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.

 

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

 

To accommodate demand for land-based studies, the Brackenhurst Campus of Nottingham Trent University (NTU) needs to up-grade the existing provision. This will require the construction of new teaching and accommodation facilities across the campus. Brackenhurst Campus is a rural facility with an 18th Century Hall and associated gardens of historical importance, surrounded by a 200 hectare estate located south of the minster town of Southwell in mid-Nottinghamshire. Much of the estate is managed for agriculture with livestock and arable systems, but other land-based disciplines including nature conservation, equine, horticulture and animal studies also make use of the estate.

The range of habitats on the estate provides for a high diversity of species and of particular interest is the presence of nationally and internationally protected species including great crested newt Triturus cristatus and bats. Both bats and newts have a particular association with the built environment at Brackenhurst.

The ponds and gardens surrounding the main hall and teaching facilities, together with the plantation woodlands, hedgerows and rough grassland field margins provide excellent habitat for newts. Newts are also found in artificial features such as dry stone walls, cable ducts, cable inspection pits and storm drains. Away from the built environment of the estate, newts have tended to be more scarce, because of the isolation of potential breeding ponds, which are more than 500m distance.

Given the size of the newt population at Brackenhurst, which is one of the largest in Nottinghamshire and their potential to be present just about anywhere near the buildings, any development risks having an adverse impact on newts. Newts and their habitats are protected from disturbance and harm and to derogate from the legal protection it is standard practice to apply for a licence for each development parcel. Such an approach is piecemeal, time-consuming and can be very expensive.

Typical newt refugia at Brackenhurst; former patio area containing 30 adult newts

On behalf of NTU, Baker Consultants entered into negotiation with Natural England to adopt a more sustainable, cost effective and long-term solution for the protection of newts during and after the development programme. The timing of the discussion coincided with a new approach by Natural England to the provision of European Protected Species licences for development. The UK government web-site stated that Natural England was adopting a new approach. “Four innovative new policies have been created that will smooth the process for businesses who require a wildlife licence for their project, saving them time and money. In return, they will fund an unprecedented level of investment in the creation and enhancement of wildlife habitat. This will provide greater security for populations of European protected species such as dormice, bats and great crested newts.

The new policies provided NTU with an opportunity to take a new approach to newt conservation and Baker Consultants were commissioned to prepare a ‘Phased Licence’ for the entire campus development programme. In practice this has committed NTU to a programme of mitigation including the enhancement of three existing ponds and creation of four new ponds, combined with the creation and enhancement of terrestrial habitats including woodlands and field boundaries. The work will be carried out under the supervision of Baker Consultants and will be implemented by contractors with significant input from staff and students. The network of new and existing ponds means that there are no longer distances of more than 300m between ponds and the enhancement of terrestrial habitat will enable newts to expand across the entire campus and in the long-term expand towards other known populations in the Southwell area.

Unoccupied pond at Brackenhurst that is, at present, more than 350m from
the nearest breeding pond

Most of the development work is still at the planning stage and whilst there is a memorandum of understanding with the Local Planning Authority this was not sufficient for Natural England. As such, NTU have entered into a legal agreement to deliver the mitigation, mostly in advance of the development work, which is itemised in a management plan that will last for 25 years. For some of the development proposals trapping and translocation will be essential to ensure that the population is protected, but in other examples where sub-optimal habitat is effected, a destructive search will be sufficient even when the development is close to newt breeding ponds.

The legally binding and long-term commitment by NTU has enabled Baker Consultants to deliver a sustainable and cost-effective solution to the potential constraints to development that the presence of European protected species can cause. The positive conservation action should extend the range and size of the population encouraging expansion beyond the boundaries of the campus.

 

Carlos Abrahams article on Data Information and Management in relation to bird bioacoustic surveys has been published in the December issue of In Practice.

Bioacoustic surveys can be used to capture useful and robust data on bird vocalisations to inform studies on avian distribution and ecology. However, currently there are no recognised standard methods for their use in the UK. This article sets out a draft protocol for testing and adoption, and invites feedback from CIEEM members to further develop good practice.

