As the Environment Bill progresses through its early stages in Parliament, Defra has published its economic impact assessment of the biodiversity net gain as set out in Part 6 of the bill.

The Bill sets out the government’s approach to securing net gains for biodiversity through the planning system and having considered a number of options and consulted widely on the issue, Defra has decided to opt for a mandatory tariff system using a biodiversity metric. Put simply, the government is mandating that all development (with a few exceptions) will be required, through the new bill, to secure 10% gains in biodiversity. The loss or gain must be calculated using the Defra Biodiversity Metric which is currently in its 2.0 beta form. The metric calculates the loss of biodiversity that any development may cause based on the area of habitat lost, the output expressed in ‘biodiversity units’. The metric then takes into account any mitigation measures (for example, onsite habitat creation) and gives an overall net loss or gain for the development. Where there is a net loss (and because of the way the metric works this will be the case for most developments) it will be mandatory for developers to pay a tariff to balance any deficit plus 10% of the baseline value.

Normally the impact assessment (IA) of new wildlife law amounts to a few paragraphs at the end of the bill usually stating that the economic effects of the bill are benign and of little consequence. It is therefore an indication of the potential game changing nature of the bill that this report runs to 80 pages.

The IA concludes an indicative cost of £11,000 per biodiversity unit. It is envisaged that local markets will develop for the cost of delivering biodiversity units with the administration falling to the Local Planning Authorities. The IA also concludes that the costs will be passed down to landowners and that the impact upon the development industry will be small.

The Bill was due to have its second reading on October 28th and there is of course significant doubt about how quickly the Bill will progress. However, Local Planning Authorities are already drafting policies to reflect the 10% net gain requirement and referring to the Defra metric. Baker Consultants has been using the metric on many projects recently and the spread-sheet is still full of bugs (if you are using it check the calculations very carefully). To be fair Natural England has been very quick a correcting the bugs once they have been identified.

Mandating biodiversity gain is firmly on the political agenda and if the Bill does progress further this is set to be a significant piece of legislation with far reaching consequences.

The Impact Assessment is available to download here Net Gain Impact Assessment

 

The political events of the last few weeks have put into sharp focus the potential for the current government to take us out of the European Union without a deal. This has prompted a number of my clients to ask me what would be the impact of ‘crashing out’ of the EU on legal processes like Habitats Regulations Assessments, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), or those associated with the protection of great crested newts or bats?

The key to answering this question is the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. This Act repeals the European Communities Act 1972 but at the same time saves the majority of EU derived domestic legislation that was in force the day before ‘exit day’ to be carried forward and continue to be in force the day after exit day.  Exit day is defined under the Act and was originally set as 22nd March 2019. Of course, exit day has moved on (12th April, 22nd May, 19th, and now 31st October 2019) and with each new exit date the Act has been updated.

So, the simple answer to the question is that crashing out of the EU on 31st October will not result in any fundamental overnight changes in wildlife law as all domestic derivations of EU law will be saved. Any changes to wildlife law are likely to be long term and depend upon the agenda of whatever government is in power. A no deal Brexit will of course have major implications for the UK and my view is that any changes to wildlife law will be far down the government’s list of legislative priorities.

 

Biological records are an essential part of the background information used when developing an ecological assessment for a site. High quality biological records provide evidence that an animal or plant was present in a particular place at a specific time.  In its simplest form each individual biological record contains four essential pieces of information: who identified the organism, the species name, where and when it was found.

Baker Consultants has a policy of submitting records as part of our commitment to best practice in ecological consultancy. This helps to support the biological records centres that form a vital part of the desk study early on in every development project. Knowing what wildlife or habitat has previously been recorded on or near to a site can help our clients put together an ecology strategy for their project, identifying impacts and the potential for biodiversity gain as required under the National Planning Policy Framework.

Records may be collected on a casual, ad hoc basis or they may be generated as part of a one-off survey or longer-term monitoring process.  Collectively, they are extremely important, providing the foundation for ecological consultancy and conservation, and informing current and future projects in an area.

Baker Consultants ecologist Steve Docker has completed the MSc Biological Recording with Manchester Metropolitan University studying a range of taxa.  An essential part of the learning process was the construction of keys to enable accurate species identification – and generate valid biological records for a range of species groups.  Since graduating in 2017, Steve has continued to work on identification keys using the Field Studies Council (FSC) Identikit, a software tool that enables individuals to create on-line, multi-access keys.  So far, Steve has collaborated with other highly experienced naturalists to produce keys to British wader species in non-breeding plumage and to British macrofungi genera.

An example of the British wader species key:

The keys are freely available to download to either a laptop or mobile phone via the FSC . Steve is now working on an Identikit key to British beetle families.

 

Baker Consultants has been shortlisted for a CIEEM best practice award for Best Project Mitigation and we are looking forward to showcasing our work alongside industry colleagues at the CIEEM ceremony this month. The project has provided targeted mitigation in the form of specific habitat for the county scarce dingy skipper butterfly on a former colliery site in Nottinghamshire with support from Mike Slater (Warwickshire Branch of Butterfly Conservation Trust) on behalf of our client Welbeck Estates Ltd.

