected and a licence is required to disturb the animal or its place of shelter.  This is not a complete list - others have a limited distribution or are rare in South Somerset. 

 UK Protected species

The following species  are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000

  • Water voles
  • Birds and their nests eg barn owls, swallows and kingfishers
  • Reptiles eg adders, grass snakes and slow worms
  • Badgers

Badgers and their setts are also  fully protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.

A licence is required to disturb a badger.

The presence of wildlife will very rarely completely prevent development taking place.

The Biodiversity Action Plans for Somerset set out particular local objectives for the conservation of habitats and species that have been agreed to.



Protecting  the character and diversity of the local landscape and the features that make different areas distinctive from each other is an important objective and is guided by Natural England Advice and Local Development Framework policies.  These policies encourage change arising from development  to be carefully considered and sympathetic to the varied characters of the district's landscapes.

The Landscape of South Somerset describes the seven character areas of the district.

A Species Guide to Tree and Shrub planting in South Somerset    provides advice on planting projects in association with development and in the countryside related to the different character areas.

The protection of landscapes of national importance is also an objective. Parts of two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) lie within the district; The Blackdown Hills AONB and the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs AONB.

The Conservation Team, in partnership with other organisations, helps to protect wildlife and important habitats in the district. It assists the Council as a whole to carry out its legal duty under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERC Act), to comply with Planning Policy and, on development sites, to fully consider the presence of and potential impact upon wildlife.


Trees are an important part of our environment especially in and around our towns and villages. Local planning authorities have specific powers to protect trees by making Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs), although the Forestry Commission is responsible for the control of felling generally. Trees in conservation areas are also protected. More on tree protection