On 23 November 2017 staff from across the practice gathered in Oxford to celebrate twenty years of professional consultancy.
From small beginnings we are now one of the largest independent ecological consultancies in the UK. BSG Ecology set out with a simple objective to do good consultancy work to high standards and to work on some exciting and challenging projects. Over time we have developed a profile in a wide range of sectors (including energy, infrastructure, housing and the historic environment), have worked on some high profile developments such as the Olympic Park and the Rookery (the first Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project to be granted planning consent), and helped deliver numerous large-scale renewable energy developments, thousands of new homes, many schools and infrastructure projects. We are also proud of our record in innovation, our regular contributions to the development of industry standard guidance, and our research.
The day began with members of our Oxford office sharing our experience of the implications and complexities of applying biodiversity offsetting to development proposals. The reasoning behind the application of different matrices, accounting for variation in grassland quality, and the need to adapt data collection methods to deliver work efficiently were themes of the presentation. Offsetting has gained particular momentum in the south-east and parts of the Midlands, and our Oxford team has built up considerable expertise helping secure planning consent for schemes that require the use of biodiversity offsetting calculators.
The Newport team then delivered a presentation that covered both designing and implementing effective monitoring at operational wind farms. For the past few years we have been using dog teams to locate bat carcasses at some of the UK’s largest onshore generation sites. To enable bat mortality rates to be modelled, we have also undertaken field testing of the dogs to assess their efficiency, and investigated scavenger removal rates of mammal corpses. In 2017 the team also led work that involved radio tracking nightjar to determine whether there is evidence of displacement of breeding birds from the vicinity of wind turbines in plantation habitats.
Our Newcastle office’s talk concerned the range of challenging and interesting work we have been undertaking on behalf of Northumbrian Water (NWL). The talk not only covered technical issues of projects but also focused on the time invested in developing and maintaining our relationship with this key client. The importance of developing a good understanding of the client’s business need and how they like to be supported by their consultants was also critical to being an effective consultant. NWL is a large land owner in the region, and project work has included assisting them in finding solutions with regard to works affecting numerous different bat roosts in their buildings and the requirement for a new pipeline through a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) (to replace a pipe that had been irretrievably damaged due to a land slip).
Our final internal presentation was from our Derbyshire office. This concerned a large site near London with botanically valuable habitats and notable invertebrate communities. Development land in the area is in high demand, but there is also a need to satisfy planning policy with regard to biodiversity. The project will include habitat retention and innovative measures to incorporate biodiversity. A second project summary concerned the challenges of deriving proportionate survey and monitoring data to inform the need for operational phase mitigation at a single turbine development in North Wales.
It was good to see many of our more junior staff taking a lead in delivering the presentations, showcasing both their technical capability and considerable accomplishment with regard to public speaking.
Our first external speaker, Mike Foster, Board Director at LDA Design, gave a wry but insightful overview of what clients are looking for in an ecological consultant. This drew on his many years of experience working alongside ecologists, but also his parallel understanding gained from developing and providing technical consultancy services as a landscape architect. The need to understand a client’s projects and drivers, to develop relationships that go beyond individual projects, and the necessity of seeking feedback to improve service provision were among the main themes of the presentation.
Our second guest speaker, Dr Paul Jepson of Oxford University, talked to us about the potential opportunities in terms of land use change that Brexit (and leaving the Common Agricultural Policy) provides. Paul explained the wide variety of ecosystem services (including health and well-being benefits) that could be realised if rather than paying landowners to intensively farm, and relying on formulaic agri-environmental initiatives to address biodiversity issues, we moved to a system where financial support was available for managing land for a variety of means (including nature conservation). The challenge to ecologists is to demonstrate to politicians that this approach presents an option that has the potential to deliver benefits across multiple policy areas, without dictating land use requirements to land owners.
Christmas 2017 will see the retirement of Theresa Howe. Theresa is universally liked and respected around the practice for her cheerful personality and positive approach to all aspects of her work.
The day allowed us the opportunity to thank Theresa for 10 years of service, albeit we hope to see her again (following her retirement) at forthcoming practice-wide events.
Dinner at the Ashmolean
We ended the day with dinner at the UK’s oldest museum, the marvellous Ashmolean in Oxford.
The evening began with short addresses by Jim Gillespie and Peter Shepherd, in which old and current colleagues and long term friends of the practice were thanked for their hard work and support, and the challenges of the next 20 years acknowledged and embraced. Staff and selected guests were then treated to a wonderful buffet dinner punctuated by a quiz. The setting was superb, and it was a lovely end to the day.
Thanks are due to all involved in organising and delivering what proved to be a brilliant 20th anniversary event.