BSG Ecology has expertise in the provision of advice to projects and plans that have the potential to impact upon European sites (the Natura 2000 network). We can provide HRA Screening and Appropriate Assessment reports and have dealt with issues including habitat loss, air pollution, disturbance, and hydrological effects on the sensitive plants and animals for which these are valued.
BSG Ecology has worked on projects that have presented significant technical challenges because of their potential impacts on Special Protection Areas (SPAs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Ramsar sites. Because of their importance these sites are subject to the highest levels of legal and policy protection, and for this reason any plan or project that has the potential to impact on them is subject to the highest level of scrutiny. BSG Ecology has also provided HRA Screening and Appropriate Assessment reports for draft Local Plans and Spatial Strategies.
The Legal Basis for HRA
Under Regulation 61 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) there is a legal requirement to consider the impacts of a plan or project on a European site. In this context the term ‘plan or project’ includes planning strategies, development plans, development proposals or anything else that could impact on the integrity of a European site.
The legislation requires that an ‘appropriate assessment’ is carried out for plans or project that are likely to have a significant effect on a European site. This process requires detailed consideration of the potential for the plan or project, taking account of the mitigation proposed, to affect the conservation objectives of the site(s) concerned, if further stages in the HRA process (which many proposals are unlikely to be able to satisfy) are to be avoided.
The whole assessment process is often referred to as a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) in England and Wales or a Habitats Regulations Appraisal in Scotland (the Habitats Regulations process is different in Ireland, and is the subject of a separate capability statement).
BSG Ecology has carried out numerous Habitats Regulations Assessments, the results of which have been used to demonstrate to relevant authorities that adverse effects on European sites can be avoided. This includes work on development plans, masterplans, recreational projects, quarries, infrastructure projects and housing developments.
Our experience also covers a diverse range of European sites, including those that have been designated for birds, fish, mammals (including otter and bats) and a range of habitats.
When carrying out HRAs we are able to draw upon the wide-ranging expertise and experience of our team. This results in robust outputs, which provide consultees confidence in the assessment process and its outcomes. Our approach typically involves:
- Early consultation with key stakeholders;
- Identification and appreciation of site sensitivities;
- Identification of the full range of impact mechanisms, both direct and indirect;
- Evaluation of impact significance;
- Identification of pragmatic mitigation measures;
- Delivery of positive assessment outcomes.
In certain circumstances specialist studies are required to inform the assessment. In addition in house staff, we also have a large network of approved subcontractors that we can draw upon to provide specialist data as required, such as for fresh water pearl mussel, tentacled lagoon worm and fish.
Other services we provide include the completion of Ecological Impact Assessments and the preparation of Ecology chapters for Environmental Statements (ES), on-site and desk based support for the discharge of planning conditions, application for mitigation and conservation licences for European Protected Species, and undertaking external technical reviews of EIAs and EcIAs on behalf of developers and local authorities. We can also provide experienced expert witnesses for public inquiry.
The preparation of an HRA can frequently be required alongside the preparation of an Ecology chapter for an ES, and we have the expertise to distinguish between the different procedural requirements for each and present them accordingly.
During a routine inspection Northumbrian Water Operations found that a landslip had seriously damaged part of the surface water network on the southern edge of Peterlee, County Durham.
As the area remains unstable it will not be possible to repair the existing pipe, and a new surface water sewer will need to be constructed. This work will have to take place within the Castle Eden Dene Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which is where the original surface water sewer is located. As a result BSG Ecology was contracted by Northumbrian Water to complete a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) to determine whether the proposed work will have an adverse effect on the integrity of the SAC.
Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) is a key part of the development planning process, and in July 2013 Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council appointed BSG Ecology to complete a HRA of its draft Local Plan.
The borough of Redcar and Cleveland includes a number of important wildlife sites, some of which have been identified as being of European importance because of the habitats and species that they support. The presence of Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast SPA and Ramsar site within the borough, and the North York Moors SPA and SAC just outside the boundary, were key considerations in the plan-making process. The purpose of the work was to assess whether it was likely that the policies in the draft Local Plan would result in impacts on these European sites.
In 2015 BSG Ecology provided support to a leading solar developer with regard to a scheme in agricultural land close to the River Severn in Gloucestershire. BSG Ecology initially reviewed ecological data relating to the area and undertook an extended Phase 1 habitat survey of the Site. The review was used to input to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Screening Report, to which a Habitats Regulations screening letter was appended. We were aware that Natural England (NE) considered that a solar development project in the area might potentially affect the qualifying interest of European Sites of nature conservation importance associated with the Severn. The screening letter therefore reviewed the interest features of the European sites and drew some reasoned conclusions as to whether they were likely to be impacted by the proposals.