Below is an extract from the article:

 

To read the full article, or for further information please contact Carlos directly at c.abrahams@bakerconsultants.co.uk.

Five years have elapsed since the translocation of a population of the dingy skipper Erynnis tages was completed at Summit Colliery in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. Monitoring has indicated that the project has succeeded way beyond expectations and has provided the population with a long-term future in the local area and numbers are such that expansion into new habitats beyond the existing range will very likely occur in the future.

Following demolition of the Summit headstock and colliery infrastructure, the site was left untouched for many years and in that time the botanical and invertebrate interest had developed sufficiently to meet the criteria to be designated as a Local Wildlife Site. The designation of the site created a problem, because the site was previously allocated by the local authority, following the demolition, as employment land. Following cessation of coal mining, the site was returned to Welbeck Estates who were seeking to re-develop the site to provide employment opportunities in the local area.

Survey of the site in support of a planning application, confirmed the botanical interest of the site with a variety of grassland species including common spotted orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii and bee orchid Ophrys apifera. Invertebrates surveys revealed the presence of a range of butterfly species including a small population of dingy skipper, which is uncommon in Nottinghamshire. Consultees including Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust (NWT) objected to the development, because of the site’s designation and the potential impact on biodiversity.

Baker Consultants were commissioned by Welbeck Estates to negotiate with the relevant stakeholders such as NWT to resolve the issue and to provide a long-term sustainable solution that would protect botanical diversity, maintain the conservation status of dingy skipper and enable re-development of the site.

The solution was based on the premise that not all of the site was of botanical and/or invertebrate interest and alternative land with low ecological value was available in the local area to modify and create bespoke habitat for butterflies and plants. Detailed method statements were prepared and the consultees were satisfied that the solution was sustainable and compliant with local and national planning policies for biodiversity.

Baker Consultants in-house ecologists had the necessary expertise to prepare land to create species-rich grasslands within the Summit Colliery site and on a nearby former colliery spoil tip, which had been part-cleared of immature plantation woodland (a mix of Swedish whitebeam Sorbus intermedia , Scots pine Pinus sylvestris and grey alder Alnus incana). The grasslands were created using translocated materials including orchid-rich turf with the remaining areas being hydro-seeded with a grassland seed-mix containing larval and adult food plants for the butterfly species recorded on the site.

New off-site butterfly bank

The translocation of dingy skipper larvae and the creation of specific habitat was carried out by Mike Slater (Chairman of the Warwickshire Branch of Butterfly Conservation). Mike was invited to help, because of his expertise with habitat creation for dingy skipper, specifically the creation of butterfly banks. Mike surveyed the site, identified locations containing the larvae, supervised the creation of the butterfly banks and the translocation of the turf containing the larvae. The turfs were carefully positioned into the butterfly banks and the banks were modified at the micro-scale to provide the exacting conditions required by dingy skipper eggs and larvae.

The care and attention to detail has proved to be worthwhile. The translocated grasslands and hydro-seeded grasslands are thriving and the few losses of plant species has been restricted to non-native garden plants. Monitoring of the dingy skipper populations provided encouraging results from the outset and the results of the 2016 monitoring indicated a minimum population size increase of 350% in the created habitats when compared to the baseline in the original habitats. The final monitoring in 2018 of adult butterflies only, indicated that the increase in population size has been sustained.

 

Translocated and sown species-rich grassland at Summit Colliery

Half of the former Summit Colliery site has been developed with two areas allocated for biodiversity that will continue to be managed for plants and butterflies. The off-site land is connected to a larger area of Local Wildlife Site grassland that also supports dingy skipper; all of which will be sustainably managed.

The expertise provided by Butterfly Conservation and willingness of Welbeck Estates, supported by Baker Consultants enabled a sustainable long-term solution to be developed that is compliant with planning policy.

