As part of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has a role in relation to development proposals – both on land and offshore, and across various sectors – where nature conservation issues and concerns arise. This role is primarily advisory, whether in the context of statutory notifications or referrals to the Minister by various consent authorities, or in the context of non-statutory pre-application consultations received. These development proposals, known collectively as development applications, are managed centrally by the Department’s Development Applications Unit (DAU).
For further information about the role of the Minister and about consulting or engaging with NPWS about development applications, please follow the development consultations link below. General information and advice, including about the data resources of NPWS, are also provided in relation to the biodiversity and nature conservation aspects of environmental assessments.
Please note that the Minister has other statutory functions that are managed separately by the individual heritage sections of the Department in relation to certain notification, consent or licence requirements and the conservation and protection of certain natural and built heritage features. This includes, for example, activities requiring consent (ARCs) in European sites (SACs and SPAs), and the wildlife licensing role of NPWS.
Information and advice on this section of the website may be subject to change. [Latest update on 15/08/18]
- What is meant by development applications
- The role of the Minister in relation to development applications
- What is DAU?
- Where to send development applications
- Statutory notifications and referrals
- What to send DAU
- Public authority plans and projects and appropriate assessment
- Pre-application consultation/engagement
- Consulting NPWS about environmental assessments
- NPWS website
- NPWS data and information
- Key NPWS Publications
- Conservation objectives
- Key elements of biodiversity, flora and fauna
‘Development applications’ is a collective term used by the Department to include the full spectrum of plans, programmes and applications for development consent, as well as pre-application consultations and engagements relating to planning matters that are managed by the Development Applications Unit (DAU) on behalf of the Minister. They include:
- formal applications and consultations, including statutory notifications and referrals regarding:
- applications for development consent – planning applications, forestry applications, EPA licensing, etc.
- plans and programmes at formal assessment and publication stages – Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) scoping, draft plans on public display, etc.
- Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) scoping consultations
- public authority own plans and projects requiring appropriate assessment
- informal consultations and engagements, typically at non-statutory or pre-application stage, including:
- pre-application consultations
- informal scoping requests
- requests for consultation meetings
Note that development applications do not include applications for ministerial consent (e.g. Activities Requiring Consent) or licences under wildlife legislation.
The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has a formal role as a statutory consultee in a variety of legislative contexts which typically govern the making of plans and programmes, the regulation of projects, and the associated environmental assessments of these (where required) across the range of development and land use sectors (e.g. planning, transport, energy, agriculture, forestry, etc.). The Minister’s role as a statutory consultee is specified in the relevant regulating legislation, and is variously termed ‘prescribed authority’, ‘specified body’, ‘environmental authority’ or ‘consultation body’. In any such capacity, the Minister may make submissions or observations to assist the responsible authority in carrying out its functions, including consent functions, in compliance with various legislative and administrative requirements with respect to the conservation, protection and preservation of natural and built heritage.
If the Minister does not engage with or respond to a particular development application, no inference should be drawn from this that the Department is satisfied or otherwise with the project, plan or programme, or that natural heritage matters are not material considerations.
The Minister also has a role in providing advice and guidance in relation to natural and built heritage matters in the context of plans, programmes and projects under consideration by individuals and authorities, and any environmental assessments required. In addition, the data holdings and publications of the Department have widespread application in land use planning, project design and environmental assessments.
The Development Applications Unit (DAU) is a section of the Department which manages and co-ordinates the registration, processing and internal circulation of various development applications received by the Minister, and the subsequent issuing of submissions or observations, if any.
Development applications received by DAU are registered and disseminated to the professional heritage services of the Department, including NPWS, for processing in line with the practices and priorities of the various heritage sections. Case reference numbers are allocated where necessary for administrative purposes.
DAU interacts with relevant consent authorities in relation to statutory notifications and referrals on an administrative and procedural basis, and is typically a first point of contact for consultations and queries, including requests for meetings.
