Ecological reports needed for all planning applications

[NOTE added 20/03/2014: This article was originally written in 2010, but is equally pertinent today. If your planning authority or other official body has asked you for an ecology report, it is imperative that you seek a good ecologist to do this. We work quickly, effectively and reasonably. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 07846 137346 for an immediate quote].

CGO Ecology has noticed a recent increase in the number of requests for ecological assessments of smallscale developments in the Borough of Poole, Dorset. It seems that the local planning authority has been requesting ecological reports with all planning applications, however small. Whether a loft extension, or a rebuild with increased footprint, the Council is clearly taking the potential impacts on wildlife seriously. Planning consents often come with ecological conditions added by the local authority during their desk-based appraisal, but it seems they are now expecting more input from the applicant early on. During 2010, we have frequently been contacted by people told by the planning authority that they require an ecological report as part of their application.

Typically the enquirers are owner-occupiers or very smallscale housing developers. Projects that involve altering an existing property, or rebuilding with the same or larger footprint, may attract interest from the planning authority if there is a significant chance of affecting protected wildlife. In the Poole area of Dorset, wildlife affected typically includes bats in roofs or trees, or reptiles in gardens - particularly overgrown gardens. This is particularly true for gardens adjoining large areas of open ground such as heathland, but reptiles are surprisingly-widespread in the Poole area, and can live as self-contained populations numbering tens or hundreds in large gardens.

The problem for smallscale developers, especially individuals with little experience of wildlife regulations, is that they are often unaware of the legal requirements and the seasonal restrictions on completing ecological assessments. Whilst planning authorities endeavour to highlight any conditions attached to planning consents, developers typically overlook them until it is too late. At the very least, a development is likely to be held up if the requisite ecological surveys have not been carried out; and at worst, a breach of planning consent can result in legal action.

The timetable of works can be drastically affected by the need for ecological reports. A survey can take two weeks or more, and a mitigation exercise (e.g. a capture and translocation programme) can take months. Reptiles and amphibians are only active and detectable between March to October, and they hibernate throughout the winter months. If you discover you need a reptile report in December, you would have to wait until March before the survey can begin. This can provide a big headache for developers. The only sure way to be ahead of the game is to read all planning conditions carefully, and to incorporate ecological assessments very early in the project development stages, and certainly before any procurement begins.

CGO Ecology specialises in reptile and amphibian surveys, advice and mitigation. Protected reptile species are found in many private gardens in the Poole area, and it is wise to carefully meet any planning obligations relating to them. We can carry out amphibian and reptile assessments at very short notice for £100 plus VAT, including a short report to the planning authority. If appropriate, we will recommend and quote for a full survey; and if necessary, a mitigation exercise to rescue the wildlife and remove the liability.

If you found this of interest, please also read this.