After what has got to be a rollercoaster year already, we are now into June and honestly – I do not know where the time has gone. After a couple of quiet weeks earlier in lockdown I have found myself busy again with new planning work and, now we can visit site subject to social distancing, some formal valuation work (that, in itself, is a whole separate article though in the circumstances!).

It occurred to me that I haven’t done a news article/update for a couple of weeks and, having been on site for three new planning applications yesterday, it made me realise that the last 2-3 weeks really has been all about the ecological surveys and the importance of timings and preparation of applications.

The vast majority of planning applications will require some form of ecological survey, at the very least a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA). For some, if you are lucky, this may raise no concerns and you can submit with your PEA confirming that there is no impact on protected species or habitats (with regards to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017). Some PEAs do, however, highlight a need for further (more species specific) survey work and this is where timings can cause very frustrating delays for some clients.

There are, of course, a whole raft of protected species to consider depending on your site but the most common example I will flag up are species such as bats. Due to many of my projects needing such survey work I did, on one occasion, attend a dusk bat survey with the ecologists undertaking the work to gain a greater understanding of how they are carried out and I have to say, I was amazed at how small a gap is required and how tiny some of the bat species actually were! I was fortunate enough to see a lesser horseshoe bat on that survey, which was tiny and hanging, on his own, in the barn we wanted to convert….

Bats seem to “crop up” in a large percentage of building conversion applications and they are a protected species. Holes in soffits, missing tiles and gaps in the masonry (or indeed cracks and holes in neighbouring trees) can all provide suitable habitats to support bats. All bat species are protected from deliberate killing, injury and disturbance and their roosts are protected from damage or destruction under Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and Section 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

The key thing is, however, if your PEA flags up potential for bats and you need a dedicated survey – the active survey season is late April/May to mid-September. If you are outside of this, you may well need to wait for survey season to complete the required work for submission. It is not possible for Councils to condition survey work – they need to know what species are, or are not, present in order to assess the impact and secure mitigation, as necessary. Any sites which do have bats confirmed will likely need a Bat Licence from Natural England, but this can only be applied for once a grant of planning consent has been obtained.

From even the brief summary above you can see that ecological surveys can have a strong controlling influence on the timing of applications as well as physical works on site so it is much better to plan ahead and check, rather than leave it to the last minute/when you are ready to submit and find you cannot progress at that time. Some of the survey work I have being done now was booked up to six months ago ready for the start of the appropriate survey season.

So, if you are thinking of a project (even if it is at the end of this year!) it could pay to have your survey work done now and ready ahead of the preparation of your planning application. I know lots of really lovely ecologists who are more than happy to work with you, pragmatically, within the guidance so if you need any further advice/guidance to schedule ahead, please do get in touch!

Photo Credit: Worcestershire Wildlife Consultancy (who have a great survey timetable on their website, too – Click on “Eco Survey” off the homepage)