CPD: Endangered species on site
• Which species can impact on construction programmes
• What the law says
• What’s covered in an ecological survey
While most would agree about the need to protect Britain's green and pleasant land along with its natural inhabitants, protected species can prove a planning and development nightmare. Neil Madden explains what construction managers need to know to avoid getting bitten.
The hazel dormouse is protected
The British Isles support a diverse and fascinating array of wildlife, many of which are protected at some level. The presence of protected species on a proposed development site can therefore have significant implications on development plans, project timings (due to restricted survey seasons and required survey effort) and costs.
Many protected species are relatively widespread and commonly encountered even on seemingly ecologically devoid, brownfield development sites. Identifying their presence early in the development stage is fundamental to ensuring that the potential constraints are identified and dealt with.
By the time contractors move on to site, the hard work of establishing its ecology should have long since been done – in theory. But it’s not always that straightforward. Ecology studies are generally limited to short windows of survey data and while every effort may have been made at site investigation stage to comprehensively describe the ecology of the site, no investigation could ensure the complete characterisation and prediction of the natural environment. Many protected species are highly mobile and may colonise a site at any time. Natural environments may change and the original survey results will therefore become less reliable as time progresses.
Yet the prospect of finding an endangered species and the subsequent delays, costs and the legal wrangles that can ensue means that it’s vital at contract signing stage that contractors have done their homework. Have the right surveys have been undertaken, what did they reveal and are copies available? Construction programmes often have to be scheduled so that they don’t disrupt habitats or mating seasons of particular wildlife.
A telltale sign that badgers are nearby
A common lizard can halt construction
Many species receive legal protection under various Acts of Parliament and regulations. The presence of a protected species is a material consideration under Paragraph 98 of Circular 6 2005 (Biodiversity and Geological Conservation – Statutory Obligations and Their Impact Within the Planning System) when a planning authority is considering a development proposal. As such, where a development is likely to impact upon a protected species, surveys must be provided to support a planning application. However, it is acknowledged that the delays and costs incurred in undertaking such surveys mean that they should only be requested where there is a reasonable likelihood of protected species being affected.
Carrying out surveys at the planning stage means that development proposals then have to be moulded around the presence of protected species/habitats rather than these being fitted in around a concrete development proposal.
The first step to understanding the ecology of a site and assessing the implications of a proposed development is to carry out an Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey. This survey includes an in-depth, desk-based study, a site survey and, the production of a detailed report and Phase 1 Habitat Map that informs on:
- The habitats present within the site boundaries;
- Which species are present, or potentially present, on the site;
- The potential impacts of the development on particular habitats or species;
- The legal and planning policy issues that may need to be addressed;
- Timings if further secondary, or Phase 2, surveys are needed as well as measures to avoid, reduce, mitigate or compensate for impacts if relevant to the site situation.
A new approach to biodiversity surveys is being encouraged by the imminent publication of a new British Standard (see box, page 45).
While a competent professional — ie trained in ecology and conservation principles and at least managed by a full professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) — should always be called in to address ecology matters, it is helpful for construction managers to have an overview of some of the most common protected species so that potential challenges can be identified as early as possible.
Table 1: Habitats and protected species
Most protected species are inconspicuous and detecting them requires a lot of effort. Also, each species has a specific habitat requirement and different lifecycle which means that surveys and translocation work can only be carried out in suitable weather (and again, suitable weather conditions are different for different species) and at a certain times of the year. For these reasons, ecological surveys should be undertaken as part of the initial site investigation works; the presence of protected species can result in a change in site layout or delay construction so the timing of surveys is essential.
Table 1 shows the habitats most used by protected species (but it does not mean they cannot be found at other places); while Table 2 is a calendar showing when it is appropriate to carry out initial Phase 1 surveys and further Phase 2 surveys and mitigation work for specific species.
Table 2: Survey and mitigation calendar
Some habitats and plants are also protected in the UK but here we are focusing on the main animal species only. Remember that if the survey season is missed (due to seasonal constraints or unsuitable weather conditions), you may have to wait until the following season for a site assessment. This can have costly implications on schemes so it is always better to plan ecological work ahead.
All species listed below have been granted protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981, as amended) and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 making the following an offence:
- intentional or reckless killing, injuring, or taking;
- damage to, destruction of and obstruction of access to, any structure or place used by a scheduled animal for shelter, breeding or protection;
- disturbance of an animal occupying such a structure or place.
Phase 2 presence/likely absence studies should be undertaken to determine any impacts to such species prior to development commencing. If presence is established, any proposed development should first look to avoid any potential impacts to the species. This can sometimes be achieved by changing layout designs or undertaking certain works at favourable times of the year.
For unavoidable impacts, a compensation package (such as habitat creation) and mitigation (such as the translocation of the species out of the development area) may be required.
