What is required in an ecological survey and ecological assessment?

Ecological survey requirements

The surveying and assessment of impact upon ecology is a specialist task in its own right. Survey work should therefore be undertaken and prepared by competent persons with suitable qualifications and experience and must be carried out at an appropriate time and month of year, in suitable weather conditions and using nationally recognised survey guidelines/methods where available. Figure 1 outlines ecological survey seasons for the species identified in the biodiversity checklist.

Where surveys involve disturbance, for example capture or handling of great crested newts and bats, then only a licensed person can undertake such surveys under a licence issued by Natural England. Surveys should follow best practice guidelines, further details of which may be found using the links provided.

The survey may be informed by the results of a search for ecological data from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Environmental Records Centre. The survey must be to an appropriate level of scope and detail and must include:

  • A brief description establishing that the surveyor is qualified to undertake the survey and make
    an assessment of impact. This should include survey licence details where relevant.
  • A description of the methodology used for the survey.
  • An adequate description of the site (a phase 1 habitat survey) which should make recommendations for further survey work (including that for invasive species), which should then have been carried out.
  • An adequately detailed account of the results of the survey work, recording which species are present, or likely to be impacted by the proposal. Numbers (including where possible, population size) should be identified although this may be approximate.

The results should also include mapping of the distribution of species over a site and the use of the area, site, structure or feature (e.g. for feeding, shelter, breeding). Relevant features of the proposed development and working areas should also be indicated.

Ecological Survey Seasons

Points to note regarding surveys are as follows:

  • For certain species and habitats surveys can be carried out at any time of year, but for other species, particular times of year are required to give the most reliable results, as indicated in Figure 1.
  • Surveys conducted outside of optimal times (Figure 1) may be unreliable. For certain species (e.g. great crested newt) surveys over the winter period are unlikely to yield any useful information. Negative results gained outside the optimal period should not be interpreted as absence of a species and further survey work maybe required during the optimal survey season. This is especially important where existing surveys and records show the species has been found previously on site or in the surrounding area. An application may not be valid until survey information is gathered from an optimum time of year.
  • Species surveys are also very weather dependent so it may be necessary to delay a survey or to carry out more than one survey if the weather is not suitable, e.g. heavy rain is not good for surveying for otters, as it washes away their spraint (droppings). Likewise bat surveys carried out in wet or cold weather may not yield accurate results.
  • Absence of evidence of a species does not necessarily mean that the species is not there, nor that its habitat is not protected (e.g. a bat roost used in the summer is protected during the winter whether any bats are present or not).

Ecological Assessment

The assessment of ecological impact should be undertaken in relation to as detailed a layout for the proposal as is possible. If an experienced ecologist has been involved at an early stage and informed the design process the avoidance of impact will be more easily achieved. The assessment must identify and describe:

  • The significance of the ecological interest present.
  • Potential development impacts likely to harm the protected species and/or their habitats identified by the survey (these should include both direct and indirect effects both during construction and afterwards).
  • Conclusions and recommendations including if a development licence for the relevant species will be required from Natural England in order for the proposed development to proceed?

Where harm is likely, evidence must be submitted to show:

  • How alternatives designs or locations have been considered;
  • How adverse effects will be avoided wherever possible;
  • How unavoidable impacts will be mitigated or reduced;
  • How impacts that cannot be avoided or mitigated will be compensated.
  • The significance of residual impacts having considered all of the above.

Recommendations should be made in respect of, but not limited to, habitat retention, working practices, locations of structures and working areas.

Proposals are encouraged that will enhance, restore or add to features or habitats used by protected species. The assessment should clearly indicate how species numbers are likely to change, if at all, after development e.g. whether there will be a net loss, gain or no change.

Exceptions for when an Ecological Survey and Assessment is required

The checklist aims to identify when protected species, habitats and species of principal importance are reasonably likely to be present and as such focuses on the main protected species and habitats which have tended to be found on development sites in the Peterborough area. 

If it is clear that no protected species are present, despite the checklist indicating that they are likely, evidence should be provided with the planning application to demonstrate that protected species are not reasonably likely to be present.

The following are examples of how this might be demonstrated:

  • A letter or brief report from a suitably qualified and experienced ecologist including a phase 1 habitat/scoping survey. Relevant photographs, historical or biological records for example from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Environmental Records Centre or other local conservation groups may also be beneficial in this respect. This information should, however, (i) demonstrate that there will be no significant affect on any protected species present and (ii) that the applicant is aware that it is a criminal offence to disturb or harm protected species.
  • A copy of correspondence from the LPA at the pre application stage where the LPA has stated
    that no ecological survey work is required.

Ecological Assessment for sites, priority habitats or biodiversity features

Your supporting ecological information should identify and describe potential development impacts likely to harm designated sites, priority habitats, other listed biodiversity features (these should include both direct and indirect effects both during construction and afterwards). Where harm is likely, evidence must be submitted to show:

  • How alternative designs or locations have been considered;
  • How adverse effects will be avoided wherever possible;
  • How unavoidable impacts will be mitigated or reduced;
  • How impacts that cannot be avoided or mitigated will be compensated.

In addition, proposals are to be encouraged that will enhance, restore or add to designated sites priority habitats, or other biodiversity features. The Assessment should quantify the likely change in the area (hectares) of priority habitat on the site after development e.g. whether there will be a net loss or gain. An ecological survey and assessment may form part of a wider Environmental Impact Assessment.

Situations in which a survey and assessment is unlikely to be required

A survey and assessment will not be required where the applicant is able to provide:

  • For International and National Sites: copies of pre-application correspondence with Natural England, where this confirms in writing that Natural England are satisfied that the proposed development will not affect any statutory sites designated for their national or international importance.
  • Local Sites: copies of pre-application correspondence with the LPA’s ecologist, that they are satisfied that the proposed development will not affect any local sites designated for their local nature conservation importance or any other priority habitats or listed features.

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