As the UK and devolved governments progress with easing the current lockdown measures, many in the development industry will be concerned about the delay to the start of the ecology survey season the COVID-19 pandemic has created and the implications this might have on getting their projects back on track.

The good news is - It's not too Late

In practical terms, the ecology survey season is still wide open and there is still plenty of time to undertake surveys for most protected species.  SNH have also produced guidance for dealing with data gaps and what may be deemed as acceptable or pragmatic approaches.  Addressing data gaps and uncertainty with innovative modelling is something that Atmos have had long experience of and indeed we recently hosted a well-attended webinar on the subject. 
CIEEM has recently produced UK-wide guidance for alternative approaches to ecological survey and assessment where field have been limited by the Covid-19 pandemic

What are the Options?

If you are late in starting ecological survey work, what are your choices?

  • You could just start survey work late and make up missing months next year – that should be considered a reasonable approach but may negatively impact a project timeline.
  • You could look at existing data and use predictive modelling to help plug the gaps. If the development site is not associated with a European designated site, this may allow sufficient confidence for regulators to allow a project to proceed.
  • If you are in year 2 of series of surveys and year 1 has shown little impact then this, with some modelling of scenarios may be enough. Aerial mapping holds a wealth of information and closer study may allow surveys to be directed to areas where habitat is considered to be most suitable for target species. SNH have indicated that they may accept a precautionary approach for certain situations, that is, it could be assumed that a particular protected species is present in a particular habitat and therefore if suitable mitigation is incorporated into a development, as if that species is present, then this may be acceptable.
  • Additionally, as many sites may have remained closed over the last 9 weeks there is the possibility that nature has re-introduced itself.  As such an early site walkover may be a prudent move as sites start to re-open.  Our team are here to help and offer advice if this is a concern

Local, ‘Boots’ on the ground critical

One of the biggest challenges for ecological surveys, is access to overnight accommodation. This is where a locally based consultancy has significant advantages over those based remotely, with the ability to undertake a crucial survey in a day trip. 
Add this to local knowledge of sites, extensive datasets from previous survey work, long-standing relationships with local regulators, a lower carbon footprint and the kudos for developers being able to genuinely say that they are investing development costs in the local economy, these are all great reasons to choose a locally based environmental consultancy.

With offices in Edinburgh, Inverness and Mold (North Wales) supported by our network of locally based associated there’s never been a better time to buy local!

There is no one size fits all approach - each project needs an individual approach.

These are unprecedented times which require clever solutions and the ability to agree a way forward with regulators. Contact us today to discuss your specific needs and get your project back on track.