Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Nature conservation

Biodiversity is the variety of living organisms on Earth. It includes all animals, plants, fungi and micro-organisms, not just rare or threatened species. It also includes the habitats these organisms depend on. Conservation is about maintaining and improving the status of species and their habitats.

If your business is located in or next to a natural area, or you have areas of undeveloped land on your site, you can have a direct impact on biodiversity. Even if your business is based in a town or city, you can affect urban species such as hedgehogs, house sparrows, insects and plants. You can also have an indirect impact, for example through your choice of goods, materials and suppliers.

Taking care of habitats and species can help your business' reputation with investors, customers and the local community.

This guide explains which sites, habitats and species are protected by law or are a conservation priority in government policy. It also covers how to create an action plan and how to work with other organisations on biodiversity conservation.

Biodiversity - the variety of living organisms - is declining, mainly due to human activity. Clearing vegetation for example, can result in the loss, degradation or break up of habitats, which impacts on the species that live in those habitats.

Your business's impact on biodiversity can be positive as well as negative. How you manage your business will determine the scale of that impact both in your local area and further afield.

Competitive advantage

If your business consistently operates in environmentally responsible ways, you will attract ethical consumers and investors.

Many people now consider the environmental performance of businesses and their impact on biodiversity when buying their products, services or making investments. You are more likely to attract customers if you can show that your business methods protect and enhance biodiversity and the natural environment.

Planning applications

If you apply for planning permission you may need to get an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for your proposed development. EIAs consider the social, environmental and economic impacts of the development, including any effect on biodiversity or designated conservation areas.

NIEA: NI Consultation update to Environmental Impact Assessment

Scottish Government: EIAs and planning

Your planning application may also need public consultation. A good record of environmental management will help you to approach the public with confidence during the consultation.

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

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

BSI: Smart Guide to BS 42020

Environmental permits and licences

If you apply to the NIEA or SEPA for a permit, licence or other authorisation for any aspect of your business' activities, they will consider your impact on the natural environment and biodiversity. This could be in the immediate area of your intended activity, or further afield, depending on the nature of your application.

If your proposed activity could affect a designated conservation area, your application may take longer. The NIEA or SEPA will consult with the relevant conservation body if your application affects:

  • part of the European network of protected sites (Natura Network 2000) - eg Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas
  • an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) in Northern Ireland
  • a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Scotland.

See the page in this guideline: Protected sites and priority habitats.

Wildlife licences

You must apply to the NIEA In Northern Ireland, or Scottish Natural heritage (SNH) in Scotland, for a wildlife licence if you carry out an activity that is prohibited by wildlife legislation. This includes if you kill or take certain protected species, disturb or damage the habitat of protected species or carry out certain surveys or conservation work.

Further information

Northern Ireland:

Planning NI: Local Council offices

NIEA: Conserving biodiversity

Scotland:

Scottish Government: Local planning authority contact details

SNH: Protecting Scotland's nature

Businesses do not operate in isolation of the natural environment - they rely on natural resources and services. Your business may rely on nature for:

  • raw materials like cotton, water, and crops
  • the quality and availability of your inputs and products - nature provides water purification, filtering of pollution from the air and seas, nutrients formation, and pollination
  • waste assimilation - nature breaks down waste products and dilutes emissions
  • risk protection including flood protection and mitigating the impacts of climate change

Plants, animals, micro-organisms and their non-living environment work together as functional units to provide natural resources and services. These systems are often called ecosystems and include wetlands, cultivated land, coastal areas, parks and rainforests.

The resources and services that nature provides are not unlimited. For example, there is a finite amount of pollution that ecosystems can assimilate and an upper limit in their capacity to purify water at any given time. Putting pressure on nature above what it can sustain leads to degradation and undermines its ability to deliver those services.

How ecosystem problems could affect your business

Some of the natural resources and services which contribute to successful business operations do not appear on balance sheets because they do not have a monetary value. As a result, they are often undervalued and planning decisions might overlook the business risks that reduced supply of those services could create. This includes disruption to supply chains, higher operating costs and changes in customer preferences.

