We were initially commissioned by a private homeowner in East Sussex to undertake an Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey of a small plot of land on their farm. The plot included a pair of semi-detached cottages, a barn and the surrounding garden.
The survey served to inform a planning application for the demolition of the cottages and barn followed by the erection of two new detached dwellings on the plot. The Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey involved assessing the potential for habitats of ecological value and protected species to be impacted upon by these works so that, if necessary, appropriate mitigation could be incorporated into the design of scheme to ensure that the works are undertaken in accordance with wildlife legislation and planning policy.
The initial survey was undertaken in December 2014. During this survey, the main habitats were mapped and classified following the JNCC Phase 1 Habitat Survey Methodology and features with potential value for protected species were surveyed for their suitability for these species. The cottages and barn were also surveyed for their suitability to support roosting bats and the survey was extended to include the assessment of five ponds, which fell within 500m of the site, for their potential to support great crested newts. Habitat for other protected species such as reptiles, badgers and dormice was also assessed with any signs of protected species identified and mapped where present.
Both the cottages and the barn were found to offer numerous roosting opportunities for bats and indications that these buildings were being used as roost sites were identified in the form of bat droppings were found within all three buildings. In addition, the rough grassland within the garden was considered suitable to support common species of reptile such as slow-worm and grass snake as well as providing good terrestrial habitat for great crested newts. Three of the five ponds were considered likely to support great crested newts and the potential for this species to occur on the site was also considered to be high.
To address the areas of potential identified during the finial Phase I Habitat survey, further surveys were recommended for bats, great crested newts and reptiles.
Undertaken between April and June 2015, the further surveys identified a common pipistrelle maternity roost and an occasionally used (non-maternity roost) of brown long-eared bats within the cottage and the barn was found to support a soprano pipistrelle day roost. In addition, a low population of great crested newts was confirmed to be breeding within 500m of the site, yet no reptiles were identified to be present.
Through close consultation with the client and their architect a mitigation strategy to address the presence of bats and great crested newts has been compiled. These results were submitted to the Local Planning Authority to release the wildlife related conditions in place within the by now, approved planning permission.
As the demolition of the cottages will result in the loss of the known bats roosts, the application and approval of a European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licence from Natural England has been recommended in regard to bats. The EPSM licence is required to enable the works to proceed in accordance with the European legislation that protects bats, with the mitigation strategy focusing on replication the existing roost sites within the replacement building, with mitigation features that are both cost effective and simple to install whilst providing bats with a range of suitable roosting options. It is our understanding that the client wishes to proceed with the work in the next few years and it is anticipated that a licence application for bats will be made in 2016 or 2017
Consideration to the need for a EPSM licence and mitigation strategy for great crested newts was given, however, the population was confirmed to be low and restricted to a single pond located well beyond the 250m distance which great crested newts are known to regularly travel. When considering this, together with the sub-optimal habitat which lies between the site and the populated pond, the likelihood of great crested newts occurring on the site was considered to unlikely and the application of a method statement has been recommended.
This is unlikely to have been the case should the population have been larger or distributed within the ponds which are located adjacent to the site, a factor which demonstrates the value of good survey work in informing the need or not for further mitigation and/or a EPSM licence from Natural England.