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, in an effort to simplify the process of utilising the necessary ecology surveys within your proposed development, we have answered some of these questions. However, if you are still left unsure about anything, just give us a call on the number above or send us a message.
What is an Ecological Survey?
An ecological survey or ecology survey is an extensive overview of a proposed development that identifies the potential environmental impact it could have on the affected area, and more specifically, everything situated within the boundary lines of the development site.
Primarily focusing on the presence of wildlife, an ecological survey will highlight whether the proposed development project could negatively infringe on the suitable habitat and living conditions of animals on the proposed development site or in the nearby area, highlight potential concerns and obstacles to the project, and inform on methods of removing or reducing likely risks that the development could cause.
As well as particular species of animal, an ecology survey will also take invasive or valuable species of plant into consideration to determine whether they could be harmed at the detriment of biodiversity or, in the case of particularly destructive plant species, if they could cause harm to the proposed site or infrastructure built on the site now or in the future.
Why are Ecological Surveys Important?
During the process of performing an ecological survey, identifying local wildlife and assessing ways to reduce or eliminate interference caused by the land or property development, ecological surveyors undertaking the assessment will be able to fulfil duties expected of the developer and satisfy the requirements of the corresponding local planning authority.
Local planning authorities across the UK insist on developers booking a form of ecological assessment before they will even consider an application for planning permission. Not only does this mean that developers are required to arrange an ecology survey, but also that the planning department within the local council will not be completely satisfied until they see evidence that the site has been surveyed by an ecological consultancy, and that suitable mitigation methods have been developed.
Additionally, arranging ecological assessments will also ensure that development proposals remain within the rules of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG). Originally introduced by the government in the 2019 spring statement, the concept of BNG was one of several in the Environment Bill. Once it gained royal assent, the Environment Bill became the Environment Act and was brought into UK law in November 2021.
In simple terms, BNG insists on the standard of biodiversity maintaining the same level following the completion of planning projects before increasing by an additional 10%, promoting more green spaces across England. Despite a two-year transition period, Biodiversity Net Gain is already a consideration for many local authorities across the country, meaning that professionals in charge of all current and future developments need to ensure that the state of biodiversity isn’t tarnished as a result of the project.
When is an Ecology Survey Required?
If you haven’t been told you need to arrange an ecology survey, you may be uncertain of whether you need one. While they often apply to the majority of construction, conversion, demolition or removal work, there are specific guidelines for when ecology surveys are required.
For example, this includes any 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?
In the eyes of the government, local authorities and relevant governing bodies such as Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), an ecology surveys is a vital component in the process of applying for and being granted planning permission.
Local planning authorities across the country insist that developers can only realistically meet planning requirements 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 and no valuable plants are needlessly destroyed through proposed construction, 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, but sometimes up to three years depending on the type of ecological assessment. However, as with many elements of ecology surveys, the time may also vary depending on the specific circumstances of the site and project, as well as the types of identified European protected species and the potential impact.
As such, it would be advisable to ensure that a planning application is put forward to the local planning authority while the ecology report remains valid. If, however, you are unsure of the specific best time period or optimal periods for additional surveys throughout the year, you should speak with the qualified ecologist conducting the assessment to clarify.
Types of Ecological Surveys
A selection of different types of ecology survey suit a variety of purposes. Below, we have listed each common type and explained how they are unique and valuable:
Preliminary Ecological Appraisal
Also known as a Phase 1 Habitat Survey, a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) is the initial survey and acts as the first stage of the assessment process. It is built from two primary components: an ecological desk study and a field study or walkover survey.
What is a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal?
A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) is conducted to identify any and all environmental factors that could potentially hinder a development proposal.
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 are in a designated area or part of a notable species. The ecology consultant will display all the information in the form of an annotated electronic or physical map.
As the name suggests, the walkover survey – or Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey – is more comprehensive. It requires the ecological surveyor to physically visit the relevant area to inspect all ecological features. Once they have analysed every part of the site, they will record the potential presence of all plant life and wildlife, paying close attention to support protected species and valuable, invasive or rare plants.
Through making a record of these components and the specific circumstances of the site, the ecology consultants will be able to form mitigation recommendations that will enable the development to move forward as planned without disturbing animals and plants on the site. Following completion of the ecology survey, ecology consultants will detail all of their findings and mitigation measures in a thorough ecology report that will support planning applications.
Preliminary Ecological Appraisal Cost
Between the size of the site and the scale of the planning project, the price of a PEA may vary. For many ecology surveys, ecological consultancies often claim that the cost will span anywhere between £700 and £4000. Although it is also true with our services that the price will be based on the specifications of your site and project, the cost of a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal with ecologysurveys.uk generally starts at £599.
Ecological Impact Assessment
A type of survey that incorporates multiple areas, an Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) is required any time a property or land development project could significantly affect the natural environment, particularly looking to the long-term future in large developments.
What is an Ecological Impact Assessment?
