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Ecology and infrastructure: why lack of planning can lead to costly delays

Ecology surveys and mitigation are often restricted to certain times of the year and have specific seasonal requirements. For many developers the challenge of this can be unnecessary delays to construction programmes, if consideration for ecology is not factored in at an early stage.

Incorporating ecological requirements, such as retention or creation of habitats, into development plans at the design stage can help avoid time delays costly knock on effects. Senior ecological consultant Jonathan Reeves from Thomson Environmental Consultants provides strategic ecological advice to planners and developers as part of his role. Here he looks at examples from large scale infrastructure projects he has worked on that illustrate the importance of planning for ecology at the early stage of development. He also explores the potential consequences to project programmes and budgets when early planning for ecology surveys is not factored in.

The London Gateway Port Development is a large deep-sea container port and logistics park development on the south Essex coastline. Construction of the project began in 2010. Ecologists were brought onboard at an early stage in 2008, to carry out preliminary ecology surveys to inform the design of the development, identify the need for protected species licences and plan mitigation strategies. At this point the ecology team identified the need for a large bespoke habitat compensation site which needed to be constructed prior to the translocation programme starting, so that it could develop into a suitable receptor site for translocated animals. Early great crested newt and reptile surveys identified large populations of these species and a multi-year, phased programme of ecological mitigation was implemented for a range of species including great crested newt, reptiles, and water vole. These were relocated to a series of inter-connected bespoke receptor sites on land adjacent to the development site, as well as other locations in the local and wider area. By identifying ecology issues at an early stage and incorporating mitigation plans into early development plans, licences could be obtained in good time to enable the construction programme to progress avoiding unnecessary delays. Without that early planning and survey work, much time and money could have been wasted waiting for licences and working on planning and constructing the appropriate mitigation.

The presence of roosting bats along part of The Great Western Route Modernisation (now The Greater West) scheme could have caused a major problem for the developer if early ecological planning and advice had not been followed. The Great Western Route Modernisation is a large railway electrification project, electrifying the main line between Cardiff and London. Consideration for ecology began in 2014 when were appointed to provide a wide range of ecology support, carrying out surveys and providing advice to input into the design of the scheme. This included an early scoping exercise to identify over-bridges with potential to support roosting bats, which have the potential to cause significant delays to a project programme given the ecology of bats, and the seasonal restrictions on bat surveys.

Early identification in summer 2015 of a bat roost in a bridge proposed for demolition enabled the necessary survey effort to be quickly programmed to enable a European Protected Species Licence (EPSL) to be obtained to enable the destruction of the bridge in compliance with the law. Following the identification of another bat roost in spring 2016 in a structure near a road over-bridge proposed for reconstruction,  were able to offer pragmatic advice looking at  the specific nature of the proposed development works. A Precautionary Method of Working, combined with additional targeted surveys, was employed to ensure that bat roosts would not be affected by the development. This discovery could have had the potential to significantly affect the project programme and cause costly delays, as a busy public road was closed to enable the bridge reconstruction. However, with careful planning and effective liaison with the Local Authority, the bridge re-development was successfully completed without the need for a European Protected Species Licence which saved significant time. The construction programme was met and the bridge re-opened on schedule.

As part of the same scheme, compounds were planned for several sites adjacent to the railway where suitable habitat had been identified for great crested newt during a scoping survey.  Early in the 2016 season, great crested newt eDNA surveys of waterbodies near the proposed compound sites were undertaken, with negative results. This enabled the early determination that the sites were not supporting great crested newt and avoiding the need to carry out a longer programme of great crested newt survey. This meant that the client was able to proceed without further delay.

Ecology surveys for the High Speed 2 rail development have been ongoing since 2013, several years ahead of the commencement of construction. Gathering information at this early stage has enabled the identification of requirements for additional surveys, mitigation and licences to be planned into the development programme, which is now underway.

I am confident that these examples demonstrate that early planning for ecological issues is vital to keep a project on budget and to schedule. Because of the seasonal nature of the work, if time is not factored in right at the start, lack of early ecological consultation can have the potential to cause delays and overruns to project programmes and budgets. However, with careful planning, and factoring in the requirements for survey and mitigation at the earliest opportunities, unnecessary delays can often be avoided saving time and money.

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