By adopting practices which protect and enhance ecosystems, directly or through your supply chain, you could also minimise such risks and benefit from lending policies that favour businesses which combine growth with environmental leadership. A track record of positive environmental action can also enhance the image of your business and make it more competitive.

You can download a report on business risks and opportunities linked to natural resources and services from The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) website.

The Economics of Eoosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB): In Business and Enterprise

Why you should assess your reliance on ecosystems

By understanding what natural assets and services are important to your business' performance, and making the connection between healthy ecosystems and your business bottom line, you will be able to:

  • identify associated risks
  • identify new sources of revenue
  • adopt strategies to manage risks.

Many areas with distinctive plants, animals, habitats, geology or landforms are protected at the international, European, national and local level. Some habitats have been identified as needing priority conservation action.

If you own or work at a site that is in or next to a protected area or priority habitat, you're likely to face tighter restrictions on what activities and developments you can carry out at the site. You may need to:

  • obtain permission from the relevant organisation for your site
  • carry out a survey
  • assess the potential impact of your business on the natural environment and biodiversity
  • explain how you will avoid or mitigate any potentially adverse impacts on the protected area.

Statutory site protection

Sites which are protected at an international level include Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas and Ramsar sites.

Sites protected at a national level include National Nature Reserves, Marine Nature Reserves and Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) in Northern Ireland or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Scotland.

Local Nature Reserves are protected statutorily at a local level.

If you are an owner or an occupier within any of these protected areas, you can get advice about your responsibilities from either:

  • the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
  • Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

In the case of an ASSI or SSSI, the NIEA in Northern Ireland, or SNH in Scotland, may draw up a management agreement with you to assist with good management of the site.

Non-statutory protection of local sites

Local councils adopt sites that are important to local wildlife. These may be called Local Wildlife or Geological Sites, County Wildlife Sites, Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation, Sites of Biological Interest or other names. These are often in brownfield and urban areas.

While local authority site designation does not provide statutory protection, it will be taken into account if you apply for planning permission. If your business activities are likely to affect a locally designated site, the local authority will expect you to:

  • carry out a survey
  • assess the potential impact of your business on the site's natural environment and biodiversity
  • explain how you will ensure that you avoid or mitigate any potentially adverse impacts on the site.

You can check whether your land is a local site by contacting your local council ecology team or biodiversity information centre, or the Ulster Wildlife Trust or Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Northern Ireland: Local councils

Scotland: Local councils

Ulster Wildlife

Scottish Wildlife Trust

Priority habitats

In addition to protected sites, a number of habitats have been designated as ones requiring priority conservation action under:

  • the Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans
  • UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP).

You can check whether you have one of these habitat types on your land:

NIEA: Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans

Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC): UK BAP List of Priority Habitats

If you do, you should liaise with the following organisations over the measures you can take to conserve them:

  • the NIEA or Ulster Wildlife
  • SNH or the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Further information

NIEA: Map of designated sites in Northern Ireland

SNH: Sitelink: Map of designated sites in Scotland

Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC): What are Protected Areas?

A number of species of animals and plants found in the wild are protected at a European and national level from being harmed or disturbed.

You may be committing an offence if you capture, kill, injure or disturb any protected animal or if you pick, collect, cut, uproot or destroy any protected plant species.

If your business needs to undertake an activity which is likely to disturb a protected species, such as development of a site, you must apply to either:

  • the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
  • Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)

for a licence before carrying out the activity.

Protected species include:

  • mammals such as seals, otters, badgers, all bats, pine martens, red squirrels, water voles and harvest mice,
  • all species of naturally occurring birds in the wild
  • amphibians and reptiles such as the common newt and some lizards, slow-worm, great crested newt, grass snake, adder, common toad, natterjack toad
  • invertebrates including moths, butterflies, beetles, dragonflies and snails
  • plants including many mosses, liverworts, lichen and higher plants like ladies slipper and slender naiad
  • a range of fungi.

