The challenges of preliminary ecological appraisals

There is no denying that the work of a landscape architect is as diversified and as challenging as can be. This is probably one of the most challenging but fulfilling careers one can embark on. Considering how many issues developments and projects present to an area, the public and the landscape and environment, there is no doubt that trying to strike just the right balance and make decisions for the best of all is easier said than done. But this is just what landscape architects are faced with every day.

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One of the main services offered by landscape architects are the ecological appraisals. More specifically preliminary ecological appraisals are the first stage of overviewing the various ecological requirements that a proposed development presents. A preliminary ecological appraisal will involve various tasks, including desk study, walkovers and site surveys, as well as drawing up a detailed report on the findings and the proposed way forward.

The desk study is the first step of such an appraisal. The architect will need to analyse any existing ecological data and records. This is done in order to evaluate information in such records, especially regarding the proximity or presence of protected species, biodiversity issues and other important matters. This data can be used to justify whether or not one should undertake further surveys for particular species especially. There are in fact a good number of species that are protected by UK and European laws. During this phase data on statutory designated sites is collated, and local biological records centres are contacted so as to obtain all details about sites where there is wildlife, protected and priority species and habitats.

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Often walkovers and site surveys are required. This is the next step of a preliminary ecological appraisal. All the habitats on the site will be evaluated as well as recorded. Any features of importance or particular interest are also noted. This often includes plant species and hedges, for example. A list of any plant species and creatures found on the site will need to be made. The plant species that are present will be recorded along with their abundance, or lack of it, on the site. Apart from plants, protected species are of utmost importance.

Common creatures that are encountered during walkover surveys include badgers, reptiles, dormice, and bats. If protected species are found, additional surveys will then need to be conducted as it is imperative for a developer to abide with the guidelines presented by the local planning authority, as the planning application would not proceed if everything is not in order.

In case no protected species are found, the landscape architect will then nee to present a report following the desk study and the site survey. Preliminary ecological appraisals will need to be submitted with the planning application. Such a report will present various aspects. It will delineate the conservation value of that particular site, along with an impact assessment. Any mitigation recommendations will be listed too. GIS mapping is also included in this report, and often photographs of important ecological features in the area will be attached.

GCN survey, Seddlescombe, Kent by Ben Kimpton

In case additional ecological surveys are deemed necessary after the site survey, these will need to be carried out before this final report of the appraisal is completed. A preliminary ecological appraisal is very important for a developer. It can assist developers with a planning application, or to arrive to a well informed decision before purchasing a piece of land. It is important to hire a professional landscape architecture firm to carry out this appraisal, so as to make sure that it is carried out properly. The preliminary ecological appraisal is a vital first step in a site’s assessment process. The first guidance measures to be incorporated during the proposed development are generally mentioned in this appraisal in fact. The preliminary ecological appraisal is thus considered as a very useful tool for development master planning, and for subsequent impact assessments.