A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal, or PEA, is the initial scoping assessment of an area of land, for its potential to support protected species, based on the habitats it supports and signs of protected species. PEA’s are required to inform what further surveys for protected species are required, as part of the planning process. The aim of a PEA is to gather as much information about the site and the surrounding area, so that the potential impacts of the proposed development on designated sites for nature conservation, protected species and habitats can be assessed. This is achieved through a two-part process: a desk study and a Phase 1 habitat survey.
A desk study involves obtaining historical ecological records, so that, as an ecologist, you can assess the likelihood of protected species being present on site and the impacts of the development on ecologically important sites and habitats in the surrounding area. By contacting the local biodiversity records centre, records can be obtained (usually no more than 10 years old) within at least 1 km radius of the site. The data search will provide you with a list of statutory and non-statutory designated sites and a list of protected, notable and invasive species, with a 4 or 6 figure grid reference.
The next step is to visit the site and conduct a Phase 1 habitat survey. It is important that prior to visiting any site that you have permission from the land owner to be on site and you have a full risk assessment in place. A Phase 1 habitat survey provides a ‘snapshot’ of the current conditions of the site and is a technique used by ecologists to map habitats and record species as a baseline for further survey work, in accordance with Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) guidelines ‘Handbook for Phase 1 Habitat Survey’. These guidelines list the different habitats, which can be found in the UK and a definition for each habitat. Ecologist can use these guidelines to effectively identify which habitats are present on site. Once identified, the habitats need to be outlined in a map to provide a visual representation of the site.
The JNCC handbook also provides a key for each habitat type with their own colour coding, making mapping the habitats transparent and consistent. The objective of a Phase 1 habitat survey is to also record the dominant flora and signs of protected species present on site. The ecologist can then assess the site for its potential to support protected species. For instance, kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) could be recorded on a calcareous semi-improved grassland which could attract breeding small blue butterflies (Cupido minimus) which are a species of principal importance. Even though the small blue butterfly may not be recorded during the survey, the site itself has potential to support them. Similarly, it is important to record any features, which could support protected species such as log piles or woodpecker holes in a tree. These should be noted as a target note on the map. Further information on what a Phase 1 habitat survey is can be found on our website.
The final step in the process is to present your findings to the client in a report and inform them of any further survey work, recommendations and mitigation, that are required. If the site has potential to support protected species, then further protected species surveys are required to fully establish if protected species are present and whether they will be impacted on by the proposed development. The results of these further surveys and subsequent assessment are required to inform the planning application. Further information on protected species ecology and survey courses can be found on our website.
A PEA is an essential scoping survey that ecologists undertake regularly and is the first step in understanding the sites nature conservation value. Further information on the CIEEM guidelines for PEA’s can be found on their website. Here at Ecology Training UK, all of our ecologists are experienced in carrying out PEA’s and offer introductory courses at each of our branches for anybody who wishes to learn how to carry out a PEA. You can find them, along with our full range of courses on our website.