QMark - what will be the impact of revised guidelines on ecological impact assessment?

4th January 2016

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  • Built environment ,
  • Planning ,
  • Management ,
  • Natural resources


Pamela Reynolds

Steve Jackson-Matthews, head of ecology at Land Use Consulting (LUC), considers changes to guidelines on ecological impact assessment.

The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) first introduced its Guidelines for Ecological Impact Assessment in the UK and Ireland in 2006. At the time, the guidelines sought to bring together best practice from across the industry with a view to standardising the national approach, thus introducing a degree of consistency in a topic that can be very subjective.

Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) practitioners have applied the guidelines to countless projects and, through ongoing debate and discussion at CIEEM conferences, industry publications and various social media platforms, have discussed and debated their pros and cons. In January 2016, CIEEM announced the publication of the second version.

The value of the revision will be established in the coming months as new EcIAs come forward and practitioners grapple with the consequences of the changes, however at this stage, the main changes appear to be related to the following:

  • Scoping – a greater emphasis is placed on quality scoping, ensuring that all stakeholders are agreed on the shape and content of the EcIA.
  • Assessment matrices – despite the 2006 guidelines being clear that the use of matrices is not appropriate to the identification of potential impact significance, the industry continued to adopt this approach, not least because it is a standard method in many other chapter disciplines. The guidelines now take a more robust approach to the use of matrices and provides a clearer approach on alternative approaches.
  • Geographical value – when assessing the value of a given site, the 2006 guidelines provided a plethora of geographical options, including nomenclature that ill-fits the planning system as we know it. This approach has been revised to allow practitioners to apply ecological value at geographical level that ties in better with planning policy.
  • Emerging concepts – since 2006, ecological theories and concepts have evolved considerably. Green networks, ecosystem services and climate change have become increasingly central features of nature conservation policy and the revision recognises the potential for impacts on these.
  • Developing mitigation – similarly, since 2006, the industry’s understanding of mitigation has developed and changed. Hot topics within the industry include biodiversity offsetting and banking and the revision now provides advice on how these measures relate to the EcIA process.

Working routinely on EcIA, LUC is keen to understand and implement new guidance, particularly where it allows our clients to demonstrate a consistent and considered approach to assessment. Our team has been engaging with fellow practitioners on the guidelines revisions recently.

Our principal ecologist in London, David Green, attended CIEEM’s recent spring conference on EcIA. The event included points of view from statutory consultees, developers, consultants and planning authorities regarding what makes a good EcIA, he said.

This highlighted the differing preferences often encountered. At present, there appears to be a contrasting approach in the size and complexity of chapters the environmental statement. For example, developers often advocate a concise approach to EcIA reports with technical information provided in appendices, but this was highlighted by planners and consultees as often lacking transparency in the decision making process.

A balance is required to ensure that any EcIA clearly demonstrates the reasoning behind the conclusions made without becoming unwieldy for the reader. At LUC we believe all key justifications in reaching assessment conclusions need to be included up front in the main EcIA document and this viewpoint seems to be widely shared.

Ecosystem services was also a hot topic of debate at the event and its inclusion in the guidelines has arguably raised more questions than answers. At present, many practitioners are unclear as to how this specific discipline should, if at all, be considered in EcIA. Ecologists at LUC agree that whilst EcIA can help to inform ecosystem services, the two disciplines should remain separate due to their specific approaches and the different technical specialists required in assessing them.

The impact the revision will have on the quality of EcIA produced in the UK will emerge with time. The debate is only just getting started, with some practitioners praising the foresight of the guidelines, and other criticising the missed opportunity to develop them even further.

Either way, the revision comes at an important time in the UK ecology industry. Not only is the UK gearing up for a significant increase in large-scale infrastructure development, but it does so in the face of rapidly changing planning policy and potentially radical changes to the nature conservation regulatory framework in the UK. Ultimately, the new guidelines will be rigorously tested.


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