An Ecological Impact Assessment is used to target, quantify and evaluate important factors in a land or property development that could negatively alter the affected area across the site. The results may then lead the ecologist in charge of the survey to suggest that other necessary surveys are carried out.
For example, if there is a European protected species found during the site survey, ecology consultants may suggest badger surveys, bat surveys, bird surveys, great crested newt surveys, red squirrel surveys, reptile surveys, otter surveys, owl surveys or water vole surveys. Alternatively, if rare or invasive plant species are found, vegetation surveys will be needed, such as giant hogweed surveys, Himalayan balsam surveys and Japanese knotweed surveys.
Usually requested by construction companies and developers that are in charge of commercial or regeneration projects, Ecological Impact Assessments will be the next process after a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal if it is necessary to gain a further understanding of how the development could impact the site and the surrounding area. An ecology consultant can then use the EcIA report to explain how the plot of land would be affected and methods of limiting or removing the damages to progress the project.
What is a National Vegetation Classification for?
As with Ecological Impact Assessments, the results of a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal may trigger the need for a National Vegetation Classification (NVC). Likewise, NVC surveys are also similar to EcIAs in the sense that they are primarily utilised for large-scale development projects.
During an NVC, the focus will be on plant life, and the ecologist will use the assessment as a form of botanical survey to highlight and map out plant species on the site before grouping them into specific categories. In some cases, an NVC survey may be used in conjunction with other ecological assessments, providing baseline information for an EcIA.
Ecological Impact Assessment Cost
As an EcIA can include several variables to suit the circumstances of the site and project, the cost of an assessment can vary significantly. For instance, it will work hand in hand with a PEA survey, so the price of that assessment will need to be factored in, as well as the price of any other required further surveys such as a protected species survey or tree surveys. An Ecological Impact Assessment with ecologysurveys.uk starts at £799.
Habitat Regulations Assessment
Only applicable under certain circumstances, a Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) is required in any property or land development that involves a plot of land situated within a recognised European designated site, previously under the rules of the European Commission but now overseen by authorities in England and Wales.
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 European site protected by specific habitats regulations situated within what is known as an impact risk zone (IRZ). Formally governed by the European Union, Brexit meant that the jurisdiction moved across to relevant authorities in England and Wales.
An IRZ is determined based on the presence of protected species in the area. Examples of European protected sites that could be surrounded by an IRZ include Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). By carrying out an HRA, wildlife in the area can be assessed and the possibility of breaching relevant legislation can be avoided.
An HRA is primarily based on two stages. The first will assess if the project could significantly affect European protected species within the area. The second will identify and report on methods of making the project progress without disturbing protected species in the area if it is possible to do so.
Habitat Regulations Assessment Cost
Due to the specific nature of HRAs – and how they are only necessary during certain projects on a European-protected site within impact risk zones – the cost of this kind of survey is likely to vary. As such, it would be advisable to get in touch with ecologysurveys.uk so we can fully assess your circumstances and provide an accurate quote based on your site and 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 but the developer requires clarity to ensure that contractors adhere to legislation around protected species. It acts as an alternative to a PEA survey with a less comprehensive approach and a lower overall price.
What is an Ecological Walkover Survey?
An Ecological Walkover Survey is an appraisal of an area of land that is faster than many other types of ecology 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 explaining the likely ecological constraints due to inhabiting European protected species.
Not only is this type of 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, trained 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 during a field study.
It can also be used for other purposes, such as to gain credits for a sustainable homes ecology report. Whatever the reason for booking this type of assessment, when it comes to sites with minimal ecological constraints, the assessment can help to demonstrate that the appropriate steps have been taken to abide by planning laws, as well as UK wildlife law.
Ecological Walkover Survey Cost
As a cheaper alternative, this type of assessment typically costs less than other ecology surveys. However, the price based on your site will be dependent on your plot of land, the project, the intentions of the project team, and the specific circumstances. At ecologysurveys.uk, the cost of our Ecological Walkover Survey starts at £399.
Designed to adhere to best practice guidelines in new developments, a BREEAM Assessment ensures that new infrastructure is developed within the suggested structure of the globally recognised Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method.
What is a BREEAM Assessment?
A BREAAM Assessment involves the ecological surveyor quantifying the value of infrastructure compared between pre-development and post-development. Using an understanding of the impact the development has had on the land and details of the infrastructure present, the ecologist can develop ways to enhance the site’s value, protect existing ecological features, and determine potential impacts on biodiversity.
Over the course of BREEAM Assessments, the value of buildings is determined using several forms of criteria to formulate an overall score, and economic, environmental and social factors are also used as part of the metric to measure value. The result will then be recorded as Pass, Good, Very Good, Excellent or Outstanding, and if the score is high after all ecology recommendations have been followed, the building and site will be seen as sustainable, potentially enhancing the property and land value.
