Common Questions About Ecology Surveys
If you require an ecology survey or have been told you need one as part of your development plans, you may have a few questions. Below, we’ve answered some of these questions. However, if you're still left unsure about anything, just give us a call at 0808 302 3634 or send us a message.
What is an Ecological Survey?
An ecological survey is an extensive overview of a proposed development that identifies the potential environmental impact it could have on the affected area. Primarily focusing on the presence of wildlife, an ecological survey will highlight whether the proposed development project could negatively infringe on the habitat and living conditions of animals in the area.
Why are ecological surveys important?
The primary purpose of an ecological survey is to identify local wildlife and assess ways to reduce or eliminate interference with their habitat caused by land development projects. However, an ecological survey also carries benefits to land developers and planning permission applicants. For example, booking an ecological survey will prevent unexpected issues further down the line and avoid the possibility of contradicting relevant legislation.
When is an ecology survey required?
If you haven’t been told you need to arrange an ecological survey, you may be uncertain of whether you need one. However, there are clear guidelines for when an ecology survey is required. For example, this includes any land development project involving:
- Adits, air raid shelters, caves, cellars, icehouses, military fortifications, miles and underground ducts.
- Agricultural buildings.
- Aqueducts, bridges and viaducts.
- Buildings that were built prior to 1914 and are situated within 400 metres of water or woodland.
- Buildings with hanging tiles or weather boarding that are within 200 metres of water or woodland.
- Buildings with slate roofs or gable ends that were built prior to 1914.
- Detached buildings that were built prior to 1960 and are situated within 200 metres of water or woodland.
- Field hedgerows and lines of trees that are connected to bodies of water or woodland.
- Lighting of listed buildings and churches and flood lighting that is situated within 50 metres of field hedgerows, lines of trees, water or woodland.
Why do I need an ecology survey for planning permission?
According to UK legislation, applications for planning permission can only be considered once all appropriate ecological surveys have been carried out. It is something that is required due to the importance of ensuring that no wildlife habitats are disturbed through proposed conversion, demolition or removal work.
How long is an ecology survey valid for?
On average, the results from an ecology survey are usually valid for between 12 and 24 months from the date it was carried out. However, the time may vary depending on the specific area, types of identified species and potential impact. As such, it would be advisable to speak to the ecologist that conducted the survey to check when another survey will be needed.
Types of ecological surveys
There are a few types of ecological survey to suit different purposes. Below, we’ve listed some of them and explained how each is unique:
Preliminary Ecological Appraisal
Also known as a Phase 1 Habitat Survey, a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) is the first stage of the assessment process. It is built from two primary components: an ecological desk study and what is known as an Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey.
What is a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal?
A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal is conducted to identify any and all factors that could potentially hinder a development project.
During the ecological desk study, the ecologist will find out whether the specific area is legally protected. They will then identify wildlife habitats in the vicinity and use local records to gauge whether they’re in a designated area or part of a protected species. The ecologist will then provide this information in the form of an annotated electronic or physical map.
As the name suggests, the Extended Phase 1 Habitat Study is more comprehensive. It requires the ecologist to physically visit the relevant area. At this point, they will assess the nature of the species, note any protected species, make a record of all forms of plant life and wildlife, create a full report on their findings and provide guidance for avoiding negatively impacting the area.
Preliminary Ecological Appraisal cost
Depending on the size of the land and the development project, the cost may vary. However, the cost of a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal generally starts at £599.
Ecological Impact Assessment
A type of survey that incorporates multiple areas, an Ecological Impact Assessment (EIA) is required any time a land development project could significantly affect the environment.
What is an Ecological Impact Assessment?
An Ecological Impact Assessment is used to target, quantify and evaluate factors in a land development project that could negatively alter the affected area. The results may then lead the ecologist in charge of the survey to suggest that other surveys are carried out. For example, if a protected species is discovered, they may suggest a badger, bat, bird, newt, reptile, squirrel, otter, owl or vole survey.
What is a National Vegetation Classification for?
Another survey that may be required following an Ecological Impact Assessment is a National Vegetation Classification (NVC). Common for large-scale development projects, NVCs are used to highlight and map out types of plant life in the relevant area before grouping them into specific categories.
Ecological Impact Assessment cost
The size of the specific area of land and the land development project may affect the cost of an ecological impact assessment. However, the cost starts at £799.
Habitat Regulations Assessment
Only applicable under certain circumstances, a Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) is required in any land development project that involves a piece of land that is situated within a European designated site.
What is a Habitat Regulations Assessment?
A Habitat Regulations Assessment is a type of ecological survey that will be triggered automatically any time a proposal is submitted for a piece of land within what is known as an impact risk zone. Governed by the European Union, an impact risk zone is determined based on the presence of protected species in the area. By carrying out an HRA, wildlife in the area can be assessed and the possibility of breaching EU legislation can be avoided.
An HRA is primarily based on two stages. The first will assess if the project could significantly affect protected species within the area. The second will then identify and report on methods of making the project go ahead without disturbing protected species in the area if it’s possible to do so.