 

 Hydro-seeded off-site grassland

 

Baker Consultants support an active programme of research aimed at improving ecological survey and analysis techniques.  Working in collaboration with a Nottinghamshire based ringing group and using Wildlife Acoustics unattended acoustic recording devices (ARDs), Ecologist Steve Docker is researching male European nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus bioacoustics. Read more

Welcome to the first volunteer bulletin!

Firstly, thank you for volunteering with the On The Verge project to conserve, monitor and improve the biodiversity in road verges across the Dearne Valley. The Road Verge Biodiversity Project aims to enhance biodiversity across the area by increasing local understanding of the value of verges for biodiversity through practical conservation work and monitoring surveys of key indicator species.

So far a condition assessment of 17km of road verges has been completed to initially identify the quality of these verges to identify where the project can make the biggest biodiversity gains. The condition assessments also looked at the safety of the road verges for volunteers to work on, as well as soil quality, plant species present and potential management activities. Bird and butterfly surveys have now been completed too, with birds including yellowhammer, garden warbler, and 40 other species being recorded. Six species of butterfly were also recorded across the three boroughs during the surveys, with other invertebrates such as the cinnabar moth and white-tailed bumblebee also present

Three species of orchids found on Manvers Way, including Bee Orchid, Southern Marsh Orchid and Common Spotted Orchid

 

The Highways Agency are also becoming increasingly involved in the On The Verge project. We have met with Rotherham who are very keen to be involved in this project. Doncaster and Barnsley meetings are planned for the future. Other private stakeholders are also looking to become involved in the project, so watch this space!

We have also started to develop the On The Verge 5-year Management Plan that will leave a lasting legacy and guide the management of the selected verges. The plan will outline the verges selected for volunteers to manage, containing detailed maps of the roads and where management work shall take place, as well as management activity timescales. The practical conservation work outlined in the plan will focus on bulb planting, wildflower sowing, living bird tables and scrub clearing.

This is where you come in, we’re keen for local communities to engage and drive the management plans, so we would like to hear management ideas from the volunteers. We will be running three Community Meetings to discuss management options, as well as to gain an idea of particular areas of interest.

The meetings will be held on the following dates:

7th August – Elsecar Heritage Centre, Elsecar @ 6pm

8th August – Wentworth Village Hall, Wentworth @ 6pm

14th August – St. Peter’s Church Hall, Barnburgh @ 6pm

Alongside the practical conservation work will also be a monitoring programme. The monitoring surveys aim to increase biological records of road verges as they are severely under recorded. The surveys will target key indicator species including plants, birds and butterflies. The training workshops for plant, bird and butterfly recording are to be planned soon, so keep a look out!

If you have any questions about the On The Verge project that you would like to discuss, please contact:

Katie Watson

Ecologist, Baker Consultants

Mobile:             07701 289321

 

 

 

From once being the most common species of owl in the UK, barn owls (Tyto alba) have undergone a long-term decline in numbers. This has mirrored the increase in agricultural intensity and landscape development, which has led in turn to a loss of roost and nesting sites and a reduction in the numbers of small mammals they feed on. These factors, coupled with persecution, the increase in road traffic and other urban hazards, have led to the breeding numbers of barn owl falling from an estimated 12,000 pairs in 1933, to approximately 4,000 breeding pairs today.

The number of breeding barn owls appears to fluctuate year on year, but encouragingly, the overall trend in recent years is for their population decline to be levelling off. Despite the apparent halt in the steep decline in their numbers, their population remains vulnerable to the aforementioned threats. This highlights the importance of undertaking targeted barn owl surveys on potential development sites that hold favourable breeding, roosting or feeding habitat.

Legislation

Barn owls are given protection against killing, injury or capture under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), with nests given further protection against disturbance under Schedule 1 of the same act. Developers therefore should be mindful of undertaking targeted barn owl surveys at sites holding favourable barn owl breeding/roosting habitat, to avoid potentially committing a legal offence.

