What are Phase 1 Habitat Surveys & Why Are They Important?

Preliminary Ecological Surveys for recording vegetation and wildlife habitats

Phase 1 Habitat surveys are now called Preliminary Ecological Appraisals (PEAs) within the ecological consultancy industry. If you want to develop a site, a PEA is usually the first step in identifying ecological constraints and opportunities.

The primary objective of a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal is to identify potential ecology risks associated with a site and to map where these are. The earlier this exercise is conducted, the greater the opportunity of reducing costs, with less risk to the project programme. This can be achieved through sympathetic wildlife-friendly masterplanning, and by ensuring sufficient time is allowed in the programme for any follow-on protected species surveys that might be necessary.

A PEA can also be used to inform a scoping report for any project that might require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

In some instances, the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (Phase 1 Habitat Survey) can be used by conservation bodies and other landowners to inform land management practices, or used as evidence to support funding applications.

The ecological consultant carrying out the survey will use professional judgement and industry guidance documents to assess whether protected species surveys or other ecology assessment work is needed prior to submission of a planning application. As a general rule, it is important to complete the more in-depth surveys prior to a planning application being submitted. If the requisite ecological survey work has not been completed, there is a risk that the planning application will not be validated by the planning authority.

A good quality ecological survey will give the planning authority the confidence that important issues relating to protected species and their habitats are being properly considered.

The best way to extract commercial value from a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal is to get it completed before the masterplanning stage. This allows the project team to design out potential ecological constraints, saving time and money. Other design disciplines can feed into this process so that a given tract of land might serve a multiplicity of functions, such as ecological mitigation, informal recreation, landscape buffer, surface water attenuation and so on. In this collaborative way, a team of consultants can maximise the developable area of a given site, utilising land in an efficient and sustainable manner.

There are different ways of producing a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal and habitat plan. Usually, a biological records search and targeted desk based assessments are conducted initially. We use guidance produced by the Charted Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) and British Standard 42020 to inform what information is used in a report.

Habitats can be mapped in different ways. A Phase 1 habitat map will use information and criteria outlined by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). These criteria use ten high level categories:

A: Woodland and scrub
B: Grassland and marsh
C: Tall herb and fen
D: Heathland
E: Mire
F: Swamp, marginal and inundation
G: Open water
H: Coastland
I: Exposure and waste
J: Miscellaneous

Within these 10 criteria, 155 specific habitat types are recognised, each having their own name, alpha-numeric code, description and mapping colour for recording purposes.

A habitat plan might involve other mapping techniques – for example Habitats of Principal Importance might be mapped instead, or as an alternative bespoke habitat categories could also be used.

What further surveys might be needed?

Additional surveys for plants, great crested newts, reptiles, breeding and wintering birds, badgers, bats, hazel dormice, otters and water voles might be needed, depending on where your site is and the habitats that occur within it.

It would be highly unusual for all of the above species specific surveys to be required. On some sites, no further surveys may be needed, and in these instances the initial PEA report can simply be converted into an Ecological Impact Assessment report for submission with the planning application.

When are the surveys conducted?

A Phase 1 Habitat Survey / PEA can be conducted at any time of year. Whilst it is easier to map habitat types between mid-March and mid-September, when trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants are easily identifiable, from a project perspective a survey between November and early March is sometimes preferable because it means any required protected species surveys can be conducted soon afterwards. This means the project does not miss any critical survey windows in terms of timescale, thereby protecting the project programme.

How much does a Preliminary Ecology Appraisal cost?

A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal or a Phase 1 Habitat survey cost will depend on the size of your site, how far an ecologist has to travel and the complexity of habitats on your site. We quote on a bespoke basis for each project and try to identify any potential issues as early as possible, so we can help you deliver your project in a timely and cost effective manner.

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