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Ecological Habitat Surveys & Protected Species

Phase 1 ] [ Phase 2 ] [ Great crested newt ] [ Badgers ] [ Bats ] [ Invertebrates ] [ Water vole ] [ Reptiles ] [ Red Squirrel ]
White-clawed Crayfish ] [ Otter ] [ Breeding Birds ] [ Hedgerow ] [ River Corridor ]

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Phase 1 Survey (Initial baseline) 

Phase 1 Surveys are very regularly undertaken and provide a basic ecological audit technique and valuable information when making decisions about an area, such as in conservation management and planning decisions. Phase 1 Surveys provide a relatively quick technique for recording the wildlife habitat and basic vegetation information for an area. Target notes are used to highlight particularly important features. Phase 1 'habitat' surveys can be 'extended' to include scoping work for protected species at the same time. Timings of these surveys are crucial in order to get good data and not hold up a project, as consents and licenses' may be needed for any mitigation procedures.

Phase 2 Survey [NVC] 

Phase 2 Surveys often follow on from Phase 1 and are more detailed. They are used when more detailed vegetation information is required for selected areas and are defined in terms of the plant communities, ideally as defined by the National Vegetation Classification (NVC). Phase 2 Surveys can also include animal information. Survey for, and allocation of, NVC type classes, provides essential information on the value of wildlife resources found at a particular site, and importantly, places this information in the context of other resources to be found in the immediate vicinity. Such information is often helpful when considering potential development or mitigation strategies in an area.

Great crested newt 

Due to the protection afforded to the species, all survey techniques must be conducted by a licensed individual. However, habitat suitability assessments can be made without a licence, and can be conducted at any time of the year. As newts are largely nocturnal, surveying is best conducted at night, and during the breeding period of mid March to mid June. Four visits are required to determine presence or absence, or six visits to estimate population size class. In either case, 50% of the visits must take place between mid April and mid May. A combination of techniques is used on each occasion:

    Egg search
    Eggs of this species are larger than the other species (about 5mm in diameter), and are laid on the leaves of submerged plants which are then neatly folded over.

    Torching
    High power torches are used to shine into the pond at night when newts are most active.

    Netting
    A long-handled dip net is used to search for newts.

    Bottle trapping
    Plastic bottle traps are submerged in the water at dusk, and checked and removed the following morning. These are only used when the night-time temperature is suitable. Newts swim into the traps and are unable to exit until released.

    Terrestrial search
    Refugia such as logs, rubble, discarded carpet and wood are carefully inspected underneath and then replaced. This is best done during the daytime and can be done out of the breeding season.

Licence and Mitigation

The presence of Great Crested Newts is a material consideration in the planning process, and development plans should take the presence of ponds into account. As newts are capable of moving substantial distances overland (typically 200-500m from their breeding pond, but up to 1.3km) it is usually considered necessary to assess the suitability of habitat within 500m of proposed development, and survey all suitable ponds for newts during the breeding season, following the methods outlined above.

Actions which are prohibited by legislation can be made lawful on the granting of a licence from DEFRA. In order to obtain a licence to allow the capture of newts, destruction of breeding sites, etc, in advance of any otherwise legitimate development, it has to be clearly demonstrated that the damage will be adequately compensated for. Current English Nature advice is that there should be no net loss in local Great Crested Newt status, taking into account factors such as population size, viability and connectivity. Hence, mitigation should aim to maintain a population of equivalent status on or near the original site, and should facilitate links to adjacent (indirectly affected) populations where present.

Mitigation for Great Crested Newts normally comprises the following elements that ADK can help with. These are:

Habitat creation, restoration or enhancement - to provide receptor areas for displaced newts, in compensation for areas to be lost or damaged;

Avoidance of disturbance, killing or injury - taking all reasonable steps to ensure works do not harm individuals, by altering working methods or timing to avoid newts; capture and removal; exclusion to prevent newts entering development areas;

Long-term habitat management and maintenance - to ensure the population will persist; o Post-development population monitoring - to assess the success of the scheme and to inform management or remedial operations.