Favoured Habitat

Barn owls use a variety of roost and nest locations in natural environments such as tree hollows, rock crevices and sea cliffs and man-made structures, such as those found in agricultural, industrial and domestic settings. They favour rough, tussocky grassland when hunting their preferred prey of small mammals.

Breeding Ecology

Barn owls have been known to breed in every month of the year but the usual breeding months are March to August, with peak breeding taking place between April and June.  One in ten pairs will then produce a second brood later in the summer. The four to six eggs usually hatch after a calendar month, with the young fledging between eight and ten weeks old.

Barn Owl Survey

Barn owl surveys are usually requested in relation to planning applications to convert or remove buildings located in rural surroundings. An ecologist has to hold a Class Survey Licence issued by Natural England, if they are to provide a thorough investigation of a site and fully establish the presence and status of barn owls.

After an initial desk study to obtain records of barn owls for the surrounding area, a site visit is undertaken to identify any signs that barn owl are using (or have previously used) the site for roosting or nesting. Signs of barn owl presence on a site include pellets, feathers and droppings, as well as nest debris, eggs and carcasses (of owls or prey).

Mitigation

If a barn owl nest and/or roost site has to be disturbed or destroyed, alternative nesting or roosting provision must be provided, ideally within the structure being renovated, or if the current structure is to be demolished, within a replacement structure. If this is not possible, specially designed artificial nest/roost boxes should be positioned alongside and facing suitable rough grassland habitats, away from hazards such as busy roads and tall structures.

Artificial boxes should ideally be positioned outside the usual nesting months over the autumn/winter period.

Baker Consultants Barn Owl Surveys

Baker Consultants has two ecologists that hold the Class Licence for barn owls, following intensive training by the Barn Owl Trust and demonstrating their competence  in undertaking barn owl surveys.

The numbers of breeding bird species in the UK vary year on year, but well over 200 species are known to regularly breed here. Bird species known to regularly occur in the UK are periodically assessed through a collaboration of the UK’s leading governmental and non-governmental conservation organisations. The most recent 2015 review used a range of criteria to place a total of 244 regularly occurring UK species onto one of three lists:

  • 27.5% of species were listed as Red (those with the most rapidly declining populations). This is up from the 21% listed in the previous review in 2009.
  • 39.3% were listed as Amber (populations declining at a slower rate). This is down from 51% in 2009.
  • 33.2% were listed as Green (populations stable or increasing). This is up from 28% in 2009.

A total of 67 species are now on the Red list, up considerably from the 40 species that were on the list in 2002.

A similar collaboration of the UK’s conservation organisations reported in 2012 that there had been an estimated 44 million reduction in the number of breeding birds in the UK since 1966. These figures highlight the problems many bird species face in a rapidly changing environment and emphasises the need for accurate and effective surveys to assess and eventually inform advice to offset or avoid any potential adverse effects that vulnerable bird species may suffer as a result of a development. This is not only important for the UK but can be of international importance, particularly as the UK holds internationally significant numbers of many species of birds.

Protection for breeding birds

All UK nesting birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) 1981, which makes it an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird or take, damage or destroy its nest whilst in use or being built, or take or destroy its eggs.

Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 places a duty on every public authority to have regard to conserving biodiversity and requires that the Secretary of State must publish a list of the living organisms and types of habitats which are of principal importance for the purpose of biodiversity. The Secretary of State must take steps to further the conservation of those living organisms in any list published under this section. A number of bird species are listed as Species of Principal Importance (SPI) and therefore protected under the provisions of the Act. Species of Principal Importance are a material consideration for a Local Planning Authority in the exercise of its duties. There are 49 bird Species of Principal Importance in England and 51 in Wales (listed under Section 42 of the NERC Act). A similar number of bird species are protected under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

When do I need a breeding bird survey?

Where habitats that could support breeding birds will be affected by a development, a breeding bird survey will be necessary. These habitats could be features such as woodland, hedgerows, barns/buildings, ponds or grassland.

What is a breeding bird survey?

