Managing ecological issues within a development project can be frustrating and time consuming. It is essential that ecological consultants are commissioned early in the project to ensure that protected site and/or protected species requirements are addressed appropriately. Calumma Ecological Services has prepared the following list of actions that individuals who are planning projects should consider:
Ecologists can review historical information and undertake rapid site assessments to determine the likely presence of different species within a site. Historical information should be obtained from local sources wherever possible (e.g. in Kent, record searches are available from KMBRC and KRAG). Although some consultants make use of 'free' data downloaded from NBN, such information may be out of date and its use in commercial reports may be in breach of NBN's terms and conditions. Risk assessments are highly beneficial even before a site sale has been agreed. Protected species work may have significant financial implications and could affect the future viability of a project. It is important that all potential risks are identified so that realistic budgets can be set.
HSI scores can be plotted to create a Target Map that illustrates the likely presence of great crested newts in ponds located within the survey area
Protected Species Survey
Scoping surveys may reveal that protected species are unlikely to occupy a site and no further work may be required. However, if further survey work is recommended a more detailed report will be required before a local planning authority can consider an application for planning permission. It is no longer considered appropriate to simply ‘condition’ protected species survey work. Do be aware that survey work for species such as great crested newt may be constrained to certain time periods and may require a lead in of several weeks (e.g. to obtain necessary land access permissions).
Impacts of the scheme on protected species need to be considered. Mitigation work may then have material impacts upon the development project. Impacts from small projects should not be overstated. Consultants should offer advice that is proportionate to the impacts caused by the project - if in doubt seek a second (or third!) opinion. Note however, that small projects can still result in large impacts - if for example newt breeding ponds or bat roosts are disturbed!
Can the scheme go ahead in its current form or do significant changes need to be made to accommodate protected species mitigation work? Work with the ecological consultant to find acceptable solutions. Minimising impacts on protected species is often the most cost effective solution.
Once planning permission has been awarded, further ecological work may be required to satisfy conditions. This may involve additional survey work and/or submission of a more detailed mitigation method statement. Remember that planning officers are bound by many different policies and regulations (e.g. Planning Policy Statement 9).
Protected Species Licence
Those species that receive the highest level of legal protection (European Protected Species - EPS) may require an application for a mitigation licence. Such licenses are awarded by Natural England, but only after planning permission has been received and any associated ecology related conditions successfully discharged.
Mitigation work aims to lessen the impacts of a development on protected species (or other features of biodiversity interest). Work is varied but frequently involves the capture and/or exclusion of animals from development sites. Do not under-estimate the amount of time required to capture and remove species such as slow-worms from areas that will be subject to disturbance. Animals cannot simply be let free in the nearest field. If animals are to be relocated to a site that is situated some distance away from the development area, additional survey work is likely to be required to ensure that the site can support the translocated animals. Habitat enhancement work may also need to be undertaken and such work may only be possible at certain times of the year. Once a receptor site has been prepared, capture periods of 60+ days are not uncommon. Even then, capture work can only be undertaken at certain times of day and during suitable weather conditions. Natural England have produced documents that provide further details for several species (including great crested newts).
reptile hibernaculum (winter sheltering refuge) being constructed on one of Calumma's receptor sites
The ecology work does not stop once construction begins! Sites need to be regularly assessed to ensure that exclusion fences remain intact and protected species have not re-entered the site (e.g. from adjacent areas of suitable habitat). Moving animals to different sites can cause them a great deal of stress and even when the work is undertaken to the highest standards, the successful establishment of a new population cannot be guaranteed. For that reason, projects that cause moderate to high impacts on species or habitats are often subject to several years of monitoring. These ongoing costs must also be adequately budgeted for.