DAU engages with development application processes, and with authorities and applicants up to the point where a plan, programme or project has been made, adopted, or given a final grant of permission. Post-consent matters are not processed by DAU, e.g. delivery of mitigation measures, the undertaking of monitoring or auditing, and the submission and review of associated reports. The relevant heritage section(s) should be consulted directly, where necessary.
Development applications should be sent electronically to email@example.com, or if electronic referral is not possible, by post to:
Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
c/o The Manager, Development Applications Unit
Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
The Minister receives statutory notifications or referrals from a range of consent and plan-making authorities in line with a variety of legislative provisions that apply to the development applications in question, and to any statutory environmental assessments required, i.e. Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Appropriate Assessment (AA). These are among the processes which exist to ensure that nature conservation sites, biodiversity, and the environment are conserved and safeguarded by relevant authorities in line with legislative requirements.
All government departments and authorities should familiarise themselves with the notification obligations they have under applicable legislation, and should be aware that this may include SEA and EIA legislation, and Regulation 42 of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations, 2011, in the case of certain public authority plans and projects requiring appropriate assessment. The notifications, referrals or consultations may be either discretionary or obligatory, and it is the responsibility of the authority in question to determine which development applications to notify to the Minister. In certain cases, DAU seeks the co-operation of authorities in identifying the heritage section(s) and/or region of relevance to the notification or referral.
Consultation procedures may exist or be developed and agreed with one or more of the heritage sections of the Department to the benefit of both parties (e.g. as part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or ‘Regulation 40’agreement).
The Department will process development applications and endeavour to provide observations or submissions. If the Minister does not engage with or respond to a particular development application, no inference should be drawn from this that the Department is satisfied or otherwise with the project, plan or programme, or that natural or built heritage matters are not material considerations.
Statutory notifications or referrals to DAU must be accompanied by a cover letter or consultation notice from the relevant authority, or from the applicant, where this is required by legislation (e.g. Strategic Infrastructure Development cases). In each case, the authority (or applicant) should specify the legislation:
- under which the notification or consultation with the Minister is occurring
- under which the development application is being considered by the authority
- under which the environmental assessment obligations, including screening obligations, are being considered, as necessary.
Applicable deadlines should be specified.
All necessary details of the development application, and relevant associated documentation, must be supplied to the Department with the notification or referral in a suitable format.
Any notifications or consultations received without a cover letter or consultation notice, and any unsolicited material received directly from applicants or their agents are likely to be returned and clarification sought. This may mean that the consultation or notification obligations of an authority are not met, or that delays occur.
(Under Regulation 42 of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations, 2011)
In the case of public authority plans or projects that require an appropriate assessment and which are not regulated by planning legislation, there is an obligation to consult the Minister in accordance with Regulation 42(9) of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations, 2011. The terms, ‘public authority’, ‘plan’ and ‘project’, are defined in Part 1, Regulation 2(1) of these Regulations. This obligation may be in addition to other notification or consultation obligations the authority has. Such a consultation should be accompanied by a formal notification or cover letter from the relevant public authority. This should specify the legislative provisions under which the Natura Impact Statement (NIS) is submitted, and under which the plan or project is being regulated. Following the submission of the NIS, there is a specified timeline of six weeks before which an appropriate assessment may not be concluded, unless by prior agreement with the Minister.
An authority or prospective applicant intending to make a plan or apply for permission for a project or development may consult or engage with the heritage sections of this Department via DAU. Pre-application consultations may either be discretionary or have a statutory basis, e.g. Strategic Infrastructure or Strategic Housing Developments, or SEA scoping consultations in the case of the latter. The Department will endeavour to provide pre-application observations and advice in line with our priorities, subject, on occasion, to resource limitations. At present, in the case of discretionary consultations by private individuals or entities, or their agents, DAU can usually only accept pre-application consultations under the planning legislation.
In general, DAU will acknowledge receipt of the consultation, provide a case reference number, and advise on the operational deadline. The normal target turnaround for pre-application and other general consultations is six weeks from the date of receipt of all material needed to process the consultation.
Applications for licences or ministerial consent under wildlife legislation should not be sent to DAU.
