Mikael Forup explains how good planning and management can help ensure developments have a net positive impact on the environment – and will have a better chance of securing planning consent as a result.

When proposals for new development are covered in the news, the pros and cons tend to boil down to positive benefits to the general population on the one hand versus negative impacts to local residents and/or the loss of natural assets on the other. For example, a new development may deliver 500 much-needed homes and other amenities but the downside could be that local residents will experience an increase in traffic and that an area of greenspace currently supporting badgers or other sensitive species will be lost.

Yet when planned correctly, developments can benefit natural assets. For instance, Atmos is involved in a number of renewable energy projects where the restoration of degraded peatland habitat features prominently. Few people realise that much of our ecologically important upland blanket bog resource has been significantly degraded over many decades, notably by being drained to support livestock grazing or commercial forestry. Drained peat soils release carbon to the atmosphere, thereby contributing to global climate change, and the drier conditions created by drainage also make the habitat unsuitable for a range of sensitive bog species.

It is chiefly in areas of degraded blanket bog (rather than good-condition blanket bog areas) that upland wind schemes are proposed. Development in these areas therefore presents an opportunity to repair this damage on a scale which significantly exceeds any negative impacts of the development itself. The outcome is a net positive impact as a consequence of development on a habitat of conservation interest. Aside from the benefits to local ecology, hydrological restoration reactivates the peatland as a sink rather than a source of carbon.

However, lowland sites can also benefit from well planned development, even when located close to towns and cities. For example, Atmos has been involved on a number of housing schemes on former farmland sites that included making significant enhancements to the availability and quality of local habitat for bats, which are fully protected species. Bat populations can be limited by the number of roosting opportunities available. By providing more and better roosting habitat than existed previously, these developments have resulted in conditions suitable for a higher number of bats. 

Linear infrastructure such as roads or pipelines can also provide suitable habitat for native wildlife. For example, motorways often include wide grassland verges that are relatively straightforward to manage for wildlife. All that may be required to achieve this is to cut the verges just once or twice over the year instead of more frequent mowing.

The result can be a meadow rich in plants, insects and birds. These verges effectively become dispersal corridors for species to move along in the landscape, an important aspect of normal population dynamics. Interestingly, the challenge here is not so much technical as aesthetic. Engineers often prefer vegetation located on the site of a development to support the clean lines and monochromatic palette of their sleek design. From their perspective, they want a meadow to look purposeful and certainly not neglected or weedy!

With the right planning and management in place, there is an opportunity for the effects of many types of development on our natural environment to be made net positive – and by doing so, a proposed development will give itself the best possible chance of achieving planning consent. To find out how Atmos Consulting can help you to put the right plan in place to make that happen, why not contact our team today?