Identifying whether these species are present on your site can be difficult, and you may need to get advice from the NIEA or from SNH.

Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC): Priority species

Applying for a licence

Before you apply to the NIEA, or SNH for a licence, you must have finalised all planning consents and conditions.

NIEA: Wildlife licensing

Scottish National Heritage (SNH): Contact details

Priority species

In addition to protected species, a number have been identified as Priority Species for Conservation Action. To check whether any species found on your land or premises are a priority you can check the lists at:

NIEA: Priority species lists

Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC): UK BAP Priority species lists

If you do have priority species, you should liaise with either:

  • the NIEA or Ulster Wildlife
  • SNH or the Scottish Wildlife Trust

over measures you can take to conserve them.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)

CITES regulates international trade in endangered species. If your business is involved in this trade, you must obtain a CITES permit to allow the movement of the species and their derivatives. You can find information from the CITES website.

Convention on Trade in endangered Species (CITES)

Further information

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH): European protected species

There are several thousand non-native species in the UK. A minority pose serious ecological or economic threats and are described as invasive non-native species. For example, Japanese knotweed causes problems for the construction and transport infrastructure sectors.

New species are being introduced to Europe, for example through trade, horticulture, landscaping, transport of goods, etc. There is a risk of introducing new invasive species that will become problems in the future.

In Northern Ireland

Unless you obtain a licence to do so, it is an offence in Northern Ireland to release into the wild, or allow to escape into the wild, an animal that is:

It is also an offence if you plant or cause to grow in the wild certain listed species of plant

You must apply to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) for any exceptions to these provisions.
Contact your environmental regulator

In Scotland

Unless you obtain a licence to do so, it is an offence in Scotland to:

  • release an animal to a place outwith its native range
  • allow an animal to escape from captivity to a place outwith its native range
  • otherwise cause an animal (outwith the control of a person) to be at a place outwith its native range. plant a plant in the wild outwith its native range
  • otherwise cause a plant to grow in the wild outwith its native range

The licensing authority for this is the Scottish Natural Heritage.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)

More information on these offences, your responsibilities and some exceptions can be found in:
Scottish Government: Code of Practice on Non-Native Species

Further information

Scottish Government: Non-native species

The Environmental Liability Regulations force businesses to take action to prevent environmental damage and to remedy any damage they cause. They apply to any environmental damage that occurred from:

  • 24 July 2009 in Northern Ireland
  • 24 June 2009 in Scotland.

Biodiversity damage is classed as environmental damage if it causes:

  • a significant harmful effect on the conservation status of a European Union (EU) protected species or habitat
  • in Northern Ireland, a harmful effect on the ecological structure and function of an area of special scientific interest (ASSI), for example manure spreading on protected grassland

Liability

You do not have to be at fault to be liable for environmental damage.

In Northern Ireland you are also liable for environmental damage to protected species and habitats if you intended to cause damage or were negligent. This applies to damage to ASSIs.

For more information on environmental damage, including to land and water, see our guideline: Environmental damage

Further information

DAERA: Environmental liability regulations

DAERA: Map of designated sites in Northern Ireland

SEPA: Environmental liability regulations

SNH: Sitelink: Map of designated sites in Scotland

To manage your site and protect biodiversity you should start by carrying out an ecological survey and establish a baseline. You should use a qualified and experienced ecologist, such as a Member of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), to survey the biodiversity of your business site. You can search a directory of ecologists on the IEEM website.

IEEM: Directory of ecologists

To survey certain protected species the ecologist will also need a survey licence from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Scottish Government . You should check that the ecologist has an appropriate licence.

Collecting baseline biodiversity information

To collect baseline biodiversity data on your site, the ecologist will carry out a desk study.

The desk study will collect existing information on your site and the surrounding areas. This will establish if it is protected or designated in any way, and whether it contains protected or notable species, or non-designated areas that are important for nature conservation.

Your ecologist may also recommend undertaking a Phase 1 habitat survey on your site. They will assess habitat types and the suitability of your site for protected or notable species, and present the survey results on a colour-coded map of habitats.