Surveys for breeding birds normally involve an experienced ecologist visiting the site at least three times between April and June. A transect is walked around the site which includes all the habitats previously identified and the area which is to be developed. Bird species and their behaviour are mapped and an assessment is made of the significance of the species present and an estimate of the number of breeding territories.

This information can be used to design mitigation to avoid or reduce adverse impacts on breeding birds and to compensate for any loss of habitat.

Why Baker Consultants?

Baker Consultants have a number of ecologists that have years of experience and knowledge in conducting breeding bird surveys, as well as whole range of other types of bird survey. For general information on our bird survey expertise, visit our bird surveys page where you can listen to Carlos Abrahams, our Technical Director, discussing a typical bird survey, or read our pages on wetland bird surveys and winter bird surveys.

Each year, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) presents a series of awards to celebrate achievements of both the profession and of individual practitioners working within the ecological and environmental management sector.

The Innovation Award sets out to recognise a successful organisation demonstrating a novel approach to professional practice in any aspect of ecology and environmental management. The award also recognises those who are delivering sustainable benefits for society. Our nomination relates to the research and development of bioacoustics survey skills for the monitoring of western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus).

The Project:

The species the project focused on, western capercaillie and European nightjar, are cryptic species of conservation concern, sensitive to anthropogenic disturbance. The project demonstrated that bird bioacoustics results in increased species detection and financial savings related to reduced survey time, whilst providing a more quantitative assessment of the numbers of breeding nightjar pairs. The applications extend further, providing a minimally intrusive means of measuring nightjar breeding pair numbers at site level, or as part of a national census. This is particularly crucial for nightjars as conventional survey methods may be under-recording this species, conversely, the use of ‘churring’ can lead to over-estimated numbers of breeding pairs. Taken together, this results in serious implications for the conservation of nightjars, which are declining in both numbers and range.

Nightjar spectrogram (frequency plotted against time) showing a series of major (high frequency) phrases and minor (low frequency) phrases

The second stage of the project focusing on capercaillie lek activity was also hugely successful, readily recognising vocalisations using unsupervised software verified by manual analysis, despite challenges due to other bird species and environmental noise. Scottish capercaillie populations are at a critically low level, with the reasons for their decline being complex and not fully understood. This research has the capability of dramatically improving the quality and cost-effectiveness of conventional lek surveys. Previously unmonitored areas can now be feasibly surveyed, and high-quality long-term data can be interrogated for seasonal trends. Results also importantly indicated that traditional lek surveys can in fact cause disturbance to the birds at the lek. Baker Consultants aim to continue using bioacoustics to further aid the spatial and temporal monitoring of capercaillie to benefit conservation management efforts.

Capercaille lek showing the two key phrases

Baker Consultants intention for the work is to prove the applicability of bioacoustic methods and increase adoption by conservation bodies and ecological consultancies, which have not yet taken on the practical applications of this valuable tool. This work has been done entirely on a pro-bono basis, principally with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage.  Presently, two peer-reviewed papers have been published and made freely available, with more currently in production. Additionally, the UK’s first workshop on bird bioacoustics has been successfully organised, with over 40 participants contributing to the development of a draft bioacoustics survey protocol.  This is to be submitted for publication to CIEEMs In Practice soon, to widen awareness of the method, and gain additional feedback from the wider community.

 

Update:16/05/2018

On April 13th the Court of Justice of the European Union published its ruling in the Case C323/17 with regards to the Habitats Directive. Since the ruling, the industry has been trying to get to grips with what is one of the most unhelpful and contradictory rulings that I have had to deal with in 15 years of working on the Habitats Directive.

It has been standard working practice for plans or projects that may affect European nature conservation sites such as Thames Basin Heaths to include incorporated mitigation measures from the initial stages of the Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) process. In many cases this screening stage (or Likely Significant Effects) negates the need for projects to proceed onto a full appropriate assessment. Projects such as housing ensure strategic mitigation measures are incorporated into the planning proposals to prevent likely significant effects upon these high value sites. This approach is also consistent with the Environmental Impact Directive, previous HRA case law (Waddenzee) and domestic case law (Hart).

