With the North England Build 2016 event rapidly approaching perhaps now is a good time to reflect on how a good environmental consultant can iron out potential environmental constraints during the planning and construction phases of projects. This is applicable for all disciplines within the environmental consultancy field but the focus of this article is on ecology which often sits near the top of potential environmental constraints prior to and during construction of infrastructure projects, small or large.

As experienced consultant ecologists the Atmos Consulting team are well aware of the main issues that irk developers and construction contractors in the lead up to and during construction. In the North West a recurring and prominent issue is presence of great crested newts in or adjacent to development sites. North West England and North East Wales is a hot spot for great crested newts, largely due to underlying geology and historical farming methods resulting in a high pond density. Therefore, more often than not, great crested newts are amongst the ecological constraints that can have significant time and cost implications if not managed at an early stage. Recent advances in survey work such as e-DNA survey have aided developers. This is particularly useful where there is a long project lead in and, where possible, we encourage this to give an early measure of potential implications.

One of the biggest costs associated with newt mitigation is newt fencing. Costs can be threefold, consisting of material, installation of fencing and traps and subsequent checking of traps by ecologists on a daily basis for a period of 30, 60 or 90 days. Often, these costs can be considerable. Sometimes, all this work and expense can result in trapping just one, possibly two newts. Hence, most people will be aware of stories of a great crested newt being more valuable gram for gram than gold!

In some situations, for example where there is high quality habitat and a large population of great crested newts locally, fencing is absolutely required and is by far the best mitigation method. That said, it should generally be clear from the outset that development on such sites is likely to be constrained. However on lower risk sites, with limited numbers of great crested newts it is important (as is often the case) to take a practical approach that ensures protection of the local population while using a proportional mitigation approach that is relevant to the works being undertaken and the actual level of risk to the newt population.

Atmos champions a pragmatic approach to newt mitigation and we’ve worked on an extensive range of projects in the North West, during which we have built up a rapport with key stakeholders. This enables us to tailor mitigation on a site by site basis, rather than adhering strictly to guidance and adopting a worst case blanket approach across the board.

The Atmos ecology team are involved with local amphibian and reptile groups and are assisting with research in amphibian survey techniques. One such area that is currently developing is the use of GIS modelling to assess the impact of development on newts. In areas where there is plentiful existing baseline newt data, such as the North West, modelling can be highly effective in helping with the assessment of potential impacts of development on great crested newts. In simple terms, GIS models interpret a number of environmental variables such as presence of newt records, pond density, climatic conditions and habitat type to deliver a quantifiable assessment of potential impacts.

On recent projects, we’ve used modelling to provide information on the likelihood of great crested newt presence, to establish important migration pathways and to identify where key populations are located. In some instances, depending on the type of development being considered, full surveys to determine presence or absence of newts are not always required, hence making significant cost and time savings. Modelling can also assist at an early stage of a project as part of a feasibility study to give an initial understanding of the likely impacts. It is also very helpful to determine appropriate mitigation and, supported by a thorough site walkover, can be used to support the consultant’s assessment of likely impacts. This can include restricting use of costly fencing to areas where there is the highest risk and using Reasonable Avoidance Measures supported by ecological supervision as required in other areas of the site. This is particularly key on large and or linear infrastructure projects where the potential impact on GCN can vary significantly.

To find out more about how our innovative solutions can save you time and money, why not visit us at stand F21 at the 2016 North Build EXPO and enter our free prize draw to win an exhilarating Rib Ride trip in Anglesey? Alternatively, contact us today to arrange a no obligation consultation.