BREEAM Assessment Cost
Each BREEAM Assessment is bespoke to the building it is being carried out on – a factor that has an influence over the ecology survey cost. For an accurate quote based on the building you want assessed, it would be advisable to contact ecologysurveys.uk and one of our experienced project team will be able to assist you and provide an accurate price to undertake surveys.
Unfortunately, it is relatively common for an ecology survey to uncover issues that are capable of ruining or at least partially hindering your development plans. Although it is understandable to be concerned by this possibility, the ecological consultant undertaking the assessment will work to ensure that the project progresses despite these potential constraints and obstacles through effective mitigation.
What is Ecological Mitigation?
Ecological mitigation is a duty that the ecological surveyor carries out to prevent disturbing or endangering wildlife or valuable plants on a plot of land as the result of a property or land development. Any time a project is likely to impact wildlife habitats in the area or the overall state of biodiversity, mitigation measures will need to be developed by the ecologist before local authorities would even consider granting a planning condition.
The aims of ecology mitigation also work towards the goals of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) in retaining the same level of biodiversity post-development before building on that level by an increase of at least 10%. Through formulating appropriate mitigation and compensation measures, present animal species can avoid harm or unnecessary disturbance, development projects can go ahead as planned, and local planning authorities can receive everything they need to accept an application for planning permission.
When choosing the correct measures, ecological consultants will refer to a universal tool that acts to minimise impacts on biodiversity known as the mitigation hierarchy. Each of the stages in this hierarchy will be used to determine the most suitable course of action for each concern on the site that will enable the development to continue and guarantee the safety of wildlife and plant life present.
Below, we have 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 and valuable plants in the area. It may be possible to do this if, for example, site boundary 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.
The most common type of 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 certain times that may be sensitive to specific species.
- Putting up signs and fencing to protect sensitive areas.
Alternatively, if the land houses certain types of protected species such as badgers, barn owls, bats, dormice, great crested newts, newts, otters, reptiles, voles or white-clawed crayfish, for example, it may be possible to install nesting boxes or safely relocate them to another area inside or outside of the site.
Once it has been taken as fact that the development cannot be altered to prevent harm from coming to ecological features, restoration will be enacted as a method of returning a portion of the site back to its original state.
By enhancing the environmental quality elsewhere on the development site, the ecologist can make up for any biodiversity losses with improvements to different assets in a way that directly benefits the same plot of land.
A last resort on the mitigation hierarchy, ecological offsetting 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 binding environmental targets of ecological compensation are to enhance or restore existing natural habitats or develop new ones elsewhere to counterbalance the ecological impact of the development.
It also applies to natural assets such as trees, shrubs and valuable plants as part of Biodiversity Net Gain. As such, if any environmental components need to be relocated or destroyed, the ecologist will be required to make up the deficit elsewhere before increasing the state of biodiversity by a minimum net gain of 10%.
Steps Taken by the Government to Conserve Biodiversity
Due to the mandate that requires any new property or 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’, DEFRA outline 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, environmental management, 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 for protected 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 of the plan 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, 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, as well as 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
Ecology Surveys for Planning
A consideration for nature conservation and the environmental impact of planning developments will hold an essential part of the planning process for the years to come. An ecological survey with a trusted ecological consultancy will guarantee that all ecological issues are identified and dealt with accordingly, appeasing the local planning authority and allowing the developer to avoid costly delays and move projects through planning.
Whether your site has evidence of bats in cave-like spaces, complex tree structures that could act as roosting sites for breeding birds, patches of water that could house water voles or indications of what you believe to be Japanese knotweed, for example, our environmental consultancy has a proven record for top quality further survey work across the UK. In the case of most ecological surveys, we aren’t even limited by the survey season, with many ecology surveys just as easy to perform in winter months, summer months and everything in between.
Following any of the wide range of surveys we offer, our ecological consultants will gather information and recommendations from the ecological surveys to form a comprehensive ecology survey report. Within the report, our ecologists will include everything your local planning authority will want to see from the ecological surveys carried out, as well as the appropriate first step to take on any and all ecological concerns.
Whether it’s from PEAs, EcIAs, NVCs, HRAs, Ecological Walkover Surveys or BREEAM Assessments – or other ecology surveys or habitat surveys such as various protected species surveys, for example – the ecological consultant undertaking ecological surveys will produce a report that will support the developer’s planning applications. The ecology report is a vital component in the process, and providing it has been assembled by a trusted and reliable ecology consultancy, it will include all you need to achieve planning consent.
Book an Ecological Survey
If you want to request a free quote for an ecology survey, the process couldn’t be simpler. All you need to do is give us a call, fill in the quick quote form at the top of this page or visit our ‘Contact‘ page for more options. A qualified ecological consultant trained, licensed and registered in England 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, so it would be advisable to get in touch as early as possible to avoid costly delays. You can then arrange a site visit through our ecological consultancy at a suitable date and time, retrieve everything you need to gain planning consent, and push your project into the next stage.