Whenever humans decide to change areas of land from a natural landscape to a man made one, there are implications for wildlife and plant species. In the past, biodiversity has been disregarded, with habitat of local animals destroyed. Ecological behaviour of developers and construction companies are now improving, as they mindfully calculate ecological footprint of their projects and consider best practice for environmental wellbeing.
According to the Oxford languages website, ecological is an adjective;
“Relating to or concerned with the relation of living organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings”
Ecology refers to both the natural surroundings that supports life and the life itself. When we define ecological diversity, we cite the variety and multiplicity of creatures within a particular space, whether on land, water or air.
Ecological footprint definition means the impact of humans on our environment. This is usually measured by the quantity of land and natural resources we require to sustain our consumption.
Ecological factors include abiotic (elements in the eco-system that are non-living) and biotic (living organisms in the ecosystem).
Direct factors such as light, temperature and soil, affect organisms directly. Indirect factors are things which affect organisms by changing elements within their environment. An example of an indirect factor could be changes in altitude and precipitation.
This would be the holistic and ecological view meaning that a sustainable way of building would take priority over profit and speed of production.
The British Ecological Society sums it up beautifully on their website:
“Ecology enriches our world and is crucial for human wellbeing and prosperity. It provides new knowledge of the interdependence between people and nature that is vital for food production, maintaining clean air and water and sustaining biodiversity in a changing climate”.
In January 2020, the environmental bill was reintroduced by the British government. The amended bill includes the binding requirements of ‘mandatory biodiversity net gain’.
This outlines that developers should deliver at least 10% improvement in biodiversity value. Local authorities were already encouraging developers to make sure they included improvements to biodiversity as a part of the governments National Planning Policy Framework.
In the government’s 25 year environment plan which encompasses “to leave the environment in a better state that we found it” which ultimately means leaving an ecological footprint that’s much lighter.
In keeping with Environment Impact Assessment, it is a legal requirement to have an environmental survey when embarking on any construction activities.
The dual purpose of examining ecological impact of development is so that whilst protecting the precious natural resource, developers can gain insight and plan for restrictions.
That includes examining residential building, commercial sites and extension works on existing buildings. Any element that could be seen to create problems for protected species will be flagged and in many instances, developers will have to adapt entirely to ensure no harm is caused.
Having a clear understanding of what needs to be done to ensure your build is following procedure, means you can efficiently and effectively plan ahead. You can minimise disruptions to your schedule and keep on track with budgets.
A management plan should consider the ecological footprint effects on biodiversity, whilst adhering to planning conditions.
In the preparation for construction work (and during), a qualified ecologist should be present to make and execute an ecological impact assessment.
An ECoW (Ecological Clerk of Works) is a person that comes to development sites to oversee ecological features that might be affected. Services to the developer would include a statement of intention regarding all work to be carried out within the required timescale and legality.
Amongst other things an ECoW would
Things like the supervision of top soil removal, clearance of vegetation and building demolition would also come under the ECoW remit.
A professional ecologist, such as the ones on our team here at Grounds Care Group have specific qualifications that give them authority to conduct an ecological survey and ecological watching brief.
An ecologist on site is constantly looking at what is happening to the surrounding environment and wildlife. When vegetation clearance begins prior to construction, an ecologist will survey what is living within the growth and look to capture and relocate them to a safe and suitable place.
An ecologist would also oversee the conditions of any replacement habitat and confirm they are adequate.
A ‘watching brief’ is simply a term used to describe an onsite ecologist who oversees all of the work and makes sure it complies with wildlife legislation and what has been set out in the original report by the ECoW.
This ecological clerk acting as ‘watching brief’ is there to handle all situations where wildlife and plants need aid. Of course, they are normally fully prepared after a thorough ecological survey.
They are also on hand to give immediate advice for any live incidents, whilst keeping records for audit.
Ecological building systems must work within the ‘UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP)’ framework, which highlights endangered and protected species.
A preliminary ecological survey must take place before planning permission is granted. In fact, planning permission cannot be processed without the initial ecological survey.
This initial survey is dubbed the ‘habitat survey’, and involves a quick walk around to establish what animals and eco-systems are in place within 2km of the site. Type of vegetation, alternate habitat and the age of the site would also be identified and recorded.
Any initial restrictions likely to impact on the development are flagged, and a mitigation scheme is then written. Ongoing consultation with local authority is also be a part of the process.
Once completed, an ecological impact assessment begins, taking into account all the results of the preliminary ecological appraisal. Further data is gathered, detailing the presence of protected species as well as the likelihood and significance that changes would have for them.
This final evaluation is then given as a report to all those involved in the project. Everyone should have in-depth information on the ecological impacts of the build, as well as how to adapt, mitigate, enhance or avoid damage.
Once a construction company or developer has the results of their ecological survey, they can set about planning their mitigation scheme. Again, this should be submitted before planning application.
A mitigation scheme means to mitigate or alleviate any negative impact on the biodiversity or species. For instance; if an area of wild flowers was noted to be a food source for a bee colony and was due to be dug out, a new area with appropriate flowers would need to be planted.
Other examples of mitigation might be using screens to reduce visual disturbance to local birds. Ecologists might recommend the installation of tunnelling networks for badgers or safe crossing for hedgehogs, to allow them to navigate areas that prevent free movement and give access to woodland.
Any element of nature containing life, from ponds and lakes, to bat roosts and log piles are considered. Rare plants are relocated and preserved, often along with much surrounding grasses, hedgerow and trees to ensure the plants survival.
A mitigation scheme should always be planned early, so as to benefit the developer and the environment. Careful and intentional mitigation is critical for meeting legal and ethical requirements.
To learn more about why ecological mitigating is so important check out our blog.
The animals that benefit from ecological surveys and watching briefing are as many as there are in our wild spaces. Badgers, bats, birds, dormouse, newts, reptiles, otters and water voles are all creatures we aim to care for.
The Grounds Care Group has over 10 years’ experience in ecological mitigation. Our aim is to minimise the disruption to both plant and wildlife species and we care deeply that the environment is protected at all times. We always comply with wildlife laws and planning conditions. Our experienced ecologists are widely respected for their expert advice and guidance to developers. Don’t hesitate to contact us for any environmental queries you have for your development. We have a comprehensive, clear and trustworthy system in place that will help ease the process of ecological survey and mitigation, making it as swift as possible.