Reptile surveys can sometimes be recommended by Planning Authorities before planning permission is granted for a development. This is normally if land that is proposed for development contains suitable reptile habitat that may be affected. Some people are quite surprised to think that they may have reptiles on their land and may even be surprised to hear that we have reptiles in the UK at all!
In fact, in the UK, we have six native reptile species.
Three types of snake; adder, grass snake and smooth snake and three types of lizard; common lizard, sand lizard and slow worms (often mistaken for snakes).
All of these species are protected from killing and injury under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). Smooth snakes and sand lizards also have legislation protecting their habitat due to the rarity of these species within the UK.
This legislation means that clearance of ground vegetation will often require reptile surveys to be completed beforehand to establish whether reptiles are present or not. Without this knowledge, you may end up killing or injuring animals as part of the proposed development and breaching wildlife legislation.
Reptile habitat varies from species to species but most reptiles will be found in overgrown grasslands, areas of scrub, commons, heaths and moorland. Piles of rubble, stone, logs or vegetation can also provide good quality habitat and refuge space for reptiles and removal of these types of structures must be carefully considered.
Carrying out a survey
Surveying an area of land for reptiles normally consists of an ecologist placing reptile ‘refugia’ in the form of bitumen roof felt tiles or corrugated iron sheeting around 50 to 100cm2. The refugia will be spread around the site, a few metres away from each other and will be in locations that are attractive to reptiles such as close to hedges, areas of scrub, piles of cut grass or stone walls. Once deployed within the site, the refugia will be left to ‘bed in’ for around two weeks. This will allow reptiles time to find the refugia and start using it. After around two weeks, surveys will begin.
Surveys should be carried out in dry conditions with temperatures being between 9°C and 18°C. As the materials used in reptile refugia are excellent heat conductors, when left in the sun or warm conditions, they become warm to the touch. As reptiles are ectothermic or ‘cold blooded’, they cannot produce their own body heat but rely on environmental heat sources for warmth. The refugia provides an excellent place to ‘bask’ or warm up and provide energy for these animals. This is why it is important to carry out these surveys in the correct temperatures and conditions. If it is too cold then the refugia will not heat up enough to provided warmth for reptiles and if it is too hot then reptiles will already have heated up from the ambient temperature and will not need to see out other sources of heat.
During each survey, each piece of refugia will be quietly approached by an ecologist who will assess to see if any reptiles are basking on top of the refugia. The refugia will also be gently lifted to see if any reptiles are underneath. This will be repeated on seven occasions. Surveys are generally carried out once a day or every other day but can be carried out as much as two times a day as long as they are spread out by a few hours and weather conditions are suitable for both surveys. During each survey, the species, number of individuals, age class, the sex (where possible), and the location of any reptiles found will be recorded. At the end of the surveys, you will have an assessment of whether reptiles are present or absent in the site and if present, an indication of species and population numbers.
What happens if reptiles are present?
If reptiles are present on your land then further consideration will be required. This will vary case by case and may involve carrying out certain works in the winter or having an ecologist oversee certain activities to assess for reptiles. Parts of the development may even need to be reassessed to prevent harm to wildlife. Whatever the scenario, at Acorn Ecology, all of our ecologist are experienced in carrying out reptile surveys. If you believe that you are in need of a survey then contact us today for advice.
Survey season is approaching! Spring is just around the corner, with the first signs already all around us. Some of the first species that we can start surveying for are reptiles and amphibians. April is when we see temperatures increase, our reptile and amphibian species have been tucked away, hibernating for the last few months but around this time of year they start to become more active.
Great crested newts are our most protected amphibian. Surveys for this species are constrained between the months of April and June. If you know you have ponds on site or you are in an area where surveys are likely, we advise you to get in touch as soon as you can to avoid unnecessary delays.
Why can we only survey in such a short time?
Many people assume that newts live in ponds. This is true to a certain extent. Newts congregate in ponds in spring and early summer to breed. For the rest of the year they are terrestrial, living in hedgerows, seeking shelter in log piles and eating insects. When they are living on land they are a lot more difficult to survey for. This is why ecologists need to survey ponds, and we can only do that at a time of year when the newts, if they use that pond, will be present.
We can survey using eDNA testing (these see if newt DNA is in the pond) and/or traditional bottle trapping techniques. This method involves placing traps around the edge of a pond in the evening and checking them the following morning. Newts will walk into the traps, which have a funnel-like construction, meaning they can get in, but not out again. This needs to be done 4-6 times to see if they are present and if so, what the population is like. While placing out and collecting the traps, other complementary survey methods can also be used, such as counting the number of newts present by torchlight and undertaking an egg search.
