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Most people are familiar with the idea of nature conservation but not everyone realises the extent to which their work can affect the natural environment.

In this article I want to give a brief overview of the issue of ecology and nature conservation as it relates to the construction industry and development projects. In this I will try to answer three main questions: Why should developers care about nature? What are the issues that can arise? And finally what should you do.

Why should developers care about nature?

Let’s start with some of the basic reasons anyone should care about the natural environment: these are ethical values and ecosystem services. Ethical values are for many people a very personal area and I am not looking to explore in depth. I would say, however, that if you do value nature and wildlife for its own sake this gives you an obligation to think about how you affect these things. Ecosystem services is an increasingly popular term that refers to the benefits humans get from the natural environment such as air quality and flood alleviation.
Moving on to more direct concerns for a construction project, the natural environment offers both risks and opportunities. On the risk side failure to consider nature can lead to planning permission being delayed or even denied, with normally result in knock on costs, while harm to protected species (see below) can result in large fines to both companies and individuals. This also carries a reputational risk if your business becomes known as one that harms wildlife.

Conversely a good reputation for working with nature can attract customers and have concrete benefits such as credits towards schemes like the Code for Sustainable Homes. This scheme demonstrates the quality of your work and that you meet and go beyond legal standards. Integrating ecology issues into your site work can also provide a more pleasant environment for your staff and the local community during construction and encourage an interest in wildlife more widely.

What are the issues?

The type of issues that are likely to occur on development sites fall into three main categories.

  1. Badger SettProtected species: the most commonly encountered are bats, badgers and great crested newts but there are many others. And they are not just on greenfield sites.  Brownfield developments can and do support important wildlife. The law in this area is complicated but in general it is illegal to kill or injure a protected animal and to disturb protected animals or their shelters.
  2. Protected sites: from internationally important wetlands to local wildlife sites these areas may be on your land or nearby. If you affect them there’s an issue! As with animals, the protection of sites is complex but in a worse case scenario development in or near a European protected site would be refused unless there is clear evidence the site will not be harmed.
  3. Habitats and other species: since 2000 all government bodies have a duty to consider the conservation of over 943 species of plants and animals and 56 habitats in England alone. Other parts of the UK have slightly different lists. This is not the same as legal protection but it does mean that if you are seeking planning consent or any other kind of legal permission the authorities can ask for evidence of how you will affect nature conservation and what measures you are taking to minimise any harm from your work. They can also delay or even deny permission if that evidence is not sufficient.

What to do?

Involve a professional ecologist early in the development process. You need to know the issues in time to feed them into the planning of your work and the design of the building. The earlier ecological issues are identified the more easily they can be integrated into the project without problems. The Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management has a directory of qualified ecologists that can be searched by area and skills http://www.ieem.net/ieemdirectory.asp

Work with your ecologist to address the issues. They will have ideas about how to benefit wildlife on the site and you will have limits on what can be achieved. Working together you can come up with plans for dealing with any issues both during and after construction.

Look at ecology as an opportunity not just a constraint. Remember that keeping natural habitat around your site not only makes it more pleasant for you and your staff it also benefits the eventual users and your business.

Keep regular contact with your ecologist throughout construction and keep this appropriate to the site. Small sites with few issues may only need a few visits to confirm that recommendations are being followed, while large sites may benefit from a full time ecologist.

Finally, involve your staff. Explain wildlife protection as part of the site induction and try to find ways to encourage interest in what is present. You may consider contacting the Construction Industry Research Organisation who have a range of materials for onsite training for construction workers.

Matt LevanMatt Levan is a self-employed professional ecologist based in south Wales. He provides surveys and advice to a range of clients throughout the UK. His services include preliminary site surveys, advice on protected species and providing a watching brief for work near sensitive habitats or species. Matt can be contacted on 07886 118488, e-mail mattlevanecologist@gmail.com or visit www.mattlevanecologist.com


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