How many small developers actually think about their wildlife impact?
Many householders and smaller developers may be unaware that local planning authorities (LPAs) have a statutory requirement to consider the ecological impact of development proposals, and to promote biodiversity improvements. Failure to consider the ecological impact can result in delays and additional knock-on costs for projects, such as when unforeseen ecological surveys have to be carried out during particular seasons or becoming caught up in costly court proceedings due to a failure to address legal protections on wildlife.
At a recent event a senior planning officer at the London Borough of Newham estimated they received around 4,000 planning applications last year. Of those, only five were large developments that would be expected to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and an associated Ecology Impact Assessment (EcIA). The vast majority, 3995 applications, would need to be individually reviewed by the authority to ensure they had conducted the necessary ecological checks.
New developments can put pressure on wildlife in a number of ways, through damage and loss of key habitats and networks. This in turn can threaten vulnerable ‘protected’ and ‘priority’ species. ‘Protected’ species are legally protected, as outlined by Natural England, and include: mammals, such as bats, hazel dormice, water voles; birds such as the hen harrier and Dartford warbler; amphibians, such as natterjack toads; molluscs and invertebrates, like the Roman snail and the New Forest burnett moth; as well as many plants like the corn marigold.
There are also 1,150 ‘priority’ species in the UK which are threatened and require conservation. Since 1970’s, many UK wildlife species have been in decline, with one in ten UK species threatened with extinction as a result of land use changes from intensive farming and urbanisation (State of Nature report, 2016).
Sensitive development and landscape design is therefore vital to help these threatened species. This should be informed by ecological surveys to ensure the designs address potential threats to species and habitats. Considering local ecology early in the process can help clarify key wildlife considerations for a site and start the process of thinking how to enhance biodiversity as an integral part of a project’s design. It can also help avoid unplanned for delays, unexpected costs, and prevent the need to reassess potential ecological impacts during a planning application.
The Wildlife Assessment Check
This lack of awareness and potential threat from development is why the Partnership for Biodiversity in Planning, an alliance of 19 conservation, planning and development organisations funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, has created the ‘Wildlife Assessment Check’ tool. The Wildlife Assessment Check is a free online tool that identifies whether there may be any protected or priority wildlife species, as well as statutory designated sites such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) within or near to the location where proposed works are to take place.
The Wildlife Assessment Check aims to raise awareness about legal responsibilities, to provide basic guidance on biodiversity enhancement, links to key contacts and resources and help cut delays in the application process by encouraging an early ecological assessment of a site.
The Wildlife Assessment Check also supports local planning authorities in the process of validating planning applications, helping them to meet their biodiversity duty, by encouraging applicants to consider wildlife in advance of making a planning application.
“The feedback from our technicians validating applications is that it is very useful as a tool” local planning officer feedback
How does it work?
It’s a free tool that’s easy to use and allows applicants to check if
they need expert ecological advice before submitting a planning
application. They simply answer a few questions about the site, the
location, local habitats and type of works involved.
The first page of the Wildlife Assessment Check invites users to identify where their project is located
Once completed, which takes around five minutes, the tool indicates whether the project is likely to require professional ecological advice. It outlines a list of protected and priority wildlife species that may need to be considered, and whether the proposed site is on or near any statutory designated sites
Each species or group listed contains a link with detailed species guidance notes, including information about UK legislation, mitigation, proposals for habitat enhancement, and details of survey methods and timing.
The results also point to the relevant planning authority and local environmental record centre the applicants should consult to obtain local wildlife data, as the tool is only based on national species distribution maps. The tool provides the results in a report format that can be saved and downloaded so it can be given to a consultant ecologist to help indicate whether they need to undertake a Preliminary Ecological Assessment and it can also be submitted as a part of a planning application.
The tool is available at www.biodiversityinplanning.org. The website also contains additional information and resources to encourage developers to take greater account of biodiversity in their projects.
The Partnership for Biodiversity in Planning has produced a Biodiversity in Planning Practice Advice Note for planners and we would encourage LPAs to use this guidance and add a link to the Wildlife Assessment Check on their planning portals, so that developers can use these important tools.
The funding for our project has now ended and we do not have a Project Officer in post to respond to general enquiries or deliver presentations. However, we will keep the website and Wildlife Assessment Check up to date for the next three years. For any issues relating to the website and Wildlife Assessment Check please contact Jan Collins, Head of Biodiversity at the Bat Conservation Trust on email@example.com.