Building natural habitats
Developers need to consider protected wildlife to avoid penalties, says John Newton, managing director at The Ecology
Managing a new housing project or redevelopment is complicated enough without also having to worry about plants and animals. However, as a builder or developer, you may have to legally account for wildlife in your development and it can actually enhance your project.
An increasing number of plant and animal species are protected under UK and European law and, while they are not common, they can be widespread. Bats, badgers, great crested newts and slow worms can be found on many sites, from rural to inner-city urban areas, and there are severe penalties for those who inadvertently disturb or harm them.
A man was recently found guilty of destroying a lesser horseshoe bat roost near Bude in Cornwall. He deliberately destroyed the bat roost, which was home to one of Britain’s rarest mammals, when he was converting a barn. Having been advised that rare bats were present and a licence would be required, he destroyed the evidence and then carried out works on the barn which destroyed the roost.
He was fined £2,500 and £660 costs, but these costs are just the tip of the iceberg when you factor delays to the project, staff time in dealing with the issue, and a black mark against your name.
With proper planning, and under the watchful eye of a licensed specialist, the works could have taken place cost effectively and with minimum impact on all concerned.
Conduct a survey
As well as the plants and animals themselves, their habitats are also protected. Many people are familiar with protected sites of special scientific interest, but a company in the north recently damaged such a site while constructing a car park.
This is a criminal offence and is dealt with by the Crown Court. The company was fined £50,000 and paid out more than £200,000 in costs. It’s in your interest to know what is on your site, before you begin, so it’s recommended that sites are surveyed by specialist ecologists as early as possible.
Surveys for most protected species can only be conducted when the animals are active. So, for cost and time efficiency it is critical that surveys are carried out at the correct time of year and under appropriate weather conditions. Wildlife surveys should ideally take place before planning applications are made.
A positive example
Finding wildlife on your site doesn’t have to be a hassle - it’s not all about prosecutions. If properly managed, it can have a positive impact on a housing development. For example, Cambourne, a new development near Cambridge, was designed to enhance the biodiversity of the area, with wildlife featuring in the promotional literature used to sell houses in the development.
Environmental assessment schemes all include sections on wildlife and biodiversity, and you can improve your development’s rating in BREEAM and the code for sustainable homes by including wildlife-friendly measures such as bat boxes and green roofs.