If you wish to consult or engage with NPWS at pre-application stage, please do so via DAU in the first instance. Before contacting DAU, you should consult and make use of the following:
- available data, information and reports published by NPWS
- other data on habitats and species that may be requested from NPWS – data request form
- available published guidance
- advice of the relevant consent/competent authority
- plan level mitigation that may apply for a project type and/or in a particular setting.
To support your consultation, the following should be provided at a minimum:
- details of the entities and/or authorities involved, and of their consultants, agents, etc. including relevant contact details
- description of plan, project or proposal, including rationale
- maps/drawings showing location, layout, pertinent features, etc.
- details of what material you have consulted and used, and of what specific additional information you require
- details of what assessments are required and what legislation will apply, where known
- details of consultations with and/or advice from the relevant authority, notably in relation to ecological and environmental assessments that are required, and the scope of these
- details of specific advice being sought which is not publicly or readily available elsewhere.
Pre-application consultations are more effective when the authority or prospective applicant liaises with its consultants or agents in advance and provides one point of contact for DAU. If a meeting is being sought, please consider the stage at which it would be most beneficial to the plan or project team. The case reference number allocated by DAU should be quoted in all consultations with the Department.
At pre-application stage, please do not send us:
- draft EIS or NIS reports
- queries pertaining to another authority’s legislation or procedures
- requests for screening opinions or determinations, whether in relation to appropriate assessment, EIA or SEA
- requests for information and advice which is already publicly or readily available
- other non-statutory reports for review or approval.
Please note that, if the Minister/Department does not engage with or respond to a particular pre-application consultation, no inference should be drawn from this that the Department is satisfied or otherwise with the project, plan or programme, or that natural or built heritage matters are not material considerations.
Please also note that, where submissions are made or advice is given by the Department as part of a pre-application consultation, this is without prejudice and will not bind the Minister and the Department in respect of any future decisions or actions taken.
Application and consent stage:
It is not expected that applicants will consult the Department directly during application and consent stages, or supply unsolicited information, unless applicants are required by law to do so. Interactions at those stages are between the relevant consent or competent authority and the Department.
Where permission is granted for a project, there is a duty to comply fully with the grant of permission, including all conditions and mitigation measures that apply. Similar duties exist where a plan is adopted. The Department does not have a direct role in ensuring compliance, and cannot agree or approve changes or alterations to any plan or project, or associated conditions or mitigation measures, after approval by another authority. Any reports or complaints about possible non-compliance received will be passed on to the relevant authority/authorities for information and attention, as will any issues or concerns noticed by staff of the Department.
NPWS is consulted on an ongoing basis about plans, programmes and projects, also known as development applications, and the statutory environmental assessment requirements, if any, that arise. These include:
- SEA (Strategic Environmental Assessment)
- EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment)
- AA (Appropriate Assessment)
As part of the Department, NPWS’s role in relation to environmental assessments is primarily advisory and is serviced in line with the priorities of the Department, subject, on occasion, to resource constraints. It is recommended that advice on pre-application consultations and engagements is followed to optimise the effectiveness of any such consultations with NPWS. If no response is received from NPWS regarding a pre-application consultation, no inference should be drawn from this that nature conservation and other biodiversity issues are not material considerations.
The Department is rarely, if ever, the competent authority for SEA or EIA, and has a limited role as a competent or public authority for AA. The relevant consent and/or competent (or public) authority should be consulted, where possible, about the need for any particular environmental assessment (i.e. screening opinion) and its scope. It is recommended that any requirements or opportunities for formal or informal pre-application consultations with that authority should be pursued (e.g. pre-planning meeting or EIA scoping).
To maximise the effectiveness of any pre-application consultations with NPWS, please ensure that:
- Advice on pre-application consultations/engagements with this Department is followed
- Available data and information are sourced, reviewed, collated and utilised, with all necessary checks for updates or revisions undertaken
- Relevant aspects of guidance, best practice and legislation are followed
- Relevant scientific/technical expertise and competence are available and applied
The legislation that will apply, and the definitions and tests of that legislation, including as established by jurisprudence, should be taken into account.