Most of our development projects take years to come to fruition as our clients often come to us pre-planning in order to assess their ecological constraints and involve ecology in their masterplanning. This award celebrates the results of the full suite of mitigation measures, restoration and follow-up monitoring typical of our long-term projects. This project has enabled us to implement methods developed by Butterfly Conservation Trust and prove their efficacy whilst significantly increasing the local abundance of dingy skipper.

If you have a site for regeneration or that requires ecological management for development or biodiversity net gain contact one of our team on 01629 593958.

 

Received today specialist bat access roof tiles for a client’s roof.

The tiles provide access to roof space for protected bat species, whilst blending in seamlessly to the slate roof.   They have a capped vent which allows access to roof felt (for roosting Pipistrelles) or roof space (for Serotine, Leisler’s, Daubenton’s and Barbastelle Bats).

As part of your bat mitigation measures consider designing in this facility to maintain the aesthetics of your estate buildings.  Contact us for a survey.

Vacancy for an Ecologist/Digital Ecologist (£18-24k) part-time contract considered

Baker Consultants is seeking to expand its team of consultants to help deliver our project work throughout the country. We require a confident field surveyor able to work with or without supervision in a range of environments and contribute to reporting as required by the project manager.

We are also seeking an ecologist with expertise or an interest in GIS, mobile data collection, UAVs and image analysis to support and help expand our capabilities in spatial data analysis and remote sensing.

Anti-social hours are an expected aspect of this role.

Key Responsibilities:

  • Assist in carrying out field and office work on individual contracts as indicated by the project manager. This will include direct execution of work to a high level of competence and accuracy including fieldwork and data collation.
  • Work in line with the company’s policies and procedures including H&S, lone working, biosecurity, deployment and care of equipment.
  • Maintain and improve your skills and knowledge base as part of continuing professional development.

The Person:

You should have at least two years experience as a professional ecologist, with the technical knowledge to be able to deliver some surveys using best-practice techniques. Be able to write up field records to a high standard and have an ability to undertake basic reporting writing. An understanding of wildlife legislation is desirable.

You must be at least a graduate member of CIEEM and motivated to expand your knowledge and skills base through CPD and ‘skill sharing’ with colleagues. You will have the opportunity to develop a specialism during your career at Baker Consultants.

You will need to be self-motivated, flexible and reliable with an understanding of the professionalism required when dealing with clients whether verbally or in writing.

A full valid driving license and regular access to a car


Terms and Benefits

Full (or part-time by agreement)

Reporting to Technical Director, Carlos Abrahams

Salary commensurate with experience

25 days (or pro-rata) holiday + TOIL

Applications via CV and covering letter to jobs@bakerconsultants.co.uk

Ecological survey requirements are well established in guidance that sets out timescale, frequency and survey methods, sometimes in lengthy detail. The JNCC, CIEEM, and Natural England publish guidance that has been developed alongside changes in policy and best practice. These methods can sometimes form part of a protected species licence application, so consistency is important. Developers engaging an ecologist to consult on and carry out the required surveys rightly expect to receive robust advice in line with statutory guidance.

However, another layer of policy exists where Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) set out the ecological survey requirements for the planning applications they receive. These expectations vary considerably between LPAs and sometimes do not match the standard national guidelines. Due to this variation there may be conflicts with the national guidance and geographical discrepancies in what surveys are required to validate a planning application. This is another aspect of planning that has become a ‘post-code lottery’.

These inconsistencies can have costly implications for developers who may commission surveys to meet LPA requirements, but then find that when external scrutiny is applied or protected species licensing is involved, additional surveys have to be done, potentially delaying the construction timetable or leading to legal challenge.

Communication between developers and LPAs is important, facilitated by a consultant ecologist, in defining the scope of works to be undertaken, and explaining what work is required and why. This will help to promote greater understanding of the differing roles and requirements of national and local guidance, and help steer a course between the two.

Baker Consultants will always recommend the most robust set of survey effort to ensure not only regulatory compliance and best practice, but also ensure that clients have a fully prepared planning application which stands up to public and legal scrutiny. The wider obligation of providing biodiversity net gain will be more easily met if the initial ecological assessments are robust.

The full article featured in CIEEM’s InPractice can be accessed by CIEEM members on its web site.

For more information on how this issue may affect your project or to request advice, please contact Carlos or another member of the team on 01629 593958 or via info@bakerconsultants.co.uk

 

The now infamous ‘People Over Wind’ case (C323/17) led to a considerable shake up in the practical application of the Habitats Directive when the judgement ruled that mitigation measures cannot be taken into account at the likely significant effect (LSE) screening stage. One of the many problems it created was that much policy and guidance suddenly became out of date and needed to be rewritten. Of particular note was the presumption in favour of sustainable development set out in the National Planning Polity Framework (NPPF). The previous NPPF removed this presumption where LSE could not be ruled out. This was always problematic in my view, why remove this tilt in favour of sustainable development simply because an Appropriate Assessment is required – after all the plan or project may subsequently pass the legal tests with flying colours and no harm is caused. After People Over Wind this became even more problematic as many more projects failed the LSE test and the presumption has to be removed for many more projects even though they would subsequently pass the legal test at the AA stage.

Following consultation, para 177 of the NPPF has now been updated and reads ‘The presumption in favour of sustainable development does not apply where the plan or project is likely to have a significant effect on a habitats site (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects), unless an appropriate assessment has concluded that the plan or project will not adversely affect the integrity of the habitats site.’

The full text of the NPPF 2019 can be found here