Ecology report for a planning application

Whether you have identified the need for ecology support prior to submission or its requirement has been conditioned or recommended by a local authority, Oakley Ecology can provide exactly what you need.

It’s important that ecology is at least considered as part of any planning application, for example you may be converting a loft space, intending to extend a property or proposing to develop land for dwellings or other buildings. Ecology information is required because development of any kind may lead to adverse impacts to animals or plants. Planning policy, local and national, requires planning authorities to consider ecology and ultimately they will not be satisfied until information detailing preexisting conditions is submitted.

Typically, for small householder applications only, a simple paragraph indicating ‘no adverse impacts to ecology’ will be sufficient, however, in certain circumstances the local planning authority may require further information to support this statement, from a suitably qualified professional. This may be the case, for example, if a roof space is altered in any way, as this could lead to adverse impacts on nesting birds or roosting bats. 

The technical team at Oakley Ecology are all individual members of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), with recognised professional competence. We will provide all the background ecology information to support your planning application, provide advice and support through the application process and communicate any cost and time constraints at an early stage to ensure you are aware and informed of any requirements.

Call 01604 669120 or email enquiries@oakleyecology.co.uk to discuss your requirements.

Great crested newt surveys

It’s February now and next month, as long as frost doesn’t persist, great crested newts will start coming out of hibernation and start moving to ponds and ditches to feed and breed. Time to plan great crested newt surveys…

This year Oakley Ecology want our clients to be as prepared as possible for the survey season, to avoid missing it. We frequently get asked to fulfill newt survey requirements outside of the survey season, whilst we can often find a solution, planning development projects with a clear view of seasonal constraints ultimately reduces risk.

GCN surveys can be completed from March to July, eDNA surveys, which involves sampling water for the DNA of GCN, can be completed between mid-April and the end of June. eDNA surveys are great to identify if population surveys are needed, saving you money.

Population surveys are completed between March and July, with at least half of the surveys being completed before mid-May. Four surveys are typically required to determine presence or absence of GCN with a further two surveys required to determine population estimates. This information is critical if your development is impacting ponds or land that could be used by GCN and will form part of your planning application through licencing requirements.

Our baseline surveys (preliminary ecological appraisal) will assess the suitability of any water bodies on your land and give you an indication of the requirement for further newt surveys.

Contact us to book in your survey 01604 669120 enquiries@oakleyecology.co.uk

I need a badger survey

We frequently get asked about badger surveys, generally due to badgers being present on development land or on private landowners properties. Occasionally however clients will ask us to conduct a check for badger activity prior to development, to ensure they aren’t about to cause an offence. We thought we would share a few tips about what to do if badgers have taken up residence and what issues can arise through development.

If you require ecological reporting for planning submission our preliminary ecological appraisals will include a survey for the presence and use of badgers on your land. As part of this reporting we will provide appropriate mitigation to avoid harm to badgers either as ongoing land management or through the development of land.

However, where there may be more direct impacts on badger setts, we also carry out badger monitoring surveys, these help us to determine whether a potential sett entrance is in use or not and, if required, we can also offer larger scale bait marking studies to determine the use and status of particular setts within landscapes.

Oakley Ecology has vast experience in the management, conservation and protection of badgers including development of method statements and licences for disturbance work.

The services we can offer in relation to badgers include:

  • Habitat suitability survey (normally as part of a baseline ecology survey)
  • Bait marking surveys and activity levels at badger setts
  • Mitigation and habitat management advice
  • Artificial sett design and creation
  • Method statement production
  • Mitigation licence applications

Dormouse survey

Any development where there is a reasonable likelihood of dormice being present and affected, either directly or indirectly through development activities, will require a survey by a suitably experienced and licensed ecologist. Dormice are found in a variety of habitats including deciduous woodlands, hedgerows, scrub and sometimes within plantation conifers or rural gardens, often providing connectivity is available within the surrounding landscape.

If dormice are likely to be present, identified through baseline ecology surveys, planning authorities will require a report that includes the following information, in order to assess the impact potential:

  • details of habitats where dormice might be present;
  • survey method undertaken to investigate potential presence of dormice;
  • evidence of dormice presence, usually by nest tube survey and/or nut search; or confidence in assumed absence;
  • the predicted impact that the proposal is likely to have on dormice and what can be done by way of mitigation to maintain the favorable conservation status of dormice;
  • consideration of whether the impact is necessary and acceptable, including consideration of avoidance measures and alternatives; and
  • a recommendation on whether a European Protected Species (EPS) licence will be required.

Dormouse surveys, for suitability, can be completed at any time of the year however to assess presence or absence activity surveys are conducted between April and November.

If you have any questions please get in touch for free advice and support enquiries@oakleyecology.co.uk

Ecology – development advice

Grass in focus in foreground, grassland out of focus in background

At Oakley Ecology we deal with a vast array of ecology queries from land and property developers. The purpose of this post is to highlight some frequently asked questions and provide some quick responses that we feel will give you the best advice available.

  • The local authority have asked me to provide an ecology report. What is this and when can it be completed?