All pre-application consultations/engagements should be submitted to DAU, and any case reference numbers allocated by DAU should be quoted in all associated correspondence or consultations.
The NPWS website is a key source of data, information and publications that should be consulted on an ongoing basis by those working on the nature conservation, biodiversity and ecological aspects of environmental assessments. Individuals should familiarise themselves with the material available from this source and should undertake routine checks for any new or updated material. For an outline of key material of relevance to environmental assessments on the NPWS website, see below. It is expected that the website will be consulted and that all relevant material will be sourced before undertaking a pre-application consultation via DAU. It is also expected that sufficient technical competence and experience will be available to the project or plan-making team and that this expertise will be applied in the tasks being undertaken in relation to plan-making or project development processes and related environmental assessments.
NPWS collects, collates and publishes data and information about nature conservation sites, habitats, species, and other biodiversity-related matters, on an on-going basis.Data are made available and updated via the website wherever practicable, in line with our Open Data policy. Other NPWS datasets, which are sensitive or unpublished, and are not available as Open Data, may be requested by submitting a ‘Data Request Form’.
GIS datasets that can be downloaded include: site boundaries (SACs, SPAs, NHAs, and proposed NHAs); conservation objective habitat and species data for some sites; and habitat and species datasets arising from surveys undertaken by or on behalf of NPWS. Accompanying metadata and any explanatory text (e.g. ‘Read Me’ files) should be taken into account when using the data.
The ‘Protected Sites’ section of the website is the primary source of data and information about specific nature conservation sites and designations. This section can be searched by site code, site type (i.e. designation), county, and feature of interest in the case of SACs, SPAs and NHAs. Key material available for individual sites is as follows:
- Site synopses – SACs, SPAs, NHAs
- Listing of qualifying interests – SACs
- Listing of special conservation interests – SPAs
- Conservation objectives – European sites
- Natura 2000 Standard Data Forms – European sites
- Listing of features of interest – NHAs
- Statutory instruments – NHAs, most SPAs, some SACs
- Dates of site designation/protection – SACs, SPAs, NHAs
Site synopses for proposed NHAs (pNHAs) are available on the NPWS website. These sites do not currently have protection under wildlife legislation but are taken into account in local and national land-use planning policy, agri-environmental farm planning schemes, and environmental assessments. These sites are normally recognised and covered by (subject to) protective environmental objectives in the relevant statutory land-use plans (e.g. County Development Plans).
Nature conservation sites may be viewed and queried on a mapviewer available on the NPWS website.
Site boundaries of nature conservation sites may be subject to change for various reasons and, on occasion, new sites may be designated, designations may change, or sites may be de-designated. As new information and data about sites, habitats and species become available over time, the website is updated and site-related data and documentation are revised where necessary. Conservation objectives and reasons for designation may be fine-tuned.
The NPWS website should be consulted and checked routinely for revisions or updates in order to inform the details of surveys required, the scope and content of environmental reports, and the environmental assessments that need to be carried out. It will assist if it is demonstrated that this material and the advice on the website have been consulted and taken into account when you engage in pre-application consultations with NPWS. The most up-to-date data and information available from the website should be accessed and used, noting, for example, the test or standard of ‘best scientific knowledge’ in the context of the appropriate assessment screening process.
NPWS publications and other reports are made available and updated via the website, and the ‘Publications’ section can be searched or browsed. Key publications are included for individual sites, where relevant, in the ‘Protected Sites’ section of the website, e.g. conservation objective supporting documents, and national surveys, assessment and monitoring reports.
