There are a number of ecological surveys that could be carried out to gather additional information about ecology on a development site. Below is some generic advice on what Bridgend County Borough Council expects to accompany applications.
GUIDANCE NOTE 1:
The Council expects that all survey/ assessment work is undertaken and prepared by competent persons with suitable qualifications, licenses and experience.
Survey work must be carried out at an appropriate time and month of year for that species, in suitable weather conditions and using nationally recognised survey guidelines / methods where available and working to best practice standards (for guidance visit ‘sources for survey methods’ at:- http://www.cieem.net/sources-of-survey-methods-sosm-).
Reports should also include detailed information on impact assessment and include any necessary measures for avoidance, mitigation, compensation and enhancement.
GUIDANCE NOTE 2:
All submitted reports must provide sufficient information for the local planning authority to fully consider the impacts of a proposed development.
Reports must address two requirements:
Assessment of the site through ecological survey(s) and assessment of ecological impacts; Submitted reports demonstrating thorough survey work and assessment must:
Avoidance measures built into development proposals may remove the need for detailed survey work, the council will seek expert advice from NRW in determining cases when this may be applicable.
Avoidance measures are those measures that can reasonably be implemented to avoid an offence occurring. As such, these Reasonable Avoidance Measures (RAMs) can often avoid the requirement for a licence. RAMs are the preferred approach when considering design of a scheme. RAMs may include measures ranging from revising the site layout to avoid loss of an important feature, carrying out works at a time which is less likely to result in disturbance or amending working methods to reduce impacts to an acceptable level.
If RAMs are practical within a scheme, these must still be detailed in a Method Statement which is submitted to the Council for approval. Implementation of the measures outlined in the RAMs Method Statement will likely be a condition of the resulting planning consent.
If the RAMs avoid all anticipated impacts affecting protected species and their habitats to acceptable levels, a licence from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is unlikely to be required. This can often avoid or reduce delays to commencing development and will often reduce costs as well. It is therefore important to create communication channels between your architects (landscape or otherwise) and your chosen suitably qualified ecologist during the master planning process. This will aid in guiding the design and programme at an early enough stage to identify whether RAMs may be a suitable approach.
GUIDANCE NOTE 3:
Developers/applicants must provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that avoidance is not possible before mitigation
GUIDANCE NOTE 4:
Where harm is unavoidable it should be minimised by mitigation measures.
Depending on the scale of development and predicted impacts, it may not be possible to rely on RAMs alone to fully address all potential impacts affecting protected species or their habitats. Early communication across the design team will promote a greater understanding of all the constraints, ecological or otherwise, and allow a balanced approach to the development design.
Where RAMs cannot satisfactorily avoid impacts affecting protected species, mitigation measures will be required to ensure no harm and that no net loss of their habitats results. The exact measures required will be dependent on the population size, distribution and proximity to works and the scale, timing and duration of the works.
Mitigation measures to be implemented will be detailed in the Method Statement and will be licensed activities and must therefore be carried out in strict accordance with the Method Statement.
When considering mitigation measures, the following points must be taken into account: unproven mitigation methods will be unacceptable all relevant professionals must be involved in developing mitigation solutions (engineers, for example, may need to work with tree specialists to design hard landscape elements that reduce impacts on trees whilst meeting other performance requirements) measures designed to mitigate one impact, may give rise to other impacts, which need to be taken into account (for example, extensive tree belts for screening may adversely impact on the character of open land and be inappropriate) planting intended to provide screening may take a considerable amount of time to take effect and realistic growth rates must be taken into account when considering this type of mitigation involving control over construction activities must be considered at this stage, to ensure feasibility.
Specific requirements for mitigation for species and habitats are outlined within the species specific guidance Sheets and in nationally recognised survey guidelines/ methods.
Taking into account proposed mitigation measures, the Council will assess the significance of residual impacts in terms of relevant planning policies. We strongly advise applicants to do the same at key stages, as the proposals are prepared, to avoid wasting resources preparing unacceptable proposals.
If a designated site of international importance (Special Area of Conservation) falls within the zone of influence, a separate assessment under the Habitat Regulations 1994 may be required.
If all avenues for mitigation of landscape and biodiversity resources on the development site have been exhausted, then compensation measures should be considered.
GUIDANCE NOTE 5:
Compensation will only be considered where the developer/applicant has satisfactorily demonstrated that avoidance and mitigation are not possible and the compensatory measures result in no net loss of habitat.
General Considerations for Compensation
Where mitigation cannot satisfactorily reduce all potential impacts to satisfactory levels, additional compensation measures will likely be required. Compensation measures will be requirements of the licence. All compensation measures outlined in the licence must be adhered to; failure to do so constitutes a criminal offence.
Compensation measures most frequently involve habitat losses. If the loss of habitat cannot be avoided in the proposed development then a compensatory habitat should be created prior to loss, in accordance with the licence requirements. The population size and natural range of protected species must also be maintained, so it will be important to consider the connectivity between retained habitats, new habitats and existing habitats in the wider area.
Habitat compensation must be provided in advance of site clearance works. This will enable the transfer of protected species to the compensation area(s) before they are disturbed by development.
A number of options are available in terms of compensation for the loss of habitats;
In some cases a well thought out scheme can actually increase the level of biodiversity and landscape quality of a site above that prior to development.
When recreating habitats on site it is important to understand the local context in which those habitats are being created. Some habitats are more appropriate to an area than others; similarly creating the right habitat can improve the overall connectivity of the ecological network and vastly increase the wildlife benefit. (See Ecological Network Map contained within the Bridgend LBAP (under development|). Advice should be sought from the Council. Guidance on incorporating wildlife habitats through green infrastructure into developments can be found in Section 1 The Green Infrastructure Approach.