Badgers 

Surveying for Badgers can be undertaken at any time of year but if bait marking is required this should be conducted during spring and autumn. The surveying process involves conducting an initial survey to determine whether the area is suitable for Badgers, followed by a more detailed survey to gather evidence of current activity.

All habitats suitable for Badger setts and foraging are recorded, plus signs of Badger activity such as sett holes, prints, latrines, and runs with evidence of use by Badgers.

    Phase Two Survey
    Those habitats identified as suitable for Badgers through an initial survey are revisited during spring and autumn when Badger activity is most evident. A thorough search is conducted to record all setts within the area, the number of holes of each, level of activity, and evidence of recent use. Bait marking is also used to determine sett status and the extent of the foraging area. Setts may need to be monitored over a period of time to confirm activity.
Bats 

Any development that could impact on bats requires survey work to be carried out and an impact assessment conducted.

Some survey work can be carried out without a licence such as dawn, dusk and activity surveys. However, any work involving disturbance to bats requires the surveyor to carry a licence issued by Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Environment and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland.

ADK carry out a number of surveys including:

    Initial habitat assessment - an assessment of the potential of a site to support roosting, commuting and foraging bats.

    Building or bridge survey - our licensed ecologists investigate buildings and bridges for bats or signs of bat use.

    Tree surveys - our qualified tree climbers investigate trees for bats or signs of bat use.

    Underground site survey - ecologists with confined spaces training investigate underground sites for bats or signs of bat use.

    Dawn and dusk survey - trained ecologists watch for bats leaving and returning to their roosts respectively, allowing for the identification of roost sites. This provides confirmation of species identification, population estimates, roost status and access points.

    Bat activity survey - trained ecologists listen for bats commuting and foraging using bat detectors and recorders to enable analysis of bat echolocation calls, which are unique for each species.

    The timing of survey work is sometimes restricted to a small window during the year therefore it is better to plan surveys in as early as possible.

Invertebrates 

The best way to assess a habitat for invertebrates is to carry out an initial scoping visit. Experienced invertebrate specialists can often determine a site's quality without necessarily undertaking a detailed survey. Such a visit focuses on examining habitat features and conditions, which help estimate the site's potential for any protected invertebrates that may be present.

Invertebrate surveys can take a variety of different forms depending on the species or group of interest. Effective surveying often involves using a combination of different sampling methodologies. For terrestrial invertebrates, light traps, malaise traps, timed quadrat searches, suction sampling and pitfall trapping are all classic methods of sampling, whilst for aquatic invertebrates, kick sampling and sweep netting are the methods most often used.

Although surveys are often required by the planning regulations, you may consider commissioning one for other reasons, for example as part of biodiversity enhancement work. The results will frequently reveal how a habitat could be improved, not just for invertebrates, but in turn all the other animals and plants that rely upon them.

Water Vole 

Water Vole presence can be determined by field signs during the breeding season, when it is most active above ground. The survey period is weather dependent but runs approximately from April to September. Field signs include droppings and latrines, burrows, grazed lawns around burrow entrances, and feeding remains. Survey at other times of year is unreliable, as burrows may be created by Brown Rat and other signs are less evident during the winter and are easily washed away by heavy rain or high water levels. For this reason, an absence of signs at any time of year needs to be treated with caution.

Reptiles 

Surveying reptiles is difficult, and if undertaken in areas that might support the two rarer species, could involve the disturbance of individuals which, under normal circumstances, would contravene protective legislation. Hence surveys should be carried out by experienced ecologists, where necessary holding relevant species licences. Survey techniques include careful observation amongst suitable habitat positions with a sunny aspect where individuals are likely to be found basking. Alternatively, the presence of some species may be more easily detected with the use of artificial 'refuges'. These are small pieces of heat absorbent materials, such as corrugated iron, on or under which individuals may bask to thermoregulate. Surveys of artificial refugia are commonly carried out in suitably warm conditions on early mornings or late afternoons from March to October but optimally April, May and September, when the chances of sightings are greatest.

