The St Osyth Priory Development Offers First Dwellings For Sale. Baker Consultants helped City & Country through a public inquiry.

The Sargeant Family acquired St Osyth Priory in 1999 with the aim of bringing this property into reuse, functioning as a working Estate once more.  The main property on this site dates back to 1120, when the priory was first founded and was home to the Austin Canons for over 80 years, later becoming an Abbey until its dissolution in 1553.

With such long history, it is an important historic site.  It is also a site that has ancient trees that date back to the mid-16th Century and a natural environment with valuable habitats and protected species.   The redevelopment plans for the property therefore had to be approached with high levels of sensitivity and care whilst also taking steps to reduce the property’s Conservation Deficit, valued at £39 million at the outset. By the end of 2018, the Conservation Deficit was forecasted to have reduced to £18 million.

Baker Consultants was drafted in during 2014 initially, to help the developers, City & Country through a public inquiry for the St Osyth Priory development.

In 2015, this first public inquiry was allowed, enabling the Estate to press ahead with its redevelopment and restoration plans. Work commenced in 2016 and a second public inquiry was also commenced.

Baker Consultants provided ecological input to the Public Inquiry and Appeals for this site, addressing the potential impacts of the scheme and recommending mitigation measures that would allow the development proposals to be sustainably delivered. This enabled vital restoration works on the historic group of 16 listed Priory buildings.

Protected species, valuable habitats and a Local Wildlife Site were protected, and potential effects on the Colne Estuary Special Protection Area, and Essex Estuaries Special Area of Conservation, were avoided.

Proposed plans to the St Osyth Priory site in 2017. We consulted on the whole plan, but the main areas of ecological interest were the Colne Estuary to the northwest, and the area of lakes and woodland in the centre and north of the parkland.

Proposed plans to the St Osyth Priory site in 2017. We consulted on the whole plan, but the main areas of ecological interest were the Colne Estuary to the northwest, and the area of lakes and woodland in the centre and north of the parkland.

To help with attracting grant funding for the restoration costs of the site, the St Osyth Priory & Parish Trust was formed in 2016, with Trustees that include Helen Moore of City & Country, Tim Sargeant representing the family, and George Clarke, presenter of Restoration Man on Channel 4.

The dwellings on this site have now been offered for sale, and here Trustee George Clark gives a tour of this beautiful complex that has been redeveloped sensitively to its traditional building style as well as sensitively for the biodiversity interest of the site.

If you need help with your site at any point in the planning phase, then please  get in touch with us via our contact form on the website, call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on info@bakerconsultants.co.uk.

Innovation in Bird Bioacoustics saves manpower and cuts costs for surveying target species

Earlier in the year Baker Consultants published a paper in the Elsevier Ecological Indicators journal on “Combining bioacoustics and occupancy modelling for improved monitoring of rare breeding bird populations”.

This innovative piece of research work has caused some excitement in ecology circles and is one that opens up new possibilities when it comes to species monitoring using technology and data analysis skills.  Funded by Natural England, the research was carried out by Baker Consultants’ Technical Director Carlos Abrahams, and published in a high quality peer reviewed journal.  Carlos’ expertise in sound recording and data analysis drove this piece of work, following his previous studies on capercaillie in Scotland. One of the key elements of the paper was the ability to combine the acoustic recordings of target species at a range of locations, with GIS and satellite remote sensing data of the habitats present at each site.  This allowed the environmental factors that determine species presence and detectability to be assessed.

We’re really excited by the outcomes of this research, as it makes acoustic survey methods much more viable for landowners, developers and estate managers.  Traditional surveying techniques ordinarily rely on huge manpower efforts to regularly visit sites to observe and record target species.  With the techniques developed by Carlos, we’re able to monitor the species by gathering larger data sets over longer time-frames, while reducing the manpower costs of data collection.  Survey by acoustic recording is also more effective at producing a robust and defensible dataset, as it can be subject to quality assurance processes and the raw data can be stored permanently.

We are continuing to carry out ecological consultancy during the Covid19 lockdown. If you have any surveying or monitoring needs during this period, then please  get in touch with us via our  contact form on the website, call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on info@bakerconsultants.co.uk.

At Baker Consultants, we are delighted to have been shortlisted for two prestigious national CIEEM Awards– we are the only ecology consultancy in The Midlands to reach the final stages for the Small Consultancy of the Year award.

Although we are now all home-based whilst the nation responds to Covid19, we are normally based at the refurbished railway station building at Cromford Bridge where our specialist team of highly qualified ecologists has built a reputation as an industry leader at the forefront of research, innovation and emerging policies in the sector.

Baker Consultants have been shortlisted for two prestigious national CIEEM awards

It’s an honour to have been recognised by The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environment Management (CIEEM), and shortlisted for the Small Consultancy of the Year award and also for the Best Practice Innovation Award for our pioneering work with Heathland Birds Bioacoustic Monitoring Research – a joint project with Natural England and the first of its type in Europe.

