Necessary Commissioning of Habitat Surveys


Loss of biodiversity and ecosystem damage has become a serious and in some cases an irreversible problem. Increase in population and urban sprawl has led to serious environmental and economic losses. Critical habitats are being lost and there is an urgent need to curb this biodiversity loss.

Habitat surveys protect the environment in two ways; they reveal potential problems development might cause and they highlight the unforeseen consequences resulting from actions already taken. There are a variety of reasons for a habitat survey to be commissioned. In some cases, there is reason to believe an ecosystem may be threatened. Specific species deemed endangered and requiring particular habitat, may need monitoring via periodic surveys.

A habitat survey gathers data to identify the habitats within a specific area as well as the species found within it. Habitats are identified by referencing a list of habitat classifications. Once a habitat is identified, it is mapped to provide a spatial record. Additionally, notes concerning the area being surveyed are included, such as rare plants or animal species found, unusual habitat features like ancient hedgerows or evidence of recent changes to the habitat.

Many surveys are conducted in response to proposed land development to assess environmental impact on land that development may cause.

Habitat surveys may be conducted on one of two scales. A larger survey is useful for strategic planning by local authorities. It can identify habitats that by law require protecting, as well as provide information about possible endangered species that are present or the negative effects a previously taken action has had on the environment. These surveys allow local governments to plan for future appropriate uses of land. A smaller site-based survey provides data for an Ecological Impact Assessment to determine what effects on a particular environment a specific development will have. These site-based surveys, usually commissioned by the developer, accompany planning applications.

Regardless of its scale or the reason for being conducted, the first step in habitat mapping is a Phase 1 survey. This basic survey can be conducted any time during the year but is most accurate when done in the spring or early summer. Vegetation is most easily identified during the growing season. Moreover, if a satellite navigation system assists in the survey, it is less likely to encounter interference from the heavy overhead growth of tree canopies that is present later in the summer.

From a Phase 1 habitat survey, a developer can identify issues that might delay permission or prompt a rejection of its planning application. Additionally, a developer, being forewarned about potential environmental concerns, can investigate ways to minimise the impact of its development. Depending on the results of a Phase 1 survey, a Phase 2 habitat survey may be indicated. A Phase 2 lists individual plant and animal species as well as details of area covered or frequency of occurrence per species. A Phase 2 is often required when an initial survey turns up habitat frequented by protected animals or vegetable species.

Numerous bespoke habitat surveys are conducted for reasons such as:

  • Noting the effects of pesticide pollution on the local animal species
  • Documenting the availability of vegetation favoured by wild bees
  • Determining the effects of run-off fertiliser on the flora and fauna of an area
  • Noting the effects of herbicides pollution on local vegetation
  • Determining the results of changes made to streams or rivers

Habitat surveys can help critical ecosystems to be monitored and preserved over time.

Habitat image via Shutterstock

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