Some compensation measures are simple and can be achieved at little extra cost, the use of native berry bearing bushes for landscaping schemes and gardens in development are a good example and can often improve upon what was there originally, in the case of some urban sites.
Large losses of habitat will naturally require equally large compensation measures such as new woodland/scrub planting or the creation of new ponds. Expected large losses and subsequent compensation measures should be considered at the very outset of the project and planning process. This will enable input from a number of sources about the most suitable and effective compensatory measures, it may also identify off-site locations when biodiversity off-setting can be used as a compensation tool. Ideally this would be somewhere nearby with the greatest benefit.
Often habitat creation is driven by habitat loss, but in some circumstances greater benefit can be gained by creating rarer or more specialist local habitats where the opportunity arises.
Whilst Bridgend County Borough Council is committed to protecting and enhancing its biodiversity and landscape resource there are likely to be occasions where loss is unavoidable. To avoid incremental loss across the Borough even small amounts of habitat should be replaced, either onsite where the design allows (as part of a Green Infrastructure Approach) or off-site as part of biodiversity off-setting in agreement with a landowner.
Replacing habitats off site should always be a last resort and as much natural value as possible should remain on site. This is not only for wildlife but also for people living on or nearby the site. Green infrastructure provides numerous benefits and its removal from a locality could result in a loss of benefit and function for the local community.
However, Bridgend County Borough Council understand that in some cases the over-riding need for development will conflict with our biodiversity goals and it isn’t always practical to completely replace habitats and green infrastructure within the development envelope. To address this any loss must be replaced off-site.
Replacing habitats off-site should always be a last resort and as much natural value as possible should remain on-site
All biodiversity off-setting should be undertaken in consultation with NRW, Bridgend County Borough Council and the Wildlife Trusts of South and West Wales.
There are a number of ways in which this can be achieved:
Off-setting will produce the greatest benefit when habitat creation, restoration and/or enhancement is undertaken in close association with existing habitats, the larger the habitat patch and its connectivity to other habitats the better for wildlife.
Any biodiversity offsetting should be undertaken in consultation with the Council and external partners such as the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, Natural Resources Wales.
There are a number of ways in which this can be achieved:
Offsetting will produce the greatest benefit when habitat creation, restoration and/or enhancement is undertaken in close association with existing habitats. The larger the area of habitat and its connectivity to other habitats the better for wildlife.
GUIDANCE NOTE 6:
Offsets must only be used to compensate for genuinely unavoidable damage. “The offsetting framework must not encourage a culture of wildlife being 'disposable, tradable and replaceable'; biodiversity offsetting should be a last resort, after all attempts to avoid and reduce possible impacts have been taken” (National Trust, 2013).
Mitigation and compensation strategy for protected & priority species/ habitats
To avoid any additional impacts that are identified, changes to the design should first be considered. Only when the avoidance of landscape and biodiversity elements has been exhausted, should consideration be given to ways of mitigating the remaining impacts. The local authority will require submitted reports to first demonstrate why avoidance of negative impacts is unfeasible before providing a strategy that details mitigation and compensation proposals.
Development plans must provide the following information:
GUIDANCE NOTE 7:
All proposed actions and monitoring must be recorded onto the UK Biodiversity Action Reporting System (BARS).
Natural Resources Wales has a standard method of application for licencescxxv in respect of development. Briefly, a licence application requires the developer or landowner who will be undertaking the proposed works to appoint a suitably qualified and experienced ecologist who will be named on the licence application. The appointed ecologist will most likely be responsible for coordinating the licence application, which requires the completion of an application form and a Method Statement. The Method Statement must be to the approved Natural Resources Wales format (provided with the licence application information) and will present much the same information as that required by the Council to inform the planning application.
Once an application is received by the Natural Resources Wales, it will normally take up to 30 days for a determination.
The licence granted will have conditions attached and will only be valid with the approved Method Statement. The licence permits only those activities identified in the Method Statement, so it is important that developers and landowners carefully review and agree the Method Statement before submission to Welsh Assembly Government.
The activities and measures detailed in a licence are there to avoid unnecessary harm to the protected species; failure to follow the exact measures in the licence can lead to prosecution. Any activity carried out that deviates significantly from the licensed Method Statement would be considered a breach of the licence. This includes works carried out in different locations, using different methods or at a different time than that identified in the Method Statement. Any committed works identified in the Method Statement, such as inspecting and maintaining exclusion fencing, carrying out monitoring and management works or mitigation measures being supervised on site by the ecologist, which are not implemented as specified in the licensed Method Statement might also be considered a breach of the licence.
A breach of the licence is considered to be a criminal offence. Under the current legislation, anyone authorised to carry out activities implemented under the licence may be held responsible for breaches of the licence terms and conditions.
It is therefore important that all staff and contractors on the site are fully briefed on the licence and its implications for working on site, prior to being allowed to start on site. An up to date copy of the licence and the associated Method Statement should be held on site at all times, together with any identification sheets that may be helpful to site workers and contact details for the appointed ecologist.
Licences have an expiry date. If works need to continue beyond the expiry date an extension must be applied for. An extension cannot be issued for a licence that has expired, once a licence has expired then a new licence must be applied for. Depending on the time elapsed from expiry this may or may not require additional surveys to ensure that accurate and up to date information supports the licence application.
One of the simplest ways to add biodiversity to a development is to enhance what is already on the site. This could be in the form of creating a new pond, tree planting, repairing a hedgerow or changing the management of grassland on a site. On larger developments, sometimes it is possible to create dedicated wildlife areas of grassland, woodland, scrub or even water bodies.
Large development sites have the opportunity to enhance the surrounding habitats and connecting corridors for flora and fauna and provide natural interest for residents.
Exceptions for when a full Species Survey and Assessment may not be required