If works are likely to cause a disturbance to great crested newts, or will destroy land or ponds which are used by newts then you will need a licence from Natural England. We will be able to advise you on this following the outcome of surveys.
There are new mitigation schemes being trialled in areas of the country, but these are localised and the traditional surveys and licencing methods still stand for the majority of the country. You can find out more about the roll out of new licencing methods for great crested newts on the Natural England website here.
We have six native species of reptiles in the UK. April is one of the best months to survey for them. You can read more about reptile surveys here. In brief, we survey for presence/absence of reptiles on a site by placing refugia in areas likely to be used by reptiles (if present). Refugia can be made from corrugated metal, bitumen roofing felt or carpet tiles. These provide reptiles with a safe location to bask and soak up the heat of the sun at the start of the day. Once the refugia have “bedded in” which takes a couple of weeks, we will then visit the site on seven occasions to survey for reptiles. We look on and under each refugia and note down the species and number of reptiles found.
If works are likely to cause harm to reptiles, or destroy habitat you will need a mitigation plan. Most projects will not require a mitigation licence if this is the case, unless the rare smooth snake or sand lizard are on site. However, not providing mitigation for all species of reptiles is an offence and therefore a mitigation strategy, be it a translocation or avoidance will be required. Acorn Ecology has produced many mitigation strategies for a variety of scenarios and we will be able to advise you on the best route forward.
If you need ecology surveys then give us a call. Our friendly and experienced team are ready to help. Remember that many surveys are seaonally constrained, so get us on board as soon as possible to avoid unneccessary delays! firstname.lastname@example.org or 01392366512. See below for details of your nearest branch.
Housing developments are necessary part of our growing economy satisfying the demand for homes by our ever growing population. Prospecting and acquiring suitable land to undertake a housing development is the first stage for a housing project. The scale of the project can vary as some require large areas of land to be converted into completely new towns, while others expand the edges, conurbations or fill gaps in towns and villages.
It is important to instruct an ecologist during the initial stages of any new housing project as they will be able to provide advice regarding ecological constraints, and provide solutions to avoidable scenarios that could cause a delay to the progress of a project. At the design stage it is always useful to have input from an ecologist as there may be elements of your proposals or landscape design that had not been considered.
Please contact us now to discuss your project. It is important to understand the ecological requirements of your project at the earliest available opportunity.
A prospective site for a housing development could have protected habitats, or the presence of (or potential for) protected species, examples include:
mature trees, woodland, hedgerows, acid grassland or heathland which may also have the potential to support protected species such as reptiles, roosting bats or dormice; and/or
buildings, structures (such as bridges or culverts) and trees on a site that may have the potential to support nesting birds and bats.
If protected habitats or protected species (incl. the potential for) are noted on site further advice is required on limitations to activities (e.g. habitat clearance or building works) that can be undertaken on site, and how the project will proceed regarding any Ecological Constraints that have been identified. Request a quote for a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal.
Ecological constraints include the presence of protected habitats or protected species (and the potential for them) as outlined above. Any ecological constraints to your development will be identified following the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal, and a data search or desk study of the site. These can include sites important for nature conservation, protected species consultation zones, and seasonal or protected species constraints. They may also require further information to be gathered by undertaking Phase 2 Surveys in order to undertake a robust and comprehensive assessment.
Phase 2 surveys for protected species and any impact assessment for the proposed development will need to be undertaken in accordance with the following:
Recommended optimal survey periods which are seasonal and vary for each species;
The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) guidelines; and
Current best practice survey and mitigation guidelines produced by The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust; Bat Conservation Trust; and Natural England to name a few.
Ecological Reports and Management Plans
Once the Phase 2 surveys are completed (if required) the next stage in your housing development will include the provision of ecological advice based on ecological impact assessments of the proposals which will include some of the following reports:
Preliminary Ecological Appraisal – includes recommendations for further surveys, and are generally not submitted with planning applications unless there are no recommendations for further surveys;
Ecology Report or Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) – includes the information contained in the PEA report, the findings of any Phase 2 surveys undertaken, an assessment of the impacts of the proposed development and recommendations for ecological avoidance, mitigation, enhancement and compensation;
Management and Ecological Plans – there are variety of reports that can be produced; however, the most commonly requested reports for housing developments are either an Ecological Mitigation and Enhancement Strategy (EMES) or a Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP). These reports collate all previous recommendations into a single document, and provide specific regarding the post construction, construction and operation phases of the site, and advice regarding the timing and implementation of ecological recommendations.