Red Squirrel 

There are four main survey techniques used to determine the presence or absence of Red Squirrels:

Visual Surveys, Hair Tube Surveys, Drey Counts and Squirrel Feeding Transects

These methods provide presence/absence data for squirrels and in some cases an estimate of population levels can be made. However, only the visual surveys or hair tube surveys can distinguish between Red and Grey Squirrels; so in areas occupied by both species, one or other of these methods must be employed. Visual surveys usually provide the simplest and most cost-effective method. They are carried out at dawn, when squirrels are most active, and can be undertaken at any time of year except in adverse weather conditions (rain and/or wind).

White-clawed Crayfish 

Habitat assessment can be undertaken at any time of year but surveys can only take place from mid-July to the end of September to ensure females are not disturbed while carrying eggs. The main survey technique used is active searching in suitable habitat, though this method is only suitable during times of base (i.e. low) flow in streams. Night searching by torch is recognised as an effective method in addition to trapping, which may be a suitable option in deep, slow moving pools where active searches cannot be conducted.

Otter 

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act places legal emphasis on developers to survey for this species prior to obtaining planning permission. Because Otters avoid disturbance and are largely nocturnal, survey and monitoring usually has to be carried out by searching for signs such as footprints and spraints (droppings) and recording habitat features and weather conditions at the time of survey. Surveys can be undertaken at any time of year and must be undertaken by a suitably experienced ecologist.

Birds 

ADK conducts initial surveys to assess habitats for the suitability to support breeding and wintering bird species and to record incidental bird sightings during the visit. Special emphasis is placed on the suitability of the site for Schedule 1 and UKBAP species and also species of conservation concern. After the initial assessment further surveys may be required to obtain a detailed account of bird species and communities in key habitat areas.

    Breeding Bird surveys
    Consisting of two to ten visits recording and mapping all bird species seen or heard along with any relevant behaviour such as gathering nesting material, territorial calling, fighting or feeding young. Surveys are undertaken using BTO Common Bird Census techniques and ideally are undertaken between April 1st and June 30th.

    Wintering Bird surveys
    Consisting of at least four visits undertaken between September and March (key months of December, January to February) to record any notable assemblages of feeding and/or roosting bird species. Coastal estuaries, marshes and inland water bodies are typical examples where wintering bird surveys are likely to be required.

    Specialised Bird surveys
    Undertaken using specialised survey techniques for individual protected species, such as Barn Owls and Black Redstart; important bird habitats, such as estuaries and SPA and RAMSAR sites; and to obtain more detailed population estimates.

    Hand Searches
    Nests can be searched for by hand immediately prior to development activities. This is generally considered as a last resort and is only practical for small areas of scrub and individual trees and bushes. The number of visits for all surveys depends on the size and the importance of key bird habitats identified during the initial surveys.

Hedgerow Survey 

Standard hedgerow survey techniques are used to record hedgerow distribution and quality. They cover such things as hedgerow structure, setting, associated features and wood and ground flora components. They may involve complete survey, or sampling if the study area is large. Data collected during such surveys is examined against set criteria to assess the importance of each hedgerow, as well as being used to determine hedgerow 'condition' and guide conservation management.

River Corridor Survey 

The undertaking of River Corridor Surveys in order to map detailed habitats and vegetation structure. By identifying important features this survey is used to provide working recommendations and help develop restoration plans for a watercourse. This survey can be incorporated in Ecological Impact Assessments (EIA) for riverside developments.

River Habitat Survey

The undertaking of River Habitat Surveys in order to characterise and assess, in broad terms, the ecology of freshwater streams and rivers. This methodology provides information on river structure, vegetation and land-use as required by conservation projects, flood management and riverside development projects. Our ecologists are listed agents accredited in the latest version of the methodology.

Protected Species Monitoring

Environmental survey and monitoring projects focused on particular species groups or individual species, either as one-off surveys or to initiate new, or maintain existing, monitoring projects. Reliable and appropriate data on species are the foundation on which environmental assessments can take place, allowing status to be evaluated, reported, and the species protected or managed.



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