The following publications, other reports and series are of particular relevance to environmental assessments:
- Conservation objectives – generic or site specific and available for all European sites
- Conservation objectives supporting documents – available for most European sites with site specific conservation objectives
- ‘Irish Wildlife Manuals’, notably volumes covering the conservation and management of habitats and species, and including survey and monitoring methods, habitat definitions and evaluations, status reports and conservation assessments
- ‘Article 17’ (Habitats Directive) assessment of conservation status reports
- 2013: The status of EU protected habitats and species in Ireland
- Overview volume 1
- Habitat assessments volume 2
- Species assessments volume 3
- 2007: The status of EU protected habitats and species in Ireland
- Backing documents, Article 17 forms, Maps volumes 1-3
- 2013: The status of EU protected habitats and species in Ireland
- ‘Article 12’ (Birds Directive) status and trends of Ireland’s bird species reports
- National summary 2008-2012
- Annex 2: Bird species’ status and trends reporting
- Marine reports – habitats and species
- Threat response plans or species-action plans
- Species survey and reports
- Survey and monitoring status reports for various habitats and species
- All Ireland ‘Red Lists’ of rare and threatened species
It should be noted that there will be time lags between the undertaking of surveys and assessments, and the public availability of data, reports or publications.
Conservation objectives for individual European sites are published and updated on the NPWS website. They are available for all European sites, and are either site specific and detailed, or generic at present. NPWS is working to publish site specific conservation objectives for all European sites.
Conservation objectives are produced to define the desired condition or state of the target habitats and species in each European site in line with the overarching objective of maintaining or restoring the favourable conservation status of natural habitats and species of Community interest, i.e. those listed in Annex I and II of the Habitats Directive, and Annex I and Article 4(2) of the Birds Directive. Conservation objectives are set at site level for the habitats and species which are the reasons for the designation of the site as an SAC or SPA, i.e. qualifying interests in the case of SACs, and special conservation interests in the case of SPAs.
Conservation objectives inform the various conservation measures which are necessary to achieve favourable conservation status, and must correspond to the ecological requirements of the habitats and species for which the site is designated. These objectives are relevant to all stages and elements of the AA process: i.e. screening for appropriate assessment, preparation of an NIS or NIR, and the appropriate assessment.
The following general recommendations are made with respect to the application of conservation objectives in the appropriate assessment process:
- the most up-to-date version of relevant conservation objectives should be sourced, used and referenced, and the version and date should be specified
- any relevant supporting documents should be consulted
- whether the objective is to maintain, to restore, or to maintain or restore (generic versions) the favourable conservation condition of the particular feature in the site should be noted and applied
- the assessment and analysis undertaken should encapsulate the implications for the ecological requirements of any habitat or species of relevance
- the attributes and targets of conservation objectives, where specified, should be used to guide the surveys, assessment and analyses that are necessary to reach robust and reasoned scientific conclusions; the attributes and targets will assist in defining the scope and level of detail of assessments required
- the limitations of the associated data on habitats and species should be noted, including as outlined in the introductory ‘Notes/Guidelines’
- available habitat and species data may not be relied upon to be complete
- the absence of mapped habitat or species data may not be relied upon as evidence that impacts or effects will not occur
 The ecological requirements involve all the ecological needs, including both abiotic and biotic factors, which are deemed necessary to ensure the conservation of the habitat types and species, including their relations with the physical environment (air, water, soil, vegetation, etc.). These requirements rest on scientific knowledge and should be defined on a case-by-case basis, which means that the ecological requirements can vary from one species to another within a site but also for the same species from one site to another (European Commission, Last updated 18/12/17)
Existing published guidance should be followed in general terms when AA, SEA and EIA requirements are under consideration, noting there will be some overlaps between the nature conservation and biodiversity elements of these environmental assessment processes (depending on which apply in any given scenario).
General and sector-specific guidance on the conservation and management of the Natura 2000 network, as envisaged by Article 6 of the Habitats Directive, is available. This covers, among other things, Article 6(3) and 6(4) of the Directive and the appropriate assessment process, other requirements of Article 6, and the links between the requirements of the nature directives and other related directives such as the Water Framework Directive, Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and Floods Directive.
Guidance for planning authorities on AA of plans and projects in Ireland was published in 2009, and updated in 2010. It preceded but anticipated the legislation which now transposes the Birds and Habitats Directives in Ireland, i.e. the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations, 2011-2015 , and parallel provisions relating to AA in planning legislation (i.e. Part XAB of the Planning and Development Act, 2000 as amended and associated Regulations. See also Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. 2010. Appropriate assessment of plans and projects in Ireland: Guidance for planning authorities
Where legislation has updated or amended elements of existing guidance, the legislation should be followed or applied in preference in all cases. Key terminology, definitions and tests should be consistent with the applicable legislation, and there should be due regard to the stages and tests of the assessment process as set out in the relevant legislation.