Post Construction Monitoring Report – this report will include details of and site audits that have been undertaken post construction to ensure that ecological recommendations have been implemented.
Site Mitigation and Enabling
On sites where mitigation is required for more than one species, for example reptiles, bats and great crested newts, it is advantageous to prepare an Ecological Mitigation and Enhancement Strategy or Biodiversity Mitigation and Enhancement Plan to collate the recommendations provided in the Phase 2 reports into a single document.
Once planning permission is granted your site will need to be enabled. This will involve implementing the mitigation plans for the relevant protected species on site and/or undertaking works in accordance with the conditions of a European Protected Species Mitigation Licence issued by Natural England (or relevant authority). It is worth noting that licence applications can only be submitted once planning permission is granted and all other consents (e.g. listed buildings) are in place. Natural England aim to reach a decision 30 working days from the receipt of applications and do not process applications more than 3 months in advance of the licensable works taking place. So planning the mitigation works in advance will avoid unnecessary delays to the proposed programme of your scheme.
Finally, to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development includes the National Planning Policy Framework which was recently revised in July 2018, sets out the government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied. The NPPF must be taken into account the preparation of a development plan, and is a material consideration in planning decisions. Planning policies and decisions must also reflect relevant international obligations and statutory requirements.
Remeber, our top tip is to get an ecologist on board as soon as possible. We can undertake the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal at any time of year, which will help to identify potential constraints and help you to plan your development timeline.
The London and South East team had an interesting and enjoyable project recently, they were commissioned to conduct a Preliminary Bat Survey (PBS) on a beautiful church built in the 1800’s.
The church is made of a soft stone and years of erosion have meant the spire needs restoration work. The roof tiles are made of clay and also need to be restored.
The church was originally associated with a vicarage and a hay meadow, both were built in 1875 taking less than two years to complete.
Now the church is a focal point for the area, regularly performing mass and a venue for hosting events such as baptisms and weddings.
As part of the PBS the London and South East team had to make their way up the original steep spiral staircase made from the original stone until they reached the belfry.
Here, bat droppings and bat feeding remains were found, including small tortoiseshell and peacock butterfly wings, confirming this is a bat roost. DNA analysis confirmed the droppings belong to brown long-eared bats.
The team then made their way up even higher until they got to the base of the church spire where they could see all the way to the apex. Some bat droppings were found in the spire too.
Further bat emergence and re-entry surveys were recommended for this church to see if bats are currently using the church before any restoration work could commence.
The first dusk emergence survey was on a beautiful evening, however there were very few bats around, only a couple of common pipistrelles flying around the church.
The second dusk emergence survey was very similar to the first, there were a couple of bats flying around but no emergences.
The dawn re-entry survey was a lot more active than the previous two surveys! We had a total of 58 bat passes around the building, nearly ten times the amount of the previous two nights combined. There were no bats entering the church, however.
Following the results of the further bat surveys and taking into account the church is a confirmed bat roost, we have recommended that the restoration work be completed using a Bat Low Impact Class Licence (BLICL) and be completed during the winter months when bats are least likely to affected.
The restoration work can now commence on this beautiful church, keeping it the centrepiece for the area, knowing the resident bats will be unharmed.
The main survey season may be over, but there’s still work we can do on your development site. Don’t wait until spring to get an ecologist on board with your project. Start now and avoid delays later in the year. Here are just a few of the surveys we can do over winter:
Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)
Get prepared for Survey Season 2019 by having the PEA Survey carried out early on. We can produce a Phase 1 Habitat map and assess the site for protected species. If further survey is required, this can be started as soon as possible. That way the surveys should be completed within the year (for small-medium developments).
You do not need to wait for bat season to have a roost inspection. If further surveys are required, they will need to be carried out from May, but we can assess roosts at any time of year.
Assessing trees for the potential to contain bat roosts is ideally done at either end of the bat season. Autumn and spring are great, while the trees have fewer leaves and an assessment is easier to make. We have bat licensed ecologists with tree climbing qualifications in house.
There are also badger verification surveys which, like the tree surveys, are often easier to carry out once vegetation has died back or before the leaves are fully out. In some cases hibernation surveys may be needed for bat roosts, which can only be done in the colder months.
Mitigation and Management Plans
There are various mitigation works that can take place following summer surveys. We can prepare mitigation and management plans, and help on site. Acorn Ecologists are experienced at a variety of different Ecological Clerk of Works (ECoW) techniques for different species. If you need an ecologist to oversee habitat clearance on site, we can help.
Our ecologists are experienced in in writing European Protected Species Licences, including bats, dormice and great crested newts. Winter can be a good time to prepare documents for submission to Natural England.