There are currently seven amphibian species recognised as native to the UK. The more threatened species are the great crested newt, natterjack toad and pool frog. The latter two have a very restricted range. However, the great crested newt is widespread and particularly abundant in certain areas (such as Cheshire and Kent); thus this species regularly comes into conflict with development.
Amphibians require aquatic habitats to breed but spend the majority of the time on land. So even if you do not have a pond on your site, ponds in the local area may pose a constraint to development.
The Badger Act 1992 protects both individual badgers and their setts. Badgers are widespread and sociable animals, living in families in a sett. Although, badgers are protected by law the reasoning behind the legislation is to protect them from persecution and cruelty.
All bat species in the UK are protected and most are declining due to change in land use and loss of roosting/hibernating sites. They are migratory animals and can be found anywhere in the UK. There is a misconception with bats that they can cause personal injury (or get tangled up in hair) or damage to buildings such as chewing cables. In reality, British bats carry few diseases that can infect humans and do not chew cables or gnaw wood. Bats roost in a range of buildings, structures and trees using these features differently at different times of the year.
All breeding birds are protected from disturbance. Rarer birds also receive additional protection as they have different ecology, habitat needs and distribution and could turn up on almost any potential development site.
The UK’s otter population has drastically declined due to water pollution and persecution by inland fisheries. They are found all over the UK but predominately in Scotland, Wales and south west England. They can be found foraging on nearly any type of watercourse; however, they require safe lying up sites to rest in during the day. Natural resting sites include bankside tree roots (particularly mature ash and oak tree roots), or in dense undergrowth adjacent to healthy rivers.
The hazel dormouse is a flagship species due to its aesthetic “prettiness” and good nature. The hazel dormice population is declining due to loss of habitats and loss of connectivity between them as they will not often cross open ground. They hibernate on or just below the ground in hedgerows or trees and are found in southern counties and as far north as Northamptonshire and Herefordshire. They live in low density, are quite territorial and require a relatively species-diverse habitat.
Pine martens and red squirrels
Pine martens generally live in native woodlands but can also be found in conifer plantations and on rocky hillsides. Today, populations are expanding in number and range in Scotland and Ireland. In England and Wales the populations appear to have not recovered from their decline and pine martens are living at low densities with a restricted distribution.
Red squirrels also have a restricted distribution with higher densities in Scotland. Generally, the areas that these species occupy are protected so conflicts with development are not common.
The UK has three native snake species: adder (venomous), grass snake and smooth snake – and three native lizard species: sand lizard, slow worm and common lizard. Adders are recognisable by their red eyes and black zig-zag markings on their back. Reptiles are seen on sunny days basking in open areas and can be found anywhere in the UK.
Water voles are regularly mistaken for rats but they are a very different species. Their decline is mainly due to habitat loss and predation by the introduced American mink. Water voles are found mostly from Yorkshire to the south. They are found along slow moving water courses with a lot of vegetation for food. Water voles’ burrows are often found on water courses with an approximate 45° angle bank that can have an entrance underwater and on the bank side.
The white-clawed crayfish are the UK’s only native crayfish and have a very restricted range in England, Wales and Ireland in freshwater rivers and streams that are slow moving or relatively shallow.
Benefits of sharing biological data
To carry out desk studies, ecologists use the records held by the Local Record Centre (LRC) and the National Biodiversity Network (NBN). Sharing data back with them should be encouraged as:
- It increases the probability to find at an early stage which species are likely to be on a site and identify any constraints;
- If done correctly it provides the opportunity to identify negative results (i.e. in date surveys that have identified species absence) and may prevent the need for species specific surveys; and,
- It informs the conservation status of a species. By providing records of species a better reflection of distribution and abundance can be undertaken. This could lead to legislation protecting some species being relaxed.
Sharing data is a requirement for all members of CIEEM and unless agreed in advance, the information collected on site should be shared with LRC and NBN for the benefit of all.
A new standard for biodiversity management
A new Code of Practice, BS 42020, will provide a coherent methodology for biodiversity management during the planning and development stages of a project for new buildings and other changes of land use.
Biodiversity strategies are in place for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, with the general objective to halt overall loss of biodiversity by 2020 in line with the European Biodiversity Strategy for 2020. Along with a streamlined National Planning Policy Framework, which abolishes much of the guidance around biodiversity, BS 42020 will play a vital role in helping UK commitments.
The standard will provide:
- Guidance on how to produce clear and concise ecological information to accompany planning applications.
- Recommendations on professional ethics, conduct, competence and judgement to give confidence that proposals for biodiversity conservation, and consequent decisions/actions taken, are sound and appropriate.
- Direction on effective decision-making in biodiversity management.
- A framework to demonstrate how biodiversity has been managed during the development process to minimise impact.
Neil Madden is principal ecologist for Resource & Environmental Consultants www.recltd.co.uk