Don’t beat around the bush: why developer’s need to plan for ecology

John Newton, managing director, The Environment Consultancy

Ecology is the relationship of living things to each other and to the environment in which they live. If carefully understood and properly assessed, ecological issues can greatly enhance the value of a development.

On the other hand, it not managed well, ecological issues can cause developers significant problems.
In addition, if harm is caused to particular species, developers can incur substantial fines. Thus, it is critical to follow the legislation that protects wildlife. Luckily, with the correct advice this need not be as onerous as it sounds.  

Developments can impact on ecology in a number of ways. As well as the obvious direct loss of species and habitats from ground works, ecological features can be damaged by disturbance from noise, light, and air pollution. 

"Avoiding the problem will not make it go away. Local authorities must have evidence that the proposed development will not be detrimental to protected species and the only way to prove that is through a survey."

Another danger is the spread of so-called invasive species, such as Japanese knotweed, which can spread rapidly and damage infrastructure. 
So what do we need to do?

Wildlife surveys are an established part of the pre-planning submission stage and take various forms. Normally a site is first assessed by undertaking a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) which incorporates a desk study, a Phase 1 Habitat Survey and a protected species assessment, these are not costly. Together these results indicate the site’s likely value for both species and habitats, and gives an idea of whether there are likely to be any issues that will affect the development. 

Further surveys may be required if a PEA suggests that protected species are present on site. These may be species that are protected nationally or across Europe. Included in the latter category of European Protected Species are all 18 bat species in the UK, as well as the great crested newt, otter and dormouse. 

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Proposals for large developments require the assessment of ecological impacts to be included in planning applications, and to provide mitigation for any significant ecological impacts. As a result, surveys for European Protected Species and protected habitats are becoming part and parcel of applications for most large developments. 


The timing of ecology surveys is an aspect of the development process that is often overlooked. Whilst badger surveys can be undertaken throughout the year, if bats or dormouse are presumed to be present on your development site, survey timings require much more consideration. Surveys for some forms of bat activity can only be undertaken from May to August; surveys for dormice can only be undertaken from April to November. Find our survey calendar here.

Avoidance isn’t the solution

Avoiding the problem will not make it go away. Developers have previously tried to avoid ecological issues by proposing mitigation in the absence of surveys; however, this is poor practice and is not accepted by the statutory agencies. Local authorities must have evidence that the proposed development will not be detrimental to protected species and the only way to prove that is through a survey.

In the case of a number of species poor planning of surveys can mean a wait of six months or more until the survey season comes round again. Thus it is important to plan surveys early in the project. That way, any ecological issues can be dealt with with minimal disruption and cost.

John Newton is managing director of The Ecology Consultancy, a sister company to the Temple Group

Case studies

The following are examples of major infrastructure projects that have benefited from the early planning of ecological surveys.

Beyond Green, Norfolk;

A large mixed-use residential development north of Norwich, to include two new schools, public open space and over 80 hectares of arable reversion to create a large country park, was proposed by Beyond Green. The Ecology Consultancy was engaged to work with them on the project. Surveys covered habitats, protected species, bryophytes and invertebrates. We carried out a strategic ecological assessment and technical reporting, along with the preparation of the ecology chapter for the environmental statement. Green infrastructure was designed to maximise both nature conservation and recreational value.

Outline planning permission was granted in September 2013 and, unusually for a development of this size, there were no objections on ecological grounds.

M25 widening programme;

The Ecology Consultancy, working alongside the contractor Skanska Balfour Beatty JV, has been protecting wildlife during a scheme to widen the M25 over a number of years. The Ecology Consultancy contributed the ecology and biodiversity chapter of an award-winning Assessment for Section 4a, a 5.3 mile stretch between Junctions 27 and 28.