Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) is required by Mineral Planning Authorities in order to assess whether quarry developments and operations might have the potential to result in a significant affect upon biodiversity. In particular, EcIA is a key component of the Environmental Impact Assessment that is required in respect of quarry developments that are over 25 ha in size.

The scope of EcIA has been suggested within British Standards Institute publication BS42020 Biodiversity – Code of practice for planning and development. This Standard is significant as it was defined by members of both Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) and the Association of Local Government Ecologists (ALGE), who are the end-users of ecological material gathered by developers in support of planning applications.

The Standard recommends that developers and Planning Authorities consider not only legally protected species, but all UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Habitats and Species. To put this in context, in terms of the number of species that now need to be considered there are currently:

424 legally protected and/or UK BAP Priority Species of invertebrates
18 legally protected and/or UK BAP Priority Species of freshwater-fish
4 legally protected and/or UK BAP Priority Species of amphibians
6 legally protected and/or UK BAP Priority Species of reptiles
122 Schedule 1 and/or UK BAP Priority Species of birds and
29 legally protected and/or UK BAP Priority Species of mammals (including bats)

This amounts to a total 603 species that need consideration, even before considering the potential for ‘important assemblages’ of Red Data Book or Nationally Scarce species. Quarry developments typically occupy large areas of land, which may hold a wide variety of habitats and therefore species. We believe assessments of the value of particular habitats need a standardised framework, and should be free of subjectivity.

In order to ensure AEcol’s clients fully satisfy the criteria set out within BS42020 we produced the AEcol – Predictive Ecological Assessment System for the interpretation of large survey data-sets. The System is unique to our consultancy. The idea behind the System was threefold:

To define a repeatable and objective framework for analysis
To ensure the interpretation of data was performed to the same standard, regardless of the size of location of the site and
To provide a reasoned hypothesis of which legally protected and UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Species might potentially be present within each habitat type

The System makes sensible use of historic data, field survey data and the full county flora and fauna in order to provide a reasoned hypothesis of the potential site value (i.e. from the developer’s point of view the ‘worst-case-scenario). By identifying all the potential legally protected and UK BAP taxa potentially present within a site, we ensure (within reason) that no group is overlooked or given subordinate status due to surveyor bias. This ensures (again, within reason) that recommendations for further survey, or the omission of surveys, are supported on a reasoned foundation. In the latter situation, all the evidence can be presented during scoping to say; we don’t believe there would be any merit in further survey of this Taxa on the basis of the known ecology of this species in this location.

However, where further survey is advocated it has a supporting hypothesis. This means our clients understand why we have recommended a specific course of action (i.e. why we are spending their money). However, the real benefit is that it enables our clients to request a ‘without prejudice’ opinion from the Mineral/Waste Planning Authority, as to whether the suite of surveys advocated meet the requirements set out within local policies. By gaining this opinion in advance, our clients avoid the uncertainty of their scheme getting to the eleventh hour and being held up by requests for more, or even entirely different, surveys.

At the same time, the information provided gives the developer the opportunity to tailor their scheme from the outset, as they can see where the greatest biodiversity potential lies. They can then use this information if they wish to avoid certain habitats, or to consider the cost implications of translocation, creation or enhancement. When the survey data is in, we collate it within our own EcIA framework that uses a colour-coded system to highlight the magnitude of biodiversity gains so that they are brought to the fore.

Upon first receipt of one of our reports, many clients have expressed surprise at the volume of information, but have been later calmed when they realised that the greater percentage of the information comprises technical appendices of supporting evidence that they do not need to wade through. In fact, all the important points in an AEcol EcIA are set out in plain English, within a report that flows in a logical progression and is therefore easy to follow. Thus far our systems have received very favourable feedback from ALGE members and our clients have reported significant improvements in terms of speeding consideration of their applications up, avoiding conflict and simplifying the whole process. In the end, the objective is planning permission with minimum fuss, AEcol offer you just that.