If you have a development project in Birmingham, one of the first things to consider is your proposed site’s ecological value.
Obtaining planning consent is dependent on addressing various ecological considerations. Arranging an ecological survey will clarify any issues on your site that may have to be resolved before you can get the green light from your local planning authority.
Known as the UK’s second city, since the 1980s Birmingham has been revitalised through economic regeneration and environmental improvements.
Boasting 30 conservation areas, 15 historic parks and gardens, it is one of the UK’s greenest cities, more than one-fifth of its area consisting of parks, nature reserves, allotments, golf courses and playing fields.
With a population of over 1.14m, its economic strengths lie in business, professional and financial services, digital media, the automotive industry, jewellery, environmental and medical technologies.
Birmingham’s planning strategy
Birmingham aims to be an enterprising and green city, accommodating growth in a sustainable way. The population is expected to grow by an extra 150,000 people by 2031, so new houses and jobs are needed. Other priorities include addressing climate change, delivering infrastructure and improving people’s quality of life.
The Birmingham Plan 2031 identifies the best places to locate housing and employment in the densely built-up city areas. While Birmingham City Council is promoting development, it wants to protect the city’s biodiversity to ensure a desirable environment. As such, planning officers will prioritise retaining biodiversity and environmental management to ensure the welfare of protected species and habitats as a material consideration in granting planning applications.
The council’s website states that planning applications must consider how a scheme will impact biodiversity on or near the site. An early ecological survey will identify ecological constraints, work out appropriate mitigation, and prevent delays.
What is an ecology survey?
It involves an ecological consultant assessing a proposed development site to identify any protected species present and the ecological constraints that they indicate. The ecology survey will establish what effect the development would have on the environment.
Why do I need an ecology assessment?
An ecology survey is usually needed as part of the planning process to prove that your scheme can meet your local planning authority’s minimum requirements for a successful planning application. The report will provide information that can be used to calculate how to achieve biodiversity net gain, a planning policy directive stating that a site must demonstrate a 10% minimum increase in biodiversity after development compared to pre-development.
Types of ecology survey
Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)
The Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)/Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey is the first step to take. It is prudent to submit a PEA survey to your local council at an early stage to prevent planning officers from rejecting your application on grounds of insufficient evidence. As well as saving delays to your application, it will establish whether further surveys are needed, identify key constraints and recommend environmental management mitigation to avoid harming wildlife.
Following a desk study, an ecological consultant will conduct a site inspection, recording any protected animal species and valuable or invasive plants present. The consultant will identify any potential constraints caused by protected species on site and propose mitigation to enable the scheme to proceed.
A mitigation hierarchy comes into play to decide the best approach for all existing habitats and ecological conditions present. The hierarchy ranges from the most desirable outcome to the least desirable, with a priority of avoiding damage to habitats. The second-best option is to minimise harm to ecological features by adjusting the scheme. The third option is restoration or rehabilitation; this involves the ecological surveyor restoring the original condition of part of the site to create more biodiversity in compensation for any value lost because of the development. The last option is offsetting; creating new habitats away from the proposed development site to compensate for biodiversity losses.
Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA)
Using the PEA survey results, an ecological impact assessment considers the potential effect of development on the environment. Ecological consultants may be required to carry out specific surveys such as bat surveys, great crested newt surveys or investigations into local bat populations.
European Protected Species Licence (EPSL)
If there is evidence of a protected species on the site, an EPSL may be required to grant the licensee permission to conduct activities that would otherwise be illegal, for instance disturbing or destroying the habitat of a legally protected species. You need planning permission before applying for an EPSL and three tests must be met: absent satisfactory alternatives; overriding public interest (such as health and safety issues) and population maintenance at favourable conservation status.
Licences must be applied for from a Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation such as Natural England, Natural Resource Wales, or Scottish Natural Heritage. It’s important to note that specific species surveys can only be carried out at certain times of year, for instance, the bat survey period is from early May to the end of September.
Protected animal species are safeguarded by legislation such as the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2019, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Protected species surveys include badger surveys, barn owl surveys, reptile surveys, surveys for water voles, bat surveys, dormouse surveys, great crested newt surveys and otter surveys.
Ecological Walkover Survey
This ecological survey provides supporting information to ensure that laws surrounding protected species are being adhered to. Ecological consultants conduct a field study recording the plants, animals and habitat on the site. This survey can be carried out even after planning permission is secured.
Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) assessment
The BNG concept means improving the biodiversity of an area by 10% following development. BNG is now a policy requirement of planning consent, and developers must demonstrate biodiversity improvement in their pre-development plans. A BNG consultant will ensure that important habitats are retained to avoid biodiversity loss and protect environmental features. In some cases, inhabiting animals can be safely relocated and trees can be moved.
Invasive species survey
This ecological assessment deals with problematic species on a site such as Japanese knotweed, giant Hogweed, Himalayan balsam and injurious weeds.
A BREEAM Assessment measures a building’s level of sustainability and environmental performance.
Habitat Regulations Assessment
This ecology survey is needed to assess whether a planning proposal could affect the conservation management of a European site that’s protected by Habitat Regulations or impact its quality.
Time your ecological survey
As ecological surveys and protected species surveys cannot be carried out year round, it’s vital to get them booked early to tie in with your development plans.
Find an ecological consultancy in Birmingham
It’s important to identify an ecological consultancy with experience in meeting the requirements of your local planning authority. Ecological consultants must be licensed and hold the relevant qualifications. A suitable ecological consultancy will be able to give expert advice, further information on the surveys you need, and the most cost effective solutions if you provide them with specific details of your planning project.