Ecology reporting can take many forms and it is likely that the Local Planning Authority (LPA) have asked that you provide a baseline ecology report that supports your application, that gives confidence that impacts to nature conservation have been considered and that appropriate actions have been put in place to reduce impacts. They may have also requested you show that the development seeks to provide a net increase in baseline ecological conditions.

Baseline ecology surveys and reports can be completed at any time of the year and will be either a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA), Extended phase 1 habitat survey or ecological impact assessment (EcIA). The format of the report will be governed by the size of the development and locality to sensitive habitat features.

  • How much do baseline surveys cost?

Baseline surveys such as those mentioned above are costed according to the time taken to complete a site survey, desk study and written technical report. On average a site survey will take anywhere from 2-5hrs depending on distance and size of the site and written aspects anywhere from 10 to 40 hours depending on the level of impact anticipated by the development. At Oakley Ecology we offer a standard hourly rate of £35.00 for all our consultants which makes us one of the most competitive ecology consultants in the South East. For small developments costs are generally between £400-650 and larger developments £700-1500. We can also agree fixed fees for clients wanting to work to specific budgets and these are best discussed through enquiries@oakleyecology.co.uk

  • How long will ecology surveys and reporting take?

Once all fees are agreed, to avoid any hidden costs, we usually arrange to visit your site within a week of communication. Once the site survey has been completed we aim to deliver reports within 10 working days however smaller reports often take as little as 5 working days.

  • What are the hidden costs?

One thing to remember when needing ecology support for your development is the potential for further survey work. If through baseline ecology reporting sensitive habitats for protected or notable species are discovered further support will be required in order to satisfy LPA concerns. Further work could be for instance surveys for bats, amphibians, birds, reptiles or even hedgehogs. What we aim to offer at Oakley Ecology is clear fees and understanding to our clients so you are not surprised by the requirement for more work. If you like one of our ecologists will walk you through site surveys and show you exactly what is required and when. If you have any concerns please get in touch, we aim to give free help and support to guide your decision making, and if that results in the protection of ecology and the loss of work for us, we are more than happy.

 

Surveying for otters Lutra lutra

It’s been a busy few weeks at Oakley Ecology, with the end of seasonal surveys and a move from field work, to focused client engagement and delivery of written assessments.

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This week we want to share with you a typical otter survey. Our otter survey methods follow standard survey methods, developed and published by Paul Chanin, a mammal ecologist who developed the survey methods for the first widespread otter surveys in the UK. His collaborated methods are widely used today by UK ecologists as standardised techniques for searching for and ultimately determining the use of water bodies by otters.

The main objectives to any otter survey are to identify whether otters use a waterbody and, if so, to what extent; whether use be occasional, for commuting or foraging purposes or for more frequent use with resting places present. In order to do this we need to look for evidence and this comes from searching for clues that help to build up an assessment and enables a true reflection on the suitability and functionality of the habitats present. This information can then either be used in population research and assessment or for developing landscape opportunities to encourage the spread of otters, for example, by identifying negative influences to dispersal, such as barriers to movement.

Firstly, through discussion with our clients and information obtained about the nature of the development, we identify the need for an otter survey. This may be because the development directly impacts a waterbody, such as a river, stream, lake or wetland or even because the development is likely to have an indirect impact on otter through increased noise, lighting or vibration during and after construction.

The second stage of the assessment is to determine the use of a waterbody by otters and this follows the standard methods as mentioned above. Surveys are typically completed between May and September, however survey seasons can be extended if weather conditions allow, for example, if there are no heavy periods of rain through October which would remove signs of use, survey could be completed. Surveys are avoided during and directly after any rainfall event as these will remove fields signs.

Maps are produced for the waterbodies affected by the development and will include wider search areas to ensure sufficient information is gathered giving a true interpretation of the results captured. Waterbodies are walked by our experienced ecologists and the following information is recorded:

  • Locations of otter spraints (faeces) – often located on prominent features within the waterbody or on the banks, features like weirs, bridges, rocks, berms or tree roots
  • Location of slides and tracks – slides are formed when otters frequently slip into the water, using the same route. Tracks can be found on in-channel features like berms, sand banks, tree roots as well as on bareground within 10m of the waterbody.
  • Location of otter tarring – where otters mark territory with faeces higher up the bank where prominent features aren’t present.; features include grass, loose earth and rocks.
  • Otter evidence can include urine staining and anal secretions (can be known as otter jelly)
  • Location of any day resting places – worn areas of grass or other vegetation on or close to the bank
  • Location of otter holts or other large entrances along the waterbody.

All information is mapped and a picture forms on the otter use of the waterbody. This information can then be used to determine to what extent the development will impact, if it does at all, on the local otter population.

If you are thinking of developing land close to a waterbody and want to ensure the impacts on otters are assessed appropriately, get in touch with Oakley Ecology, we will pull together a free check of local information for you.

Ecology in Autumn

We’re at that point of the year when summer has gone and nature is getting ready for the colder months ahead. The weather, in theory, should be fairly consistent throughout September and October with temperatures gradually dropping, especially at night. At Oakley Ecology we are finishing off our dormouse, reptile and bat surveys and planning for the demand of baseline site surveys for those developers that understand the seasonal constraints of ecology surveys.