CIEEM is the professional membership body representing and supporting ecologists and environmental managers in the UK, Ireland and abroad with an aim to transform understanding of, and attitudes towards, protecting and enhancing the natural environment.

Its national awards celebrate the outstanding work of organisations and individuals working within the ecological and environmental sectors.

Managing Director, Andrew Baker said of the awards, “The team has worked incredibly hard over the last year and brought their ideas, their research and their specialist training to apply innovative, and in some cases ground-breaking, solutions to meet clients’ needs.

“Our clients include charitable organisations and local authorities alongside large infrastructure and housing developers. At any one time we have over 250 active projects and each is approached with the same robust scientific determination to secure outcomes as well as furthering conservation and promoting biodiversity.

“To go to London in October and come home with industry recognition for how we deliver what we do will be hugely significant for us as a business and as a team. We have won awards in the past it is great for the team to be rewarded for a job well done.  This year has been particularly productive and we felt strongly about putting ourselves forward for what we have achieved as a business and the projects we had been involved with.”

Winners of all categories will be announced at the annual CIEEM Awards luncheon, which has been rescheduled to a later date than planned, in October this year.

Get in touch with our team via our contact form on the website, call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on info@bakerconsultants.co.uk.

Baker Consultants’ Technical Director Carlos Abrahams is leading a webinar in association with the Institute of Acoustics and UK Acoustics Network on 13 May from 2pm.  The session will take delegates through the use of bioacoustics for field survey covering a wide range of species groups including birds, mammals, amphibians and invertebrates.

Baker Consultants’ Technical Director Carlos Abrahams is leading a webinar on the use of bioacoustics for field survey in association with the UK Acoustics Network on 13 May from 2pm.

If you would like to know more about how bioacoustic recording can provide a cost effective, highly robust method for gathering ecological data, register for this free session at the link below:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/using-bioacoustics-for-field-survey-carlos-abrahams-tickets-104430179478

If you need advice on surveys for land management, planning or development, then please  get in touch with us via our contact form on the website, or you can call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on info@bakerconsultants.co.uk.

At Baker Consultants we maintain very close contacts with a number of Universities, teaching on under graduate courses and keeping up to date and contributing to the latest research. These academic links also mean that we can offer opportunities to the brightest and the best of the newly qualified ecologists taking their first steps in their career ladder. Under the Covid-19 lockdown, although we have altered our processes when working in the field in line with DEFRA, Environmental Agency and CIEEM guidance, there is still the need to carry out plenty of surveying and other fieldwork.

And so, we are happy to welcome to the team two new Assistant Ecologists, Isabel Commerford and Jed Weaver, who will be helping us in the 2020 summer season.

Baker Consultants are happy to welcome two new Assistant Ecologists, Isabel Commerford and Jed Weaver, who will be helping us in the 2020 summer season.

Isabel is soon to graduate from the Manchester Metropolitan University where she studied Wildlife Biology at Bachelor level where she is on course for a First Class Degree.  Her interests are very broad and she has the makings of an excellent all-round ecologist. Her dissertation was on mountain hares on Bleaklow in the Peak District, so she is no stranger to arduous field work, she is a keen botanist and is close to getting her bat survey license.  Last summer she attended the British Ecological Society’s under graduate summer school where she was awarded a bursary to fund her further training and equipment.

Jed graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a First Class degree in Biological Sciences, Ecology and Environmental Management, a course which we have been very happy to contribute to over the years and is accredited by our professional body CIEEM (https://www.ntu.ac.uk/course/science-and-technology/ug/bsc-hons-biological-science).  He has an interest in environmental law and policy and will be helping our Habitats Regulations Assessment team, which is extraordinarily busy, as well as helping organise our survey schedule. He is already proving very capable and has taken on the mantle of managing this year’s DNA testing kits.

So we’re sure you will join us in warmly welcoming on board these two new rising stars to our team.

We are continuing to carry out ecological consultancy work during the Covid19 lockdown. If you have any general queries then please  get in touch with us via our contact form on the website, or you can call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on info@bakerconsultants.co.uk.

Carlos Abrahams has recently provided training in birdsong identification for the UK Acoustics Network.  The workshop demonstrated how the bird population change with the seasons, and for identifying unseen birds by their acoustic signature with the use of SM4 (Song Meters).  The use of SM4’s has further extended the project’s potential for identifying unseen birds by their song and their calls.

The study site, Colt Park Wood, is over 400 years old and it has never undergone a systematic ecological survey. In this site the team have been able to add 13 new species of birds to the 65 noted in Warden’s diaries between 1958-1996.

See the UK Acoustics Network March Newsletter detailing the Birdsong Identification Training.

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.

 

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

We are very pleased to have won Nottingham Trent Universities’ supplier award for best contribution to social value and sustainability for our work of Great Crested Newts at the Brackenhurst Campus.

