Do you know when a great crested newt hibernates or when a white-clawed crayfish is releasing its young? Knowing what species is protected and notable is one challenge when a development site is chosen, but understanding the optimum time to survey is another. Ecology is one of the most complicated aspects of the planning process, and many an application has fallen at the first hurdle due to the ecological issues on a site not being addressed. An ecological assessment by a suitably qualified ecologist will not only help with your planning requirements, it can add extra credits in terms of BREEAM

Ecology is essentially the study of all living things; how they interact with their environment and with each other. Each living thing has its own life cycle and therefore its own science about it.  To put it simply, we don’t make scientific assumptions of a reptile based on what a bat would do.

While it is a given that we must develop for the future, we must remember what we take from the land and acknowledge what we give in return. We are being taught to co-habit with the species we live on the same land with, which is an important aspect of sustainability. Our legislation, including the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (UK) and The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, along with many other amendments and environmental acts reminds us of this and ensures we do not cause damage to the populations of species that inhabit the UK.

The consequences of not having planning permission can be disastrous. By not identifying and addressing the ecological issues that can be found on a site, no matter what size of the project, it could result in not receiving planning permission, as well as serious legal implications.

When an ecologist makes their initial recommendations following the baseline assessment of a site (the Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey) they are taking into account the information retrieved from the biological records search, the physical evidence and suitability of habitats they find on-site, the value and the level of protection for the potential species provided on-site, and the requirements of the planning authorities.

Rigorous approach
The planning authorities will want to see that any ecological issues on-site will be met with due consideration and rigorous scientific method and reasoning. They will want to see the probability of a species using a site or the reasoning as to why it would not use a site. They will wish to see that any further investigations following the baseline assessment were completed in the most optimum conditions for a particular species. They will want to see that these investigations will follow the guidelines set out for each individual species almost to the letter, and acceptable justifications why these methods were not followed on a case-by-case basis.

Despite every survey method possible being conducted in order to determine the presence of a species on a site, there is still a risk of an ecological issue being found.

After the survey you should always keep your ecologist in the loop so they may help you with any upcoming issues.  Even in the event of no evidence being found of the species being on-site, planning authorities will still wish to see a strategy in place if these species are found on-site during these works. This would include ceasing all works until an ecologist has assessed the situation. They may also wish to see how the site can be ecologically enhanced after the site works are complete.

Optimum period
For example, the best time of year to conduct dusk/dawn surveys for bats is between May and September, according to the guidelines of the Bat Conservation Trust. However, it’s not just about the time of year – surveys must be conducted on a still, dry evening and temperatures must be above 10°C or above. Any variation to these conditions will result in no insects and therefore conditions will not be the most optimum circumstances for bats.

Another example is reptiles. The optimum time of year for reptiles is between March and October. However, surveys would need to be limited in July and August due to temperatures becoming so high the reptile would be unable to bask in the sunlight. During these two months, the timing of these surveys would need to be conducted during times when the weather is appropriate, for example, in the morning or evening on a dry day.

Planning authorities will only accept pond surveys for Great Crested Newts that have been conducted between March and June as these are the optimum times of year due to suitable temperatures for Great Crested Newts.

A time to hibernate
Hibernation is also a huge issue. Bats, Great Crested Newts, and Reptiles all hibernate around the same time (from October, and then start appearing around March/April). They find cracks and crevices within buildings, stone walls, rubble piles and other even underground in order to keep warm during the cold winter months. If works commence during this time, there is a risk of uncovering and disturbing these species, which is an offence. Therefore, an ecological survey of a site is needed before any works occur in order to minimise the chance of harming these protected species without a strategy.

Despite an ecologist helping in a commercial context, when you commission one the recommended best practice would be they would have a BSc degree, be affiliated with a well-known establishment with its own code of conduct (CIEEM, LI, IES), and have at least a few years’ experience, including fieldwork, to ensure they have the confidence and knowledge to make the best decisions for their clients.

Ecologists who have attained their European Protected Species licences would have achieved them after years of practical field experience, have a minimum knowledge of each separate species’ life cycles and behaviours and the particular legislation that protects that species. They must also have been given references by two separate referees (who have the licence being sought themselves); having witnessed their ability to conduct the practical requirements of that licence and tested their knowledge for that licence.

It is important to remember that in most situations, a local authority will not grant planning permission until all protected species surveys have been completed. By working with a suitably qualified ecologist, any potential ecological conflicts and costly disruption to projects can be minimised from pre-planning and throughout a project.

If you have any questions with regards to Ecology and the services we can support you with our Qualified Ecologist is on hand. Simply give us a call on 0333 5777 577 or fill in our contact form and we will get back to you.

Written by Katie Smart, BREEAM Assessor & Ecologist, Darren Evans Assessments.

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