Many of us will no doubt be thinking about diversification and development projects that we are planning to take forward this year and will be fully focussed on the planning, budgets, design and future revenue streams. However, even with all the current focus on the importance of our environment and Natural Capital, the importance of ecology and its capacity to really put a spanner in the works of even the best planned project, is often overlooked.
Getting on the front foot can help to minimise risks, costs and most importantly those timing frustrations that are often chuntered about in the pub, when the now infamous Great Crested Newt or Bat, stops progress in its tracks.
Whilst summer is traditionally the time when most ecological surveys are carried out, there is also much that can be done during the winter months to ensure that landowners are well-prepared for the busier spring and summer seasons, and most importantly ensure that risks can be successfully identified and addressed, and important survey windows are not missed. Many species require a suite of surveys over the year with others having very specific and sometimes tight survey seasons and missing a survey window can end up with timetables being set back, in extreme cases by up to a year.
So what should we be thinking about now? Firstly a baseline assessment, now referred to as a Preliminary Ecological Assessment (PEA), can be undertaken at any time and the winter often provides easier access and makes some key species and habitats easier to assess, for example Badgers who often manage to embed their setts in the thickest undergrowth, making summer access a challenge to say the least.
With your PEA in hand it is possible to understand exactly what might be required and to plan effectively for the coming survey season. In addition it will help to identify opportunities for management of habitats to minimise risks and improve the quality of habitats in the right places, where they can provide a vital part of any ecological management solutions.
Getting started early will also ensure that seasonally sensitive surveys can be undertaken in a timely way. For example if the site is important for birds, then winter surveys will be required and if the initial window is missed, significant delay may follow. Habitat assessment of ponds will also help to scope the need for surveys for Great Crested Newts and ensure that the spring survey window is planned for and not missed.
Preliminary assessments of structures for bats and hibernation surveys are also ideal for the winter months. Again these will help to give a very good understanding of the likely risks, and if bats are present, will ensure that the follow up surveys, that will be required for planning and any protected species licences, are effectively targeted.
Ecology has always been an integral part of the planning process, however, it is often the aspect of a projects that is most poorly understood. The publication of the Environment Bill 2019, has introduced the prospect of mandatory biodiversity net gain. In short, we are anticipating that once completed the project area will have to be 10% better for ecology than the recorded position before works started. This is a high bar, and one that will challenge many schemes.
Getting on the front foot and using the winter months to understand the risk and opportunities will ensure that your project is best placed to meet the ecological challenges and progress without frustrating and often avoidable delay.
To discuss your winter survey requirements please contact our Ecology Team on 01536 408840.