If the desk study and Phase 1 survey indicate that certain protected or priority species may be present on the site, a more detailed Phase 2 survey will be required.

Further information

Society for the Environment: Chartered Environmentalists

Your business may need to create a site biodiversity action plan (BAP) as a condition of a planning consent, or to comply with legal requirements for a protected species.

You may also want to create a plan if your business has an environmental management system. See our guideline: Environmental management systems and environmental reports

Your business BAP should identify options for how best to protect the priority species identified at your site. It should include the baseline biodiversity conditions, objectives, targets, a work plan and monitoring to check progress.

NIEA: Local Biodiversity action

Biodiversity Scotland: Local biodiversity action

You may need to employ a professional ecologist to help you draw up your site BAP. You can search a directory of ecologists on the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM) website.

IEEM: Directory of ecologists

Further information

Biodiversity Action Reporting System

Measuring changes in your business' impact on biodiversity will help you to review and improve the way you protect and enhance biodiversity.

Certification schemes, standards and awards are available to measure your business' impact. You should choose the method that is the most cost-effective for your business.

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

GRI is a membership organisation which uses its Sustainability Reporting Framework to simplify company disclosure on economic, environmental and social performance.

The framework contains biodiversity indicators, mostly relevant to habitat management. One indicator measures your business' indirect impacts on biodiversity, through the environmental performance of your suppliers and partners.

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI): Sustainability reporting framework

ISO 14001

ISO 14001 is an international accreditation standard for environmental management systems (EMS). Biodiversity is not always mentioned in a business's EMS. However it should be considered to measure what your business is doing to protect the environment and to avoid or mitigate risks of potential pollution, waste generation and energy use.

Your business' EMS should extend to its supply chain. Any raw materials you buy for your business will have had an impact on the natural environment during their extraction, production and transportation. See our guidelines:

Environmental management systems and environmental reports

Buying sustainable goods and services

Wildlife Trusts Biodiversity Benchmark

The Wildlife Trusts Biodiversity Benchmark is a scheme set up in line with ISO 14001, which awards organisations for their biodiversity improvements. To gain the Benchmark, you must have an EMS that includes biodiversity protection and enhancement, and must show evidence of continued improvement in performance and partnerships.

The Wildlife Trusts: Biodiversity benchmark

Biodiversity Action Reporting System (BARS)

BARS is a web-based information system that provides a standardised way to record Biodiversity Action Plan progress towards targets and actions. These records are available online, so stakeholders in your business and members of the public can find out about your business' performance in biodiversity conservation.

Biodiversity Action Reporting System (BARS): Database of action plans

Working with other organisations involved in biodiversity action planning will help you understand the main issues and priorities in your local area.

Local organisations

In Northern Ireland

A key method of delivering local action for biodiversity in Northern Ireland is through Local Biodiversity Action Plans (LBAP). You can find information on LBAP priorities and projects on the Ulster Wildlife website.

Ulster Wildlife

Co-ordination within Northern Ireland is carried out by the Local Biodiversity Action team within the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). You can find out more about Northern Ireland LBAPs on the NIEA website.

NIEA: Local biodiversity action plans

In Scotland

For information on biodiversity action plan (BAP) priorities and projects in your area, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is a good first port of call. You can find local biodiversity information on the Scottish Wildlife Trust website.

Scottish Wildlife Trust

There are around 150 local biodiversity action plan groups across the UK. If your business has a single site, it will be easy for you to network with one of them.

Biodiversity Scotland: Local Action Plans

National organisations

In Northern Ireland

The NIEA is the lead government organisation on conservation of the natural environment. The NIEA leads on environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of soil, air and water and has a duty to conserve and enhance the natural environment. You should consult with the NIEA if you intend to carry out development work that could affect protected or priority areas or species.

In Scotland

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is the lead government organisation on conservation of the natural environment. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) leads on environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of soil, air and water and has a duty to conserve and enhance the natural environment. You should consult with these organisations if you intend to carry out development work that could affect protected or priority areas or species.