Information and guidance on SEA and EIA are available from the following:
It is important to be aware of European and Irish jurisprudence where this has implications for interpretation and application of certain aspects of the directives and of national legislation, and where this updates aspects of associated guidance or circulars. For further information on rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union, see:
Procedural guidance or information on applications for consent and AA has been prepared by various consent authorities. Examples include:
- An Bord Pleanála – Applications for approval for Local Authority Developments made to An Bord Pleanála under 177AE of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, as amended (Appropriate Assessment). Guidelines for Local Authorities (2013)
- EPA – Waste water discharge licensing. Appropriate Assessment (Version 2.2) (2012)
Some basic information on AA is also contained within:
- DAFM – Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) Regulations 2011. Guide for Farmers (2011)
DAFM – Forest Service Appropriate Assessment Procedure: Information Note (2012)
The following are among the key elements of biodiversity, flora and fauna of relevance to SEA, EIA and some, but not all, are relevant for AA:
- European sites, including (candidate) Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs): these are sites of international importance for nature conservation and form part of Ireland’s contribution to the Natura 2000 network within the European Union
- Ramsar Sites: these are sites designated under the Ramsar Convention as Wetlands of International Importance. Many of these sites are also European sites or are protected by the Wildlife Acts in other ways (e.g. Nature Reserves)
- Natural Heritage Areas (NHA): these are sites of national importance for nature conservation established under the Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000, and protected under the Wildlife Acts, 1976-2018, or through planning legislation
- Proposed Natural Heritage Areas (pNHAs): pNHAs do not currently have protection under wildlife legislation but are taken into account in local and national land-use planning policy, agri-environmental farm planning schemes, and environmental assessments. Those pNHAs not covered by other nature conservation designations should be given due recognition in environmental assessments noting any protective policies and objectives that may apply in land-use or sectoral plans
- Nature Reserves and Refuges for Fauna or Flora
- Wildfowl Sanctuaries
- National Parks
- Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites designated for biodiversity reasons
- Annex IV (Habitats Directive) species of flora and fauna, and their key habitats (i.e. breeding sites and resting places), which are strictly protected wherever they occur, whether inside or outside the above sites, e.g. otter and bats
- Other species of flora and fauna and their key habitats which are protected under the Wildlife Acts, 1976-2000, wherever they occur, including species protected under the Flora Protection Order (S.I. 356 of 2015)
- Birds Directive – Annex I species and other regularly occurring migratory species, and their habitats (wherever they occur), including ‘protected species and natural habitats’ as defined in the Environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC) and European Communities (Environmental Liability) Regulations, 2008
- Habitats Directive – Annex I habitats, Annex II species and their habitats, and Annex IV species and their breeding sites and resting places (wherever they occur), including ‘protected species and natural habitats’ as defined in the Environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC) and European Communities (Environmental Liability) Regulations, 2008
- Stepping stones and ecological corridors including nature conservation sites (other than European sites), habitat areas and species’ locations covered by Article 10 of the Habitats Directive
- ‘Margaritifera Sensitive Areas’: information about the implications of these areas, and associated data, are available from the NPWS website
- Habitats of Red List species and rare species of well-surveyed taxonomic groups (e.g. wood ants)
- Red-listed Birds of Conservation Concern
- Species listed in the Bern Convention Appendices (and not covered by the Habitats Directive (e.g. large heath butterfly)
- Other areas recognised as being of importance for biodiversity or nature locally, e.g. in local authority Biodiversity, Heritage and/or land use plans
- Other natural or semi-natural habitats, including wetlands, woodlands and linear habitats, and habitat creation, restoration or reinstatement areas
Areas considered to be of ‘high nature value’, e.g. farmland identified as ‘high nature value farmland
 Regulation 40 of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations, 2011