Ecology Survey

If you are proposing to develop a site, it is usually a requirement to provide ecological information as part of a planning application and without it, your application may not be accepted by the Local Planning Authority (LPA).

‘Ecology Survey’ is a rather broad-brush term as many different surveys carried out by an ecological consultant fall under this phrase.  However, if the LPA query whether an ‘Ecology Survey’ has been carried out on your site, they are generally asking whether a Preliminary Ecological Assessment (PEA) has been undertaken:

A Preliminary Ecological Assessment (PEA) involves the following:

  • Desk study
  • Walkover survey

Combined, these are often referred to as a ‘Preliminary Ecological Appraisal’ (PEA).

Desk study

The desk study involves an online search to:

  1. Identify records of protected and priority/notable species on, or in the locality of a site, and;
  2. To ascertain the presence of any nearby designated sites or priority habitats.

In the majority of cases, it is also necessary to contact the Local Environmental Records Centre (LERC) for more comprehensive information not freely available online. There are costs associated with the retrieval of records from records centres.

Protected species are those to which legal protection is afforded. Certain habitats and species are also of nature conservation importance because they are rare/vulnerable or in decline, these are often referred to as ‘priority’ or ‘notable’ habitats/species.

Statutory designated sites are those which are protected under current UK/European legislation and include Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), National Nature Reserves (NNR), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Areas (SPA), Ramsar Sites and Local Nature Reserves (LNR). Sites that are classified as non-statutory are typically known as County Wildlife Sites (CWS). They are designated on account of the flora and fauna they support and are considered to be of county wildlife importance.

It is important to carry out a desk study to build an initial picture of ecology on a site. For example, it can quickly be determined if a SSSI occurs adjacent to or in close proximity or if a protected species occurs on site or close by. An absence of information for a site however, does not necessarily mean that there are no ecological considerations, hence why a walkover survey by an experienced ecologist is also required.

Walkover survey

During the walkover survey the ecologist carries out a rapid assessment of the ecological features present, or potentially present on the site and its immediate surrounds (if accessible). The survey methodology most commonly used is the ‘Extended Phase I Habitat Survey’ technique. The Phase I Habitat Survey methodology is a widely used and standardised system for classifying and mapping wildlife habitats across Great Britain. Using this methodology, the ecologist maps habitats on site, and describes particular features of interest using target notes.

In addition, an assessment is usually carried out to determine if the site has the potential to support any protected species. If there are any direct sightings or if evidence of a protected/priority species is discovered then this will also be recorded.

It is also usual to list the plant species present on the site, however if the assessment is carried out during the winter months, further botanical surveys in the growing season may be recommended.

During the walkover survey a search is also carried out for non-native invasive species (e.g Japanese Knotweed). It is illegal to cause the spread of certain non-native species in the wild, therefore if they are present on a site their management and removal is an important consideration.

Once the desk study and walkover are complete the results are collated into a report, commonly referred to as a ‘Phase I Survey Report’ or ‘Preliminary Ecological Assessment Report’ (PEAR) where the following will be highlighted:

  • Potential ecological constraints;
  • Whether further ecological surveys are required prior to your planning submission;
  • Any mitigation measures necessary (although it may not be possible to determine all of these until further survey work is completed);
  • Opportunities for ecological enhancements.

As well as written text, the report usually includes a habitat map, photographs and where appropriate, an ecological constraints and opportunities plan may be included.

It is important to note that if the Phase I report/PEAR recommends that further ecological survey work is required, surveys must be completed and appropriate mitigation measures formulated before the local planning authority will consider any planning application. In such circumstances a Phase I report or PEAR on its own is insufficient and the Local Planning Authority will require a more detailed report which incorporates the results of further surveys together with an assessment of ecological impacts and mitigation/enhancement measures. Such a report is usually referred to as an ‘Ecological Impact Assessment’.

Surveys for protected species are generally constrained to the warmer months as many animals are inactive during the winter. Therefore, if a site walkover is carried out in the winter months and it is determined that habitats have the potential to support a protected species, it may not be possible to carry these out until the following spring/summer.

The main purpose of a Phase I report/PEAR is to inform a developer and their design team about the key ecological constraints and opportunities associated with a project. Commissioning an ecological consultant to produce a Phase I report/PEAR at an early stage means that any further surveys required can be inputted into project programmes and mitigation and enhancement measures can be incorporated into the design rather than retrospectively. This reduces the risk of delays and makes for a much smoother process leading up to planning.

Whether you are an individual homeowner, a developer looking to submit a planning application or if you are a member of the project team such as an architect, planning consultant, or landscape architect and require further information on ecology surveys, one of our experienced ecological consultants at Burton Reid will be happy to help.


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