The Biodiversity Planning Toolkit is a new versatile online resource - aimed at helping users to incorporate biodiversity into the planning system and new development.
Thanks to @herpetologicltd for the heads-up on this.
Potentially useful, but I find the main Flash animation cumbersome and the pop-up windows that appear within the interactive landscape limited in scope and difficult to read (too small and too much scrolling with inertia - actually hurts my eyes!). Whilst the idea that specific types of development are likely to have specific protected species issues associated with them may be a useful mechanism to guide applicants, it is dangerous to assume that this will always be the case. Planners should refrain from dictating what surveys need to be undertaken. A suitably qualified ecologist can review a scheme and identify the relevant issues so appropriate follow-up work can be undertaken.
The working example that is provided illustrates a barn conversion. Key issues are identified as bats, barn owls and nesting birds. Fair enough. But what about surrounding terrestrial habitat (potential presence of reptiles)? What happens if the barn is situated close to a pond (potential presence of great crested newt)? Development projects usually require a generous working area and disturbance can be caused to habitat and species that are not the focus of the project.
I have frequently been involved in schemes where planning permission has been granted that requests a 'slow-worm survey' (for example). Upon visiting the site I have identified other, potentially more important, ecological issues. Clients can then become confused (and sometimes quite annoyed!), that other work is required. I have even been told by clients that I shouldn't mention the other issues because the planners have not requested the information.
Rather than a Flash driven animation that is difficult to interpret, the Biodiversity Planning Toolkit should offer users menu driven advice on commissioning and interpreting an ecological scoping assessment. The Flash animation does include menus. This suggests to me that the designers are aware that the interface is flawed. However, the menus are limited in scope. It is entirely appropriate to advise users that particular development projects may be more likely to impact specific protected species (or habitats). But development projects rarely occur in complete isolation. More advice needs to be offered on how to take into consideration surrounding features.