Why not work on your CPD over winter? Acorn Ecology has been providing ecology training for over a decade. We can come to your office and deliver a tailored training day on the ecological topics that matter to you and your staff. To find out more, take a look at our dedicated training website or contact email@example.com.
In short, there are plenty of ways in which an ecologist can help get your project started over winter. If you’d like advice on what we can do for you over the next few months then get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org or use our online quote request form and we will get back to you.
Seasonal constraints: The survey season varies for the different protected species we have in the UK. For bats, it peaks between May and September, for great crested newts there is only a small window from April to the end of June. Being aware of when surveys can be carried out for each species helps, but you don’t need to be an expert. Use our handy survey calendar (download here) to help you.
Length of surveys: Often people underestimate how long ecological surveys can take. The surveys themselves may not take long, but they may need to be spread out across a few weeks or even months. Start too late and you may find that you have to wait out the winter for surveys to continue in the spring of the following year. For example, bat activity surveys need to happen throughout the whole of the bat active season (a minimum of Spring, Summer and Autumn visits to site). Dormouse surveys, if required, will also need to be undertaken over a few months (6 or more) for a full survey.
Remember that ecology surveys should be requested prior to planning applications being validated.
How can unnecessary delays be avoided?
Our #1 tip is this: get your ecologist on board early on in the process. As soon as you can! We can carry out a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)* Survey at any time of year. Ask your ecologist for the survey and talk over the plans for the site with them. Surveys for protected species, if needed can then start as soon as possible. If you ask the ecologist to carry out the PEA during the winter months, or very early in spring, then all the surveys can be completed in the following season (very large sites or big infrastructure projects will take longer).
As well as PEA surveys of land, we can also undertake Preliminary Roost Inspections (often called bat and nesting bird surveys by Planners) at any time of the year.
What do I need to do now?
The first thing is to get in touch and discuss your project with us. We can arrange to come and visit the site and assess it for the potential/presence of protected species. You could download our survey and mitigation calendar (click here) for a guide as to what time of year different surveys and mitigation can take place.
The team at Acorn Ecology have worked on a wide variety of projects and can offer you advice on what your site requirements will be. Don’t leave it too late. Avoid unnecessary delays by calling us today!
For more information about Acorn Ecology services, take a look at our website.
* A PEA Survey is often called a Phase 1, wildlife or habitat survey by the planning office requesting it.
A Bat Low Impact Class Licence (BLICL) is a type of bat mitigation licence that can be used on sites where the proposed works are anticipated to have a low impact on bats, but where the works still need to be licensed in order to meet legal requirements.
On eligible sites, it removes the requirement for a standard European Protected Species Licence (EPSL) /mitigation licence. It aims to streamline the licensing process and offers a more ‘proportional’ approach.
When does it apply?
There are very specific criteria that must be met in order to register a site under the BLICL, and this information must be obtained by undertaking adequate bat surveys in accordance with best practice guidelines (usually involving an internal/external visual inspection and associated summer time emergence/re-entry surveys).
Your ecologist will need to carefully assess whether your site is a ‘low conservation significance roost’ and meets the necessary criteria. In summary the criteria are as follows:
No more than three of the more ‘common’ bat species: common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, brown long-eared, whiskered, Brandt’s, Daubenton’s and Natterer’s.
No more than three bat roosts in total
Only individual or small numbers of bats
Only certain types of roosts – feeding/night roosts, day roosts and transitional/occasional roosts.
Only ‘low impact’ or ‘temporary impact’ works.
If your project does not meet all of these criteria (e.g. if another bat species was present, or if there are more than three roosts) then you will need to apply for a standard EPSL/mitigation licence.
Only a Registered Consultant (RC) can apply to register the site under this licence.
At Acorn Ecology we have two Registered Consultants (Steph Attwood and Sarah Candlin) who can help move your projects forward under this licence.
Why it is beneficial to you?
The main benefit is that it is a huge time saver: you will be waiting a couple of weeks rather than several months. This can also reduce financial repercussions associated with delaying works.
The standard EPSL process involves your ecologist preparing detailed supporting documents, which then need to be submitted and thoroughly assessed by Natural England. As a minimum the Natural England assessment process takes 30 working days, however due to the backlog in applications this can sometimes be in excess of 60 working days!
In contrast, registering the site under the BLICL is a much simpler process and Natural England aim to respond within 10 working days. In our experience we usually receive a response within a couple of days!