The official press release reads as follows. “Baker Consultants has been working closely with NTU’s Brackenhurst Campus on its ambitious redevelopment programme to ensure biodiversity of the estate was not only protected but enhanced. Of high priority was the protection of the populations of Great Crested Newts; Brackenhurst Campus supports one of the largest and best studied populations in the county. Working with NTU, Baker Consultants was successful in obtaining a Phased European Protected Species License for the entire Brackenhurst development programme. Only a handful of phased licences have been issued across England, and this is the first of its kind for a University campus. Implementation of the licence will require collaboration and input from contractors, staff and students and NTU has committed to undertake a twenty-five year management programme. Baker Consultants will continue to work with NTU to ensure that the conditions of the licence are implemented and our biodiversity assets are protect, monitored and enhanced.”

An Unseen Problem

It is fair to say that, when discussing the environmental impacts of offshore wind, birds and marine mammals have certainly been at the forefront of the collective thinking of regulators, consultants, academics and the industry in general. In our experience, it is very rare that we are asked to consider bats in our approach to pre-construction surveys or impact assessments. In attending last September’s Conference on Wind Energy & Wildlife Impacts in Portugal, we found that studies regarding bats formed a very small proportion of the overall representations of the assembled experts from around the world. However, the evidence that was presented was intriguing, and most certainly a clear warning that we are not doing all we should to consider the potential impacts on bats from these installations.

The problems are clear – bats are small, nocturnal animals and, if they are crossing our seas, the chances of detecting them on radar systems (designed to detect flocks of migrating birds), or observing casualties of such a tiny animal in a vast waterbody like the North Sea are minimal. We do know, however, that various bat species cross our seas, and perhaps even forage further away from the coast than we would think is feasible. Anecdotal evidence, and increasing numbers of localised studies, show bats of several species feeding up to 10km offshore, and occasionally even beyond that, as well as being observed resting/ roosting on offshore installations such as oil rigs, and even wind turbines themselves (Ahlen et al 2007). In the right conditions, large numbers of bats could be following significant aggregations of insects far out to sea, possibly placing them in harm’s way as more and more wind farms spring up around the Baltic and North Seas, as well as Europe’s Atlantic coastlines.

Regulation & Guidance

The lack of evidence, and the difficulty in collecting that evidence, has posed a problem for the organisations tasked with ensuring that the environmental impacts of offshore development are minimised and mitigated for appropriately. To date, only Germany has devised formal guidance for offshore bat study and impact assessment. Other nations propose an approach based on the EUROBATS publication ‘Guidelines for consideration of bats in windfarm projects’ (revised 2014). The primary function of the EUROBATS initiative is to conserve Europe’s bat populations, and it is recognised that we simply do not know enough about offshore bat activity to rule out significant problems for the populations of several species, most notably Nathusius’ pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii, soprano pipistrelle P. pygmaeus, and noctule Nyctalus noctula (Arnett et al 2015).

Broadly, the guidance recommends that any boat-based surveys be conducted during April and May (inclusive) and August and October (inclusive) to cover the vital migratory season. For installations closer to shore, or in narrower channels, land-based surveys conducted from headlands will supplement this work, with additional surveys in June and July to cover periods of higher foraging activity in calmer conditions.

A Bespoke Approach

In interpreting this guidance, and ensuring that any development complies fully with regulations and minimises any ecological impact, it is vital that the programme of survey work is designed to provide us with a strong, evidence-led basis for our assessment. All potential offshore turbine sites will present their own unique conditions and challenges. We would always aim to make the most efficient use of our time by combining other necessary work, such as boat-based bird survey, with the deployment and retrieval of bat detection equipment, and simultaneous nocturnal bird and bat activity surveys.

The use of appropriate technology will be crucial to any study of offshore bats. Automated bat detectors would be used on land (at potential crossing points) and, where feasible and necessary, at sea on platforms such as rigs, buoys or night operating ferries if they are in the vicinity of the proposed wind farm. As well as hand-held bat audio detection equipment on our boat-based transects, thermal imaging cameras will be utilised to visually monitor the area and add as much as possible to the dataset.

As technology advances, our work, and collaborative efforts with academic institutions, will assist our understanding of where, when and how bats are using the open sea. Studies involving radar and GPS tags (available now for even the smaller bat species) will be consulted to broaden our understanding of this phenomenon, and how we can combine this with our data to design meaningful mitigation for bats as part of the spectrum of ecological considerations at future offshore wind farms.

References

Bats in the Anthropocene: Conservation of Bats in a Changing World; Chapter 11 – Impacts of Wind Energy Development on Bats: A Global Perspective, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-25220-9_11. E.B. Arnett at el (2015).

EUROBATS Publication Series No. 6: Guidelines for Consideration of Bats in Wind Farm Projects – Revision 2014. L. Rodrigues et al (2014).

Bats and Offshore Wind Turbines Studies in Southern Scandinavia (Swedish Environmental Protection Agency). Ahlen et al (2007).