Ecological Reports and Surveying for Planning Applications

All planning applications are required to consider the impacts of the proposal on ecological features including protected sites, habitats and species. From the pre-application stage of a project Local Planning Authorities (LPA) should engage with applicants to assess the need for ecological documentation to accompanying a planning application. All information requested should be proportional to the proposal and predicted degree of risk.

Early engagement with the LPA on ecological information prevents timely delays to the planning process and negates potential reasons for refusal. At present there is no national requirement for the submission of ecological information alongside a planning application, however often local validation checklists or supplementary planning documents stipulate this what is required.

A Preliminary Ecological Assessment (PEA) is usually undertaken to rapidly assess the ecological features on a site, the likelihood for protected species to be present and the potential impacts of the development proposal. This survey includes a desktop study and Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey. Habitat and species information is gathered from site aerial photos, maps, and species records from local record centres. A walk over habitat survey is also undertaken to assess the importance of habitats onsite in their own right and their suitability to support protected species. A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal Report is then written for the proposal with impacts assessed and recommendations made. This report can be used for all scales of development and to inform an outline application provided there are limited ecological constraints which can be clearly dealt with and mitigated for.

If the potential for a protected species or an important habitat is identified during the PEA then further surveys may be required, sometimes referred to as Phase 2 surveys. These surveys must be relevant, necessary, and material to the planning application based on the predicted risk and scale of development identified within the PEA.

An Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) may be required for larger or more sensitive sites where there are a greater number of ecological constraints or mitigation measures required. An EcIA can also be used to inform projects where an Environmental Impact Assessment is required. As the name suggests, this assessment identifies significant ecological impacts on biodiversity arising from a proposal and how these can be addressed.

Ecological reports must be fit for purpose, below are some factors to consider when commissioning surveys and/or reports:

  • Consultants must be qualified and appropriately licensed if the species is protected
  • Surveys must be carried out at the appropriate time of year
  • Surveys must be up to date
  • Survey limitations must be clearly stated

All reports collated for submission should be proportional to the proposal and predicted degree of risk, with appropriate mitigation clearly stated and enforceable. Some projects may require a licence from Natural England if you plan to disturb or remove wildlife or damage protected habitats, for a project to be licensable three tests must be met by the application.

For assistance navigating the planning process, or advice on submitting relevant ecological information alongside a planning application, please get in contact with Optimis Consulting either via email at enquiries@optimis-consulting.co.uk or phone on 01234 330 624.

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