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Ecology surveys in Bristol

Before you can secure planning permission on a proposed development site, various ecological considerations usually need to be addressed. To do this, the first step is to arrange an ecology survey on your site which will help you develop a mitigation strategy to resolve any ecological issues present.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol spanning the Avon Gorge.

Bristol and development

The city, county and unitary authority of Bristol in southwest England has the 11th largest UK urban area by population. Its maritime history as a trading port made Bristol a thriving city and today it’s known as a hub for the aerospace industry, electronics and creative media businesses. Noted as a green city, having over 400 parks and open spaces such as Clifton Downs overlooking the Avon Gorge, attractions include Portishead Lake Grounds, the University of Bristol Botanic Garden and Ashton Court Estate.

There are plans for more housing and employment space in and around the city. Bristol City Council, South Gloucestershire Council, Bath and Northeast Somerset Council and North Somerset Council are working on the West of England Joint Spatial Plan, establishing the overall strategy for housing need in Bristol and Bath to 2036. The Local Plan is being updated to show how up to 33,500 new and affordable homes can be delivered to Bristol by 2036, and the One City Plan is also being developed for the city, looking at connectivity, the economy, housing and the environment.

While the limited number of countryside locations across the city are protected, the Bristol Local Development Scheme 2022-2024 has a policy of seeking to approve planning applications for sustainable development where possible, in line with national planning policy. The council is also keen to reverse habitat loss and create a net gain for nature while boosting the economy in areas designated for growth.

Licensed ecologists carry out an ecology survey.

Ecology in the Bristol area

Despite Bristol being a highly developed area, it’s home to several protected species in its rural and urban areas. Bristol City Council has action plans for each of the primary protected species in the county such as hedgehogs, house sparrows, otters and great crested newts. The Bristol Biodiversity Action Plan (BAAP) contains details of the ecological features and biodiversity value in Bristol. The BAAP, working with Bristol City Council and the Avon Wildlife Trust, includes sections relating to development planning, and it notes the importance of arranging the relevant ecological surveys for your development site.

During these surveys, licenced ecologists will assess the site for ecological features present. If any are found that present restrictions to your scheme, they will indicate mitigation measures to enable the project to progress without harming protected species or valuable plants.

The ecologists can advise on any further ecological surveys that might be needed according to their findings and will produce a detailed report. This will provide methods of mitigation to protect the ecological features present while allowing the development scheme to progress and can be submitted to the local planning authority with your planning application.

An ecological survey underway.

Why do I need an ecological survey Bristol?

Ecological surveys are needed to satisfy your local planning authority’s policies on nature conservation and prove that your scheme can meet the minimum requirement needed for a successful planning application. The report will contribute to achieving biodiversity net gain, a planning policy that insists on a 10% minimum increase in biodiversity post-development compared to pre-development.

Types of ecology surveys

Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)

The first stage is to arrange for an ecological consultant to carry out a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)/Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey. Having this at an early stage will prevent the local planning authority from rejecting your application on grounds of insufficient evidence, saving delays. A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal consists of a desk study and site inspection and aims to index anything of biodiversity value.

Preliminary Ecological Appraisals involve the ecological consultant assessing the entire development site to work out what valuable or invasive plants and protected species of animal may be present. The consultant will identify any potential constraints caused by protected species on site and work out mitigation to ensure that planning applications are not delayed because of them. To do this they will employ a mitigation hierarchy to decide on the best way forward for all existing habitats, protected species and ecological conditions on the site.

The Preliminary Ecological Appraisal survey hierarchy ranges from the most desirable outcome to the least desirable, and the priority is avoidance, allowing licensed ecologists to retain habitats by avoiding harm to them. The second-best option is to minimise harm to valuable features by adjusting the development plans. The third option, restoration or rehabilitation, involves the ecological surveyor altering part of the site back to its original condition, creating more biodiversity to make up for any value lost as a result of the development. The last resort in the hierarchy is an offsetting option, compensating for biodiversity losses by creating new habitats away from the proposed development site.

European Protected Species Licence (EPSL)

This may be required if a consultant finds evidence of a protected species on the site. An EPSL grants the licencee permission to carry out activities that would otherwise be illegal, for instance disturbing or destroying the habitat of a legally protected species in the course of achieving your scheme. You need planning consent 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. You must apply for a licence from a Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation such as Natural England, Natural Resource Wales or Scottish Natural Heritage.

Protected species

Protected species of animal 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. The many types of protected species surveys include badger surveys, barn owl surveys, reptile surveys, water vole surveys, bat surveys, dormouse surveys, great crested newt surveys and otter surveys.

Ecological Walkover Survey

This type of ecological survey provides supporting information to make sure that laws surrounding protected species are being adhered to. It can be carried out even after planning consent is secured. It involves a field study and a concise report detailing the ecological features present on the site.

Other surveys include:

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) Assessment

The BNG concept means improving the biodiversity of an area by 10% following development. BNG is now part of UK legislation and a policy requirement of planning consent, meaning that developers must improve biodiversity in their pre-development plans. During this ecological survey, 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 survey relates to problematic species such as Japanese knotweed, giant Hogweed, Himalayan balsam and injurious weeds.

BREEAM Assessments

BREEAM Assessments measure the level of sustainability and environmental performance in a building with new infrastructure.

Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA)

An HRA is an ecological survey carried out to assess whether a planning proposal could infringe on the conservation management of a European site that’s protected by Habitat Regulations or impact its quality.

Time your ecological survey

There are certain times of the year when ecological surveys can be carried out, so it’s vital to secure your booking according to your development plans. Bear in mind that the majority of ecology surveys don’t take place in the winter months. An ecological consultancy will be able to advise you on this.

Find ecology services in the Bristol area

It’s important to identify an ecological consultancy with experience in meeting the requirements of the local planning authority. It needs to be adept at carrying out the full range of ecology services, from Preliminary Ecological Appraisals to Protected Species Surveys and bat surveys, with a view to supporting planning applications. Before engaging an ecological consultancy, make sure that it employs licenced ecologists who hold the appropriate qualifications.  

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