Habitat Regulations Assessment cost
Due to the specific nature of HRAs, the cost of this type of survey is likely to vary significantly based on the circumstances and size of the area, as well as the scale of the development project.
Ecological Walkover Survey
Quick, simple and cost effective, an Ecological Walkover Survey is ideal for any situation where planning consent is already in place.
What is an Ecological Walkover Survey?
An Ecological Walkover Survey is a thorough appraisal of an area of land. It is faster than many other types of survey and, as such, is designed to avoid delaying the development process. A broad type of survey, it is used as a way of highlighting potential ecological issues in the area and explain the likely constraints due to inhabiting protected species.
Not only is an Ecological Walkover Survey relatively cheap, but it could also save money further down the line by eliminating the need for other costly assessments. In some cases, it may be all that is required on a small, simple area of land. Additionally, ecologists will often use existing ecological data to assess wildlife habitats in the specific area to minimise the amount of unnecessary time physically spent on the land.
Unfortunately, it’s possible that an ecological survey could uncover issues that are capable of ruining or at least partially hindering your development plans. Although this is understandably concerning, it may still be possible to make your project work through effective ecological mitigation.
What is ecological mitigation?
Ecological mitigation is a set of measures created to prevent the disturbance of wildlife in a land development project. Any time a project is likely to impact wildlife habitats in the area, ecological mitigation measures will need to be identified and detailed as part of the application for planning permission.
Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is a land development approach designed to ensure that the state of biodiversity is improved after changes are made. As the BNG is currently set at an increase of 10%, ecological mitigation can help in factoring in this concept and make it work within a land development project.
Ecological mitigation hierarchy
When choosing the correct measures, the ecologist will refer to a specific ecological mitigation hierarchy. Each of the stages in this hierarchy will be used to determine the most suitable course of action for the specific area of land. Below, we’ve listed and explained each of these stages:
For any ecologist considering potential mitigation measures, the priority will be the concept of entirely avoiding causing disturbance to protected species in the area. It may be possible to do this if, for example, the boundary of the site or elements of the project can be altered to avoid disturbing inhabiting wildlife.
In circumstances where disturbance to protected species in the area cannot be avoided, the ecologist will need to identify methods of minimising impact.
Common mitigation methods designed to reduce impact include:
- Arranging presentations and one-to-one talks with construction staff to educate them on the importance of carrying out a development on land that houses a protected species correctly.
- Listing rules for working on the area of land that everyone must abide by.
- Planning construction work to occur outside of times that may be sensitive to certain species.
- Putting up signs and fencing to protect sensitive areas.
Alternatively, if the land houses certain types of protected species such as badgers, bats, dormice, newts, otters, reptiles and voles, it may be possible to install nesting boxes or relocate them to another area away from the plot of land.
A last resort on the mitigation hierarchy, ecological compensation is applicable when, despite the efforts of the ecologist, preventing a negative impact on the area of land due to the development project was unavoidable. When this happens, the aim of ecological compensation is to enhance or restore existing natural habitats or develop new ones elsewhere to counterbalance the ecological impact of the development project.
Steps taken by the government to conserve biodiversity
Due to the mandate that requires any new land developments to have a BNG of at least 10%, ecological surveys have never been as important as they are today. In ‘Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services’, the Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) outlined the four steps the UK government is taking towards conserving biodiversity.
Steps for conserving biodiversity:
- Establishing an effective approach to ecological matters that is consistent on land and at sea.
- Engaging people directly on the importance of biodiversity and encouraging them to get involved.
- Working with relevant industries such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, marine management, planning and development and water management to reduce environmental pressures.
- Requesting ecological data from relevant sources and using this data to broaden their knowledge and find effective solutions.
What is a biodiversity action plan?
As well as an emphasis from the UK government, there are also programmes for conserving biodiversity in ways that apply globally. One such example is the biodiversity action plan (BAP) – a programme that was designed to protect habitats and species that are under threat.
The UK was the first country to produce their own national biodiversity action plan. By creating a BAP that is country-specific, certain animals that are under threat can be highlighted and the details can be more relevant to the country it is created for. For example, many animals may or may not be included depending on the presence or lack thereof in the specific country. As a result, biodiversity action plans are likely to differ from country to country.
Priority habitats and species
In 2012, the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework replaced the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Within this framework, animal species that are recognised as being the most under threat are listed.
The list of animals in a country’s biodiversity action plan is likely to vary depending on the country. A species plan will generally include an extensive description of each type of animal and information about their breeding habits, interaction with other animals and general behaviour.
Categories of priority habitats and species in the UK:
- Marine-only species
- Terrestrial invertebrates and mammals
- Vascular and non-vascular plants
How to do an ecological survey
If you want to request a free quote for an ecological survey, the process couldn’t simpler. All you need to do is give us a call at 0808 302 3634 or fill in the quick quote form at the top of this page. A qualified ecological consultant will then get in touch with you at the next available opportunity to talk you through the process of booking an ecological survey and answer any questions you may have.
It would, however, be worth bearing in mind that our surveys book up fast. As such, it would be advisable to get in touch as early as possible to avoid any delays.