Bird survey methodology enables planning consent

Since 2011, Baker Consultants has conducted detailed bird surveys and assessments to support a proposed development site in East Yorkshire on behalf of Associated British Ports. Our regular monitoring and robust bird survey methodology enabled the team of specialist ornithologists to amass a dataset that was used to fully assess the impacts of a potential development. This culminated in planning consent being granted and the creation of a set of impact avoidance measures, which Baker Consultants is now monitoring.

The issue

The proposed port-related development is a 260-hectare site primarily of open arable farmland, with some open scrub and wooded copses. It is in close proximity to the Humber Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA), designated for its important populations of wintering bird species such as bar-tailed godwit and golden plover, as well as migratory species such as knot, dunlin, black-tailed godwit and redshank. In the breeding season, the SPA supports important populations of avocet, marsh harrier, little tern and bittern.

In addition to these individual species, the SPA citation states that the area supports almost 154,000 waterbirds in the non-breeding season, as well as non-qualifying species of interest such as peregrine falcon and merlin.

One of the primary issues surrounding the potential development of the site was to assess its importance for the species listed under the SPA designation. In particular, the large, open areas could potentially offer foraging or roosting opportunities and, as such, a significant change in this landscape could affect these important species.

Ecologist Steve Docker surveying birds by Ecologist Martin Ledger

Ecologist Steve Docker surveying birds. Photo by Ecologist Martin Ledger

Bird survey methodology

With habitat adjacent to the site primarily consisting of mudflats used by feeding waders in the non-breeding season, and limited breeding habitat in close proximity, surveys and monitoring have focused on migratory and wintering species. Since 2011, Baker Consultants has been carrying out this monitoring during the autumn, winter and early spring periods.

The surveys, led by highly experienced Baker Consultants’ ornithologists, are carried out between September and April inclusive and involve three surveyors; two standing at vantage points to overlook the widest open areas of the proposed development site, while another walks a transect around the entire area. In this way, full coverage is achieved over the course of the high tide period and two hours before and afterwards. Any birds present are recorded and mapped, and detailed information is also taken about important species that are relevant to the SPA, such as the time recorded and the duration of their presence on site, as well as their behaviour (e.g. roosting, feeding or loafing).

In order to ensure that the methods used are suitable for the specific requirements of the assessment, Baker Consultants designed the survey protocol as an adaptation of the British Trust for Ornithology high tide counts, used previously as part of their regular Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) monitoring.

Golden Plovers in flight by J R Pender. Golden Plovers are one of the species that sites can be designated for under the Birds Directive

Golden Plovers in flight by J R Pender. Golden Plovers are one of the species that sites can be designated for under the Birds Directive

The outcome

As a result of our regular monitoring and consistently applied, robust methodology, Baker Consultants has been able to amass a dataset that was used to fully assess the impacts of the potential development. This led to granting of planning consent and the creation of impact avoidance measures, which are now being monitored at the site.

This is an ongoing project and Baker Consultants continues to conduct surveys at the site during the winter and migratory seasons.

Laura Morrish, Projects Manager at Associated British Ports said: “Baker Consultants has been undertaking regular bird surveys for approximately five years across a wide area of ABP owned land in Hull in order to provide baseline data information for Environmental Impact Assessments and to allow for the preparation of annual monitoring reports.  We have developed an excellent working relationship with the team, who are left to undertake the bird surveys independently but inform us quickly of anything substantial or notifiable.”

Related work

In addition to carrying out bird surveys, Baker Consultants carried out an extended Phase 1 habitat survey at the proposed development site, recording the character and extent of vegetation and habitats across and around the site. We also conducted a review of East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Habitats Regulations Assessment of the proposed development.

Herring gull

Herring gull