This is the latest in a series of guest posts from carefully selected companies who help us to give our clients as comprehensive a service as possible. Today’s post is by Barry Collins, MD of BJ Collins, Protected Species Surveyors.
Changes in our countryside and the way we produce our food has had a dramatic effect on wildlife.
For example, traditionally built barns are impractical in modern farming, as they are too small for modern agricultural machines.
These buildings have traditionally supported a range of wildlife which, in many instances, have become entirely reliant upon them. Species such as bats, barn owls and swallows have raised their young in these structures for centuries.
The old countryside landscape of grazing pasture, with field ponds to provide for the livestock living on them, has also largely gone. Cattle have been moved into sheds. Most pasture is now ploughed for arable farming.
This habitat loss has led to significant declines in our wildlife with many of our species becoming scarce. In an attempt to arrest this decline, the government enacted two pieces of legislation: The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. Both of these pieces of legislation protect wildlife today.
Working with protected species
Our work with David Granger Design covers all protected species and habitats but this article focuses upon two: bats (with 18 species resident in the UK) and the great crested newt.
Even with government protection, 70% of the population of our most familiar bat species has been lost. Likewise, perhaps the most infamous of the protected species with regards to development, the great crested newt, has become one of Europe’s fastest declining amphibian species.
The legislation not only protects these animals from harm or disturbance. It also protects their breeding sites and resting places.
So how do we convert our barns when they contain bats? Can we build houses on land that supports great crested newts?
Many people believe if their development project encounters a protected species, they can’t continue with the development. This is not true. If you have bats in your building or newts in your garden, this does not mean you can’t develop. It just means you have to proceed correctly.
The law accepts that development is a lawful activity. If it is carried out responsibly and with care, with provision for the species included in the final design, development can be permitted under a licence from Natural England. This is called a European Protected Species Derogation (EPS) Licence.
Large scale developments, like hospitals or roads, take years to pass through the planning system. During this period, wildlife and archaeology can be fully considered with minimal delays to the overall scheme. The last major project we were involved in took three and a half years from our first survey (for great crested newts) to the start of construction work. This gave us ample opportunity to survey, clear and re-home the newts.
Timescales are not so generous on smaller developments. But we pride ourselves in understanding the trials and tribulations of the small developer.
Often with small developments, we see clients purchase a property in January with a view to commencing work immediately upon the award of planning, typically 3-4 months beyond the purchase.
But without considering protected species from the outset, developers can encounter a range of potential delays:
Firstly, protected species are a material consideration for planning. Planning authorities are legally bound to consider wildlife in all the permissions they grant. As a result, permissions will not be issued until protected species reports have been submitted.
Secondly, species have specific survey periods. Rushed developments often fail to take this into account.
Thirdly, developments that affect protected species must be supported by an EPS licence. To acquire a licence, surveys have to be carried out at the right time of year. EPS licences will only be granted once all planning conditions relating to wildlife have been discharged. The development must provide an alternative habitat or feature (referred to as mitigation) to comply with the guidance.
Fourthly, time. It takes time to carry out surveys, and for those surveys to be accepted by the planning authority. Significantly it can take at least 30 days to acquire an EPS licence (depending upon the type of licence required).
These four elements can cause a big problem when protected species surveys are the last thing to be considered.
Limited windows of opportunity
Great crested newt surveys aim to identify the presence or absence of the animals by surveying ponds while the newts are breeding. There is a strict protocol for these surveys which requires a minimum of four and potentially six separate investigations over the breeding period.
There is a 3-month window when these surveys can be made, between mid-March and mid-June. If the client discovers in July that a great crested newt survey is needed, they will have to wait almost a year before that survey can be submitted to the planning authority.
The situation with bats is similar, although not quite so drastic. We can survey for the presence or absence of bats in buildings across the year and assess structures for the level of risk of bats being in residence. This means we can advise people if we suspect they will have a problem, even when the bats are inactive. This type of survey is referred to as a “preliminary bat roost assessment”.
However, if the building supports evidence of bats or indeed features where bats could live, then we have to carry out “bat activity surveys” to see if they are present. We can only do that when the bats are active, i.e. flying in and out. The national guidelines limit these surveys to a 5-month period, between May and September, and between one and three survey visits may be required.
So, if you discover that you need a bat survey in October, you may have to wait until the middle of May the following year before it can be undertaken.
How can we overcome delays?
Plan and consider wildlife at the very first stage of development. If possible, even before you purchase the property. It could save you a lot of time.