An ecological survey is a process that assesses a proposed development site to determine any potential environmental impacts that may arise from the development.
Some of the new development ideas include new commercial sites, personal resident buildings, and plans to add to preexisting site development, among others.
The numerous potential land development ideas involve planning permissions, cost estimates, planning permissions, structural warranty, and insurance. One of the ways to get such information is through an ecological survey.
The survey assesses the site to identify the ecology issues, considerations, or problems that require urgent attention.
An ecological survey focuses on immediate environmental impacts of the site development on existing habitats. The information helps developers determine the requisite next steps necessary to facilitate site development.
Part of this process is considering environmental legislation. Working within the confines of the law facilitates smooth site planning and development. Conducting an ecological survey requires planning. The planning allows for anticipation and minimization of potential setbacks that could potentially impact the schedule, timeline, and budgeting.
How Important Is an Ecological Survey?
Conducting an ecological survey is necessary as it informs the applicants or developers of the ecology constraints. This information is helpful because it allows for adjusting the development plans to minimize potential impacts on the biodiversity within the environs of the development site.
Carrying out an ecological survey plan helps with the identification of Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species and this, in turn, means minimal disturbance to the habitat of these species. The survey allows for the development of the best mitigation designs customized to the development site.
What Are Different Stages of Ecological Survey?
Ecological surveys of sites should comprehensively cover every aspect that relates to ecology. The surveys not only require careful planning but implementation as well to achieve this level of thoroughness. An effective way of smartly getting the best out of this survey is through attention, focus, and timely implementation in stages. The stages of the ecology survey are:
Phase 1 – Preliminary Ecological Appraisal
This stage is also referred to as Habitat Survey. It entails a rapid survey involving an initial desktop survey and a subsequent walkover survey. This phase deals with the identification of ecological constraints at the site and the discovery of potential opportunities for the introduction of new habitats.
The stage provides an appraisal that factors that go into the planning and necessary future surveys. Furthermore, the survey leads to habitat specific discoveries such as species at the site.
Phase one focuses on priority habitat and species. In other words, the phase design focuses on the UK post-2010 Biodiversity Framework that replaced the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. This framework emphasizes the identification and protection of threatened species through urgent action.
As such, the framework works on protecting and restoration of the existing biological systems. The emphasis of the framework is prioritizing species and habitats listed as threatened.
Factoring into the broad BNG plans, this framework works to implement the 10% biodiversity net gain by minimizing damaging environmental impacts such as through development work.
The government is increasingly implementing its mandate on maintaining and increasing biodiversity. As such, the emphasis is on maintaining the minimum 10% biodiversity net gain for any new developments.
The focus on the minimum 10% Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is in the recently enacted Environmental bill that explains the binding environmental targets put in place.
The question that arises is what happens if the initial appraisal does not raise any substantial issues or concerns. If this is the case, then there is no need for further survey work. What this means is submitting the report facilitates the commencement of the planning phase. However, discovering substantial concerns during the survey, for instance, the discovery of a protected habitat or species, means that the next action should be deliberating on addressing the concerns before any further plans.
This step plays a vital role because conducting ecological surveys before the commencement of any planning means that the planning permission process will be smooth. Finding the concerns necessitates that the developers and ecologists agree on mitigation strategies for the affected habitats or species. This consultative process should involve the local planning authority.
The objective of the initial survey is the identification of threatened habitats or species at the potential development site. The assessment of the presence or absence of species is through site mapping that seeks to identify any threatened species/ habitat records within a 2km radius.
This assessment allows for project developers and the local planning authority to determine the need and scope of subsequent Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA). The initial survey also helps determine if there is a need for further work based on the presence or absence of the ecological issues of concern.
Doing this also allows for the facilitation of necessary planning permissions or processing the required validation.
The scope of phase one survey entails the consideration of several factors. Some of these include the vegetation structure, species composition, habitat types, management, and permeance/ age of the site.
The survey, therefore, assesses the suitability of the habitats and how their presence or absence will affect the biodiversity at a potential development site. With ecological surveys, assessment of species is on a case-by-case basis meaning environmental impact is defined differently for every project.
This approach also explains the need for an earlier ecology survey before the implementation of subsequent site development planning. The next phase, phase two, is the Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA).
Phase 2 – Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA)
The Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) is a document that details how activities that are carried out on an environment could potentially affect its ecology.
The phase starts after phase one is complete and concluded that there is a need for further assessment involving detailed surveys that are habitat or species-specific.
This phase involves several steps. One is to scope and gather data, followed by Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA). After that, the next step is surveying the protected species. There is then a subsequent assessment of the site habitats and nature conservation value based on the species present.
Upon completion of all this, the next step is the assessment of impacts. The impact assessment step involves collecting data about the species and habitat losses. The assessment also quantifies the possible losses and the significance of this loss.
This then sets the stage for the determination of the mitigation approaches and the residual impacts. Finally, all the information is put into a report then presented to the stakeholders.
This information then helps them make informed decisions using relevant information that captures the ecological impacts of the proposed development.
The purpose of EcIA is to confirm that there are protected species or habitats and quantifying the potential impact. It forms a basis for the determination of the necessary enhancement, compensation, and mitigation strategies.
Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) reports are for developers such as construction companies who wish to undertake either regeneration projects or residential construction. Like Ecological Surveys vary, so do the Ecological Impact surveys.
They vary depending on the development idea or project. Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) provides information that is necessary to validate the development idea and quantify the implications for financial investment and ecology aspects regarding Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG).