Ecological planning consultancy EPR has advised that, following the publication of the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which includes a proposed requirement for projects to deliver environmental ‘net gains’, developers should move quickly to ensure that ecological surveys are carried out in a timely manner.
The early summer months are priority survey times for habitats such as acid grassland, and species such as breeding birds and Dormice, with key survey windows also opening for reptiles, Otters and a range of terrestrial invertebrates. The opening and closing of key survey windows are advised to clients by EPR’s START (Survey Targets And Reminder Timetable) service, which notifies developers of the relevant seasons for completing a variety of project-critical ecological surveys.
With ecological surveying a highly time-sensitive undertaking, the failure to complete specific surveys at the ‘right’ time for a particular species may result in a year’s delay before the survey can be carried out to the standard sought by a local authority in order to accord with industry standard guidance.
In addition, projects may struggle to meet the soon-to-be strengthened NPPF requirement for developments to provide evidence of ‘net gains’ to the environment. With increased scrutiny on these deliverables, mismanaging ecological requirements could lead to significant financial and reputational consequences for developers and housebuilders.
Conversely, well-planned and executed ecological surveying not only contributes to the smooth progression of projects, but also ensures that any ecological issues are addressed to the very highest standard, providing benefits both to biodiversity and – in the case of housing projects – to the future residents of the planned development.
To satisfy government requirements and avoid damaging project delays – and with the early summer months a peak time for ecological surveying – developers should now look to take advantage of the survey windows currently open. With the breeding birds survey season now well-progressed, those with developments in proximity to primary habitats including woodland, farmland, coastal areas and hedgerows would be well-advised to act quickly and seek advice from an experienced ecologist as to whether surveys are needed.
Meanwhile, Dormice – which also favour hedgerow habitats – typically require surveying from around April, with robust surveys often taking several months to complete to standards expected by local authority biodiversity officers. The end of the core Great Crested Newt survey season (mid-June) is also approaching.
Further to these priorities, now is a good time to be booking, or indeed carrying out, surveys for reptiles, bats, Water Voles, Otters, terrestrial invertebrates, and a range of botanical features including woodlands, grasslands and wetlands.
Ben Kite, Managing Director, EPR, said: “Booking and completing ecological surveys at the relevant times can allow developers to avoid disruption to timescales, more easily obtain planning permission, and ultimately ensure that every project offers an appropriate response to the environment in which it sits.”
“Meanwhile, with planning policy requirements for biodiversity ‘net gains’ just around the corner, taking the initiative early will enable developers to create a pipeline of new projects that are already set up to demonstrate these net gains.”
“Sustainable development has the power to not only improve biodiversity, but also – with healthy natural environments a significant contributor to human mental and physical health – to improve residents’ quality of life, while also elevating the value of the development itself.”
“It is for these reasons that we have decided to extend START, our quarterly email service – previously available only to direct clients – to offer all developers quick and convenient access to timely ecological survey advice, for the benefit of developers, residents, and wildlife.”