UK-wide

Nature UK and Wild About The British Isles are two online community forums on wildlife, environment and conservation.

International organisations

If your supply chain is international or your business operates in several countries, international conservation groups can help you to develop appropriate environmental management systems for each country your business is involved in.

International partnership organisations address specific conservation problems associated with global business. These include:

This page provides links to the full text of key pieces of environmental legislation relating to conservation and biodiversity. The websites hosting the legislation may list amendments separately.

If you are setting up an environmental management system (EMS) for your business, you can use this list to start compiling your legal register. Your legal adviser or environmental consultant will be able to tell you if other environmental legislation applies to your specific business.

Environmental management systems and environmental reports

Northern Ireland conservation and biodiversity legislation

Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc) Regulations (Northern Ireland) SR 1995/380 Part of the legal framework set up to conserve natural habitats and wild flora and fauna.

Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007 SI 2007/345 Makes technical changes to the way that government authorities carry out their duties.

Environmental Liability (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) SR 2009/252 Requires polluters to prevent and repair damage to water systems, land quality, protected sites, species and their habitats.

Environment (Northern Ireland) Order SI 2002/3153 Covers environmental issues, including pollution prevention and control, assessment and management of air quality, and designation of areas of special scientific interest.

European Community Regulation 338/1997 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade (Wildlife Trade Regulation).Protects species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade in these species.

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. Covers biodiversity, pesticides harmful to wildlife and the protection of birds.

Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order SI 1985/170. Establishes the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside and sets out the Department of the Environment's rights and duties to protect and enhance sites of natural beauty or special scientific interest.

Marine (Northern Ireland) Act 2013 Establishes a strategic system of marine planning in Northern Ireland’s inshore region (out to 12 nautical miles). Contains provisions allowing the Department of the Environment to designate marine conservation zones. Assists in the delivery of a modernised licensing and enforcement regime.

Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. Amends the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and the Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 and adds new provisions to protect a greater range of plants, animals, birds and to increase protection to Areas of Special Scientific Interest. Gives enforcement authorities new powers and sanctions against wildlife crime.

Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985/171. Makes it an offence to interfere with certain species of wild animals and plants, with certain exceptions, which require a licence. It also specifies open and closed periods for hunting of limited species, with special protection for deer.

Scotland conservation and biodiversity legislation

Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c) Regulations SI 1994/2716. Part of the legal framework set up to conserve natural habitats and wild fauna and flora.

Environmental Liability (Scotland) Regulations SSI 2009/266. Requires polluters to prevent and repair damage to water systems, land quality, protected sites, species and their habitats.

European Community Regulation 338/1997 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade (Wildlife Trade Regulation). Protects species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade in these species.

Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Establishes a right to be on land for recreational, educational and some other purposes and to cross land (right to roam) if exercised responsibly. It also details how rural and crofting organisations may buy land they are connected with.

Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. Introduces a system for managing and protecting the marine environment, including new marine planning and marine licensing systems, and marine conservation orders.

National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000. Establishes National Parks in Scotland, including setting up National Park Authorities, their powers, finances and 'management agreements' between National Park Authority landowners or occupiers.

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. Covers biodiversity, pesticides harmful to wildlife and the protection of birds.

Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991. Establishes Scottish Natural Heritage as the main body responsible for securing and promoting the conservation of Scotland's natural scenery, flora and fauna.

Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. Deals with conserving biodiversity and protecting and enhancing Scotland's natural features. It also amends the rules on protecting certain birds, animals and plants.

Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. Makes it illegal to hunt a wild mammal with a dog, for example fox and deer hunting with a pack, or a landowner/occupier to knowingly allow someone to hunt a wild mammal with a dog on their land, or a dog's owner to knowingly allow someone to use it for hunting.

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Bans certain methods of killing or taking wild animals, including birds, and restricts the introduction and sale of certain non-native animals and plants.

Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011. Amends several acts to introduce tougher powers against wildlife crimes. Imposes stricter regulations on animal snares, including the training of operators. Landowners may be made accountable if their employees kill or take a wild bird.

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