However, the People Over Wind case has ruled that mitigation cannot be taken into account when considering the screening test for Likely Significant Effects. Therefore, many developments cannot now be screened out of requiring a full appropriate assessment, which requires more time and involves more consultation than would previously be spent on a ‘screening request’. Furthermore, it throws into question the legality of many strategic mitigation systems that have been put in place to protect sites such as the Dorset Heaths and Thames Basin Heaths.

This ruling has major implications for developments where a Habitats Regulations Assessment may be required. In order to comply with this ruling and avoid legal challenge we are advising that any current applications be reviewed to ensure that the HRA process has been followed and is compliant with this judgement.

 The People Over Wind case involved mitigation measures to prevent sediment affecting freshwater pearl mussels due to installation of a wind turbine connection cable.

Case Details:

The conclusion of the ruling is: “Article 6(3) of Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora must be interpreted as meaning that, in order to determine whether it is necessary to carry out, subsequently, an appropriate assessment of the implications, for a site concerned, of a plan or project, it is not appropriate, at the screening stage, to take account of the measures intended to avoid or reduce the harmful effects [mitigation] of the plan or project on that site” [my emphasis].

For those involved in the HRA process this a significant shift in emphasis, which will result in many more projects failing the first of the HRA legal tests of whether the plan or project will give rise to Likely Significant Effects. Previously, domestic case law has allowed mitigation measures to be taken into account at the ‘screening test’, avoiding the need to progress onto a full appropriate assessment. However, this ruling means that this approach is now no longer valid.

This issue had been addressed in the English courts in 2008 in the Hart District Council case where it was ruled that “As a matter of common sense, anything which encourages the proponents of plans and projects to incorporate mitigation measures at the earliest possible stage in the evolution of their plan or project is surely to be encouraged.

I am satisfied that there is no legal requirement that a screening assessment under Regulation 48(1) [now Regulation 63 (1)] must be carried out in the absence of any mitigation measures that form part of a plan or project. On the contrary, the competent authority is required to consider whether the project, as a whole, including such measures, if they are part of the project, is likely to have a significant effect on the SPA If the competent authority does not agree with the proponent’s view as to the likely efficacy of the proposed mitigation measures, or is left in some doubt as to their efficacy, then it will require an appropriate assessment because it will not have been able to exclude the risk of a significant effect on the basis of objective information.”

Previously some practitioners have made the distinction between mitigation measures that are additional to the project (not taken into account at the screening stage), and mitigation measures that are ‘incorporated mitigation measures’ (integral part of the plan or project and should be taken into account). The new judgement does not address this distinction, however the proposed mitigation in the case in question (involving potential impact of sediment pollution from installation of a wind turbine connection cable on freshwater pearl mussels) was to be agreed with the planning authority post-consent and detailed in a ‘Construction Management Plan’. It is therefore questionable whether the mitigation was an integral part of the project as envisaged by the Hart judgement. The logic behind the ruling is that a more detailed examination of the effectiveness of mitigation measures is needed, and by considering mitigation at the screening stage a higher level of scrutiny may otherwise by circumvented under an appropriate assessment. However the lack of detail within the ruling means that the overall conclusion is somewhat blunt and does not take into account how well thought out the mitigation measures may be, or whether they are tried and tested techniques where the efficacy can be considered certain to prevent harm to the site.

My view is that the ruling is entirely misjudged and I very much hope that Member States use this opportunity to seek clarification on this ruling. In the Hart Case it was said that “…the provisions in the Habitats Directive are intended to be an aid to effective environmental decision making, not a legal obstacle course”. This unfortunate decision has created many more hurdles within the already complex and lengthy Habitat Regulations Assessment process.

From supervising the licensed removal of roofing material at a bat roost, to overseeing tree removal or the creation of ponds, an Ecological Clerk of Works (ECOW) role is varied. ECoWs play an important role on construction sites, fully briefing clients to avoid conflict with legislation or planning consents, whilst protecting biodiversity features during site clearance and development activities.