What’s happening to wildlife in the UK during autumn and winter?

Species start to slow down for the most part, with species hibernating or utilising a state of reduced activity to sustain life. Species like small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, bats and many invertebrates have begun foraging and increasing body fat for survival during long cold spells.

What can you do this time of year if you’re looking to develop your land?

There are ecology surveys that can still be completed through autumn and winter, aside from baseline surveys, badger activity, wintering bird, tree and hedgerow surveys can all be completed as well as investigations for species through habitat suitability. This is the optimum period of the year to book in a site survey, with time on your side to plan for next year. Get in touch to find out more, we’ll even help with an ecology screening of your land, free of charge, to help you plan your development.

Do I need a reptile survey?

It can be confusing and at times frustrating to be a developer, especially when it comes to ecology. Missing survey windows for species is a good example of these frustrations, but take it from us, you are not alone. Luckily Oakley Ecology are here to help and we can guide you through any survey requirements, there is always work that can be done to move your projects forward despite missing a survey window.

slow worm

Surveys for reptiles are an example, frequently missed by landowners. Typically these surveys are completed between March and October, which is, by ecology survey standards, a long survey window however is dependent on weather conditions that can provide limitations.

The reason for missing reptile or other wildlife surveys, within a calendar year, often comes down to a number of factors. The lack of understanding of the requirements of surveys, poor communication between ecologists and developers or commonly surveys are missed due to the time of year initial baseline surveys are conducted. Any baseline surveys conducted after August have a greater potential of missing the reptile survey window.

So what can be done to ensure you don’t miss a survey window?

Your first port of call should be to get in touch with Oakley Ecology at the start of your project or when first understanding that ecology support will be required. We will be able to talk you through the process of providing you with ecology support and explain what may or may not be required in order to satisfy your planning or habitat improvement needs. You can also familiarise yourself with our survey calendar to see when the key survey windows are.

Our baseline surveys, whether it be a walkover survey, Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) or an Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) will provide you with the information you require to determine the need for additional surveys. It is best to get these survey done between October and March in order for us to plan additional survey work, when the next survey windows for species open. We can however complete baseline surveys throughout the year but whenever you choose to get in touch we will always provide free advice to help you plan your project schedules.

The importance of understanding Buddleia

One of the best plants for butterflies, moths and bees at this time of year has got to be Buddleia. There is, however, a dark side to this plant and it is very important that homeowners and landowners alike understand how to use it successfully without leading to negative impacts to our British countryside.

Buddleia species provide fantastic nectar resources between June and October throughout Britain but, as the name suggests, these plants weren’t always present within our countryside and were, like a lot of flowering plants, bought over to the UK from Asia in the late 19th Century.

Their importance as a nectar source stems from the amount of nectaries present in each flowering plant. The availability of sugars as nectar encourages a great variety of invertebrates to feed on these bushes, at a time when our native resources may not be as available or might well be over competed. A study funded by the UK Insect Pollinators Initiative called the Agriland Project (a partnership in pollinator research with Bristol, Leeds and Reading universities, DEFRA and CEH) discovered that along with other introduced species, buddleia plants have one of the highest densities of nectar available.

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So whats the problem with Buddleia? Although these plants are great for wildlife in our gardens, once seed dispersal moves them into native habitats like grasslands, woodlands and areas of scrub these species soon over shade and out-compete our native vegetation, changing the habitat dynamics and potentially leading to eradication of some sensitive species.

So what can we do to stop the spread into the wild? The best method to reduce the risk of Buddleia escaping your land is to remove the flowering heads once flowers start to die back, this will remove the seeds before they are naturally dispersed. Further pruning in October will encourage Buddleia to regrow with greater density in the spring, this is recommended as long as the seed heads can be managed easily.

 

Great crested newts – what to do when you miss the survey season

We get approached every year from customers looking for information about great crested newt surveys (GCN), especially after the main survey season has ended.

Great crested newts are fully protected under UK and European law. It is an offence to kill, capture or disturb them, or to damage or destroy their resting places. This protection extends to the habitats that support them, including areas within 500m of a ‘suitable’ pond.

Surveys for great crested newts are formed of two stages. The first stage, it is important to note, can be completed at any time of the year and includes an initial assessment of the habitat features present, such as a pond and the connection to the surrounding landscape, this is called a habitat suitability index or HSI assessment. Ponds present on a site are identified as having, or not, the potential to support newts. Those ponds that are deemed suitable are then surveyed at stage 2. This second stage includes various methods of survey, conducted in or around the pond to identify if newts are present.  Stage 2 surveys can only be conducted between mid-March and mid-June, in order to follow best practice guidance.

Depending on the type of work being undertaken, suitability of habitats and presence of GCN, mitigation and protected species licence work may be required, this will ultimately be determined by the findings of stage 2 surveys.

There are important survey timescales for newt work and these present significant project constraints, however there are always opportunities to survey land for the suitability of GCN outside of the stage 2 survey window. We can provide year round GCN habitat survey opportunities so get in touch for further information and support.

Early planning will lead to the most successful projects however its never too late to start your ecology work.