To find out if your project can proceed under the BLICL please contact Acorn Ecology on 01392 366512 or email us at email@example.com
Everyone loves hedgehogs, but how are they considered on development sites? Here are a few key considerations:
1. Where are you likely to find hedgehogs?
Hedgehogs are found across much of the UK. Gardens, hedgerows, woodlands and parklands are all important habitats. In summer hedgehogs can roam 1-2 km per night in search of food (often slugs, worms and insects) over an area of 10-50 ha. They hibernate in winter, between November and March. Areas that provide suitable foraging habitat as well as somewhere for hedgehogs to find shelter should set the “hedgehog” bells ringing when on site.
Hedgehogs should be considered throughout the year. In summer they may stray into construction sites (see section 3 below) and in winter they can be particularly vulnerable during site clearance as they are hibernating and inactive.
2. Why do we consider hedgehogs?
Hedgehogs are not fully protected in the same way as bats or newts (whereby the animals and their resting places are protected from damage and destruction). However, hedgehogs are listed on Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (more commonly abbreviated to the NERC Act). Section 41 draws upon the UK BAP List of Priority Species and Habitats.
What this means for development is that the NERC Act places a duty on Local Planning Authorities in England to have due regard to biodiversity, and in particular, the 943 species of principal importance, as listed under Section 41 of NERC (2006). These include certain species of plants, mammals, birds, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, fish and fungi. Hedgehogs are listed as a species of principal importance. You can find the full list of Section 41 species on the Natural History Museum website here.
However, no specific surveys are needed prior to works on sites that may support hedgehogs.
3. How do we put considerations in place?
Our course of action, as ecologists, is to consider the following (in order):
How can we avoid impacts? Where possible, habitat that could be used by species such as hedgehogs is retained. This may include existing hedgerows.
How can we mitigate for impacts? This could include cutting holes in boundary fences of housing estates to allow hedgehogs to travel between gardens, allowing these habitats to remain available to them. Hedgehogs can travel up to 2 km in a night, so making sure they can get around is important. This can also include putting in measures to protect hedgehogs during the construction process. In summer, providing a means of escape from foundation works is an example of mitigation, and in winter a search for hibernating hedgehogs should be carried out before certain vegetation clearance begins.
How can we compensate for impacts? By replacing habitat that is lost, such as hedgerows, we can ensure habitat connectivity in the long term.
How can we enhance the site? If we have already considered the methods of avoiding and mitigating for impacts to the site we can then also recommend enhancements to the site. For hedgehogs this could include a hedgehog home (a box for hedgehogs to shelter in). These are however an enhancement measure, and should not be used for compensation.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF, 2012) sets out the Government’s planning policies for England providing guidance for planners and developers. It also provides guidance on development and the natural environment helping to protect priority habitats, species and protected sites for example from development.
Section 109 of the NPPF outlines how the planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment in a number of ways, including:
“minimising impacts on biodiversity and providing net gains in biodiversity where possible, contributing to the Government’s commitment to halt the overall decline in biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures”.
The new draft maintains this stance (Section 168). The full chapter (15) that relates to conserving and enhancing the natural environment has been updated to align with DEFRA’s 25 Year Environment Plan, and can be read in the proposed draft document on the consultation page on the government website.
Earlier this month the Guildford team were in Farnham overseeing a soft strip of a roof due for demolition, in accordance with the EPSL relating to the presence of a maternity roost for brown long-eared bats and occasional roost for pipistrelle bats.
A replacement roost had recently been completed on the new build, adjacent to the existing roost. The replacement roost, designed by the Guildford Team, comprises a dedicated roof void, bat boxes, squeeze boxes and bat access tiles.
During the soft roof strip, attended by the Guildford Team, all crevices and cracks were searched for bats using an endoscope. Roof tiles and battens were all removed by hand, supervised by an ecologist. The roof was covered with tarpaulin to keep the house water-tight in the interim period before demolition of the remaining structure.
Over the two days it took to complete the soft strip of the roof, a total of three male brown long-eared bats were found. Two of the bats were discovered underneath the ridge tiles and the third was discovered underneath a hanging tile on the southern aspect of the building.
Due to the roof tiles being exposed to the sun for long periods of the day, it meant that the bats were relatively active and wriggly when caught.
The bats were immediately placed into a purpose built bat rescue box (a box with air holes in the top, a cotton tea towel and a small tray with a damp sponge). The bats were then transferred into a bat box in the replacement bat roost in the new build.
The replacement bat roost will be monitored for the next two years, comprising an inspection of the roof void for bats and dusk emergence and dawn re-entry surveys. We very much hope to see the replacement bat roost being used by brown long-eared and pipistrelle bats for many years to come.