An ECoW is assisted by guidance and recommendations, as set out under British Standard BS42020:2013, standing advice from Government bodies, and site-specific planning conditions or Construction Environmental Management Plans. A good ECoW will have a full knowledge of the ongoing development requirements, local and site biodiversity and the client’s legal obligations. A toolbox talk is always given to outline the environmental and sustainability issues, as well as health and safety matters, pertinent to the activity about to be undertaken, and the ECoW is present on site, or easily contactable, when sensitive works are to take place.

Baker Consultants assists our clients throughout the planning process, from the initial identification of constraints and gathering of pre-application baseline ecological data, to the implementation of mitigation/enhancement measures and monitoring. Many projects have required an ECoW on site during the construction phase. The benefits our clients receive are experienced staff with sound site-specific ecological knowledge and the support of a company network of in-house specialists to ensure that legal and planning obligations are followed throughout the construction process .

Principal Ecologist Mark Woods overseeing pond creation.

 

Our Technical Director, Carlos Abrahams, was invited to present a talk at the recent Herpetofauna Workers Meeting.  This national conference has been running annually for nearly 30 years, and attracts around 200 delegates. It is the main meeting covering reptile and amphibian ecology and conservation in the UK.

 

The meeting attracts a diverse audience representing: conservation organisations, ecological consultants, statutory bodies, land managers, academic institutions and students, and enthusiastic volunteers.

Carlos was speaking about his recent publication on declining amphibian populations in northern France. This research, with fieldwork carried out between 1974 and 2011, was undertaken with colleagues from the Netherlands to repeatedly track amphibian populations and habitat change over an area of northern France.

The research showed that common adaptable species remained widespread, but that some rarer species, with more exacting habitat requirements, declined significantly. The main reasons for these were pond loss, increasing urbanisation and changes in agricultural practice in the area, with shifts from pasture to arable production.

However, the benefits of practical conservation effort were also demonstrated, as new ponds created in areas of good quality habitat , were quickly colonised by a range of amphibians. This shows that habitat creation/restoration can play a valuable role in conservation, counteracting the adverse effects of land use change and development.

Baker Consultants, alongside Wildlife Acoustics and Nottingham Trent University, recently organised a national workshop meeting on Bird Bioacoustics.  This was attended by 40 delegates from the consultancy, academic and conservation sectors, who discussed the use of acoustic recording methods for bird survey and monitoring.   The technology and techniques for recording bird songs and calls in the field have developed rapidly in recent years, and can offer improved data and greater coverage than traditional survey methods. The workshop aimed to address this, highlighting the significant benefits and starting the communication of important principles and best practice guidance between professionals.

As part of the output from the workshop, the speakers have kindly allowed their presentations to be made available.  These can be accessed using the links below:

Carlos Abrahams Bird Bioacoustics

Rich Beason Bird Bioacoustics

Paul Howden-Leach Bird Bioacoustics

Amy Leedale Bird Bioacoustics

Stuart Newson Bird Bioacoustics

Paul White Bird Bioacoustics

 

Baker Consultants is seeking a Principal or Senior Ecologist to help deliver and expand our project work in southern England. We are looking for a highly experienced consultant who is willing to work remotely from our main office in Derbyshire, has the ability to attract new clients, and the drive to continue growing our business.

Location is flexible, although the M4/M3/M25 corridor would be ideal. Basic salary will be commensurate with experience – and we operate a profit-related bonus scheme.

About You

You have at least ten years experience of working in consultancy, with an excellent knowledge of the region, and the ability to manage complex projects. You will have developed a technical specialism over your career, hold protected species licences and have broad experience, both in terms of species and survey techniques, ensuring best practice as standard and challenging the norms where new methods would lead to better outcomes. You are self-motivated, and able to run with existing projects while attracting new work.

Download the full job spec here and email your application via cv and covering letter to jobs@bakerconsultants.co.uk