Focus Consultants has recently completed another preliminary ecological appraisal (PEA) for a client looking to develop a site in The Meadows, Nottingham. The survey area, an urban brownfield site now colonised by vegetation, may not be seen by some as requiring a PEA due to what seems like negligible ecological value. However, this is not the case and great care should be taken to fully assess such sites – just as greenfield areas would also be.
Formerly known as ‘phase 1 habitat surveys’, preliminary ecological appraisals are widely recognised as the first step in assessing a site’s ecological value. A PEA is required in order to provide baseline ecological information ahead of taking decisions regarding a site’s suitability for development or other proposals. It is very common for planning authorities to require PEAs as a part of a planning permission request as the minimum amount of ecological documentation needed.
For the purpose of conducting a PEA, a methodology was developed during the 1980s by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). This method, that outlines how habitat types should be classified and mapped, can be applied to areas of any size or location. To use the methodology, an ecologist must visit the site in question and visually delineate between habitat types, of which there are ten defined within the methodology, with each being split into multiple sub-habitat types. Upon completion of this stage, the ecologist should present their findings in map format using the symbols and colour codes defined within the methodology. As such, this part of the PEA process is standardised, allowing for easy comparison between survey findings.
A natural extension to the ‘phase 1’ process, and something that is nowadays always included in PEAs, is for the survey, subsequent report and habitat map to include details of legally protected species. That is to say species, both flora and fauna, that receive a level of protection from UK or EU law. This includes all bats, reptiles and breeding birds. To do this, the ecologist will search for these species, signs of their presence and habitat types that could provide suitable forage, shelter or travelling routes.
As a part of this survey, PEAs also include a search for species that are registered under the relevant UK legislation as being non-native invasive species. This can also include both flora and fauna. Such species can sometimes have significant implications in terms of a proposed development and include Japanese knotweed.
Once the PEA process is complete, the information gathered pertaining to habitat types and protected species allows for informed decisions to be made by developers, contractors and planning authorities alike. These decisions are framed within the ecologist’s recommendations for ecological mitigation and enhancement that are informed by the ecological value of the site in question, presence or absence of protected species and the nature of any development proposals.
In the instance that the PEA reports evidence of protected species or suitability of the site to shelter them, it is important to be prepared for the further ecological surveying effort that this will require. For example, if evidence of bats or suitable habitat for them is found, such as an old building, further surveys would be needed to establish whether bats are present. This has obvious repercussions in terms of timescales for a project, especially since many protected species can be effectively surveyed for only a short period of the year. It is also important to be aware that planning authorities will often require absence of protected species to be fully and conclusively established prior to providing planning permission.