by Richard Croft and Les Hatton
How much would you expect to pay to protect a great crested newt? The cost is probably a lot higher than you would imagine. Whether part of the ongoing management of operational sites, or as an element of the property lifecycle, our clients are routinely faced with challenges linked to biodiversity and ecosystem (B&E) regulation.
Anyone with experience of property development will almost certainly have a story about the cost of finding a great crested newt on a building site. Some sites have brought developers to tears when they found out the ecological costs for their development were over £100,000 per newt. The reality is though, that however many times companies get bitten by ecological issues, we often see a naivety which could have been avoided by planning ahead and managing site ecological risks, not just to the species themselves. This can, in turn, enable the site owners to protect their investment and reduce how a species may impact on your ability to do things with your estate. The problem is not restricted to newts of course, and not just building work.
For example, the following may directly affect important protected species or habitats located on your sites:
- Landscape management
- Site closure including demolition
- Enlargement or redevelopment of a company property
- Accidental release of contaminants to the environment
The regulation which requires the management of such ecological risks focuses on three principle areas:
Legislation and policy is also rapidly evolving around the consideration and protection of ecosystem services and the control of invasive alien species.
Finding protected species – potential implications
The presence (or indeed the need to prove the absence) of protected species and habitats on a property or asset has implications that can:
- Require surveys or assessment
- Incur programming delays (many surveys can only be undertaken at certain times of the year)
- Require mitigation
- Create uncertainty around consents
- Lead to prosecution and reputational harm
- Provide opportunities for evaluation of B&E resources and constraints
- Provide opportunities to plan the management of B&E on sites
- Use B&E to promote the company and engage with the community and decisions makers
Often the simplest form of management of these risks is to first of all know what you are getting into when purchasing or taking on responsibility for sites, which species are present, and then to know how to manage the sites’ conditions going forward to minimise the attractiveness of sites to protected species where they are not already present.
So, it is important to know what attracts a protected species to sites. Many of these may seem obvious, (for example, existing vegetation, trees, open and running water), but others are less so. These can include recently cleared ground (reptiles, ground nesting birds); boiler units and derelict buildings (bats); loose earth/sand banks (sand martins, badgers, reptiles); derelict land (invertebrates, reptiles); a range of features on and in buildings, tunnels and structures (bats, birds); and tall pylons or stacks (nesting peregrine).
Proactive ecological management
If protected species, habitats or ecosystems are not to come as an unwelcome surprise, and potentially bring project delays and unexpected costs at some point in the future, we would recommend a few important steps are taken to manage the future more actively:
- Undertake a site evaluation and risk assessment
- Influence programme and design of any development project to take into account the potential for B&E risks
- Take particular care in relation to clearing land, water on site, as well as the storage of materials such as sand, earth, aggregate
- Ensuring (once appropriate checks are undertaken) that buildings and structures are inaccessible to wildlife
- Diverting wildlife that is present (with all the necessary consents of course) to business non-critical areas well in advance of project or development work
It’s not all bad news
Active management of B&E in the form of providing opportunities for wildlife and careful stewardship of ecosystem services also has a number of benefits:
- Identifying areas within a site that can be used for mitigation when/if required and also divert wildlife from business critical areas
- Bringing an enhanced reputation for good B&E stewardship that then provides regulators with greater confidence in relation to requests for permissions and consents
- The provision for wildlife on site can provide a point of engagement with local communities (e.g. http://www.scottishpower.com/userfiles/file/Longannet-Bioversity-2014.pdf) and decision makers
- The effective B&E management can enhance corporate reputation and the social licence to operate
With advance planning and understanding of what is present on a site, and what could potentially be present in the future, ecological risks can be mitigated to a large extent and can offer an opportunity to demonstrate great environmental awareness and to gain a positive reputation with good news stories. The key is planning ahead and being proactive, rather than waiting for something to happen. The reality is that timescales for a species survey is often months and in the worst case, for species translocation, the timescales are at least one year and could easily be more. So in summary, the message is to think ahead and avoid projects literally being stalled overnight because of B&E issues.
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