Ecology consultancy advice for August 2014 – Bats ahoy and more

September 12th, 2014

Our ecological services range from habitat surveys to full protected species surveys and European Protected Species Licence applications. If you have a building or development project, we’ll help you get started on time and support you all the way in complying with the latest ecology and biodiversity legislation.

As autumn approaches, we thought it’d be useful to look at some of the fascinating creatures we come across when carrying out our ecology services and surveys.

It’s dormouse survey season – Do you have invaders?

The native hazel dormouse is a secretive and fascinating little creature. This species inhabits hedgerows and woodland and has specific habitat requirements meaning populations are susceptible to changes in land use and management.

We do, however, have another non-native species in the UK; the edible dormouse. It’s Europe’s biggest dormouse and very different to our native version inhabiting a range of habitats including deciduous woodland, rocky cliffs, caves and urban areas. This species can grow to more than 20cm in length, has a thick, hairy tail, and if you live anywhere around the Beaconsfield, Aylesbury, Tring or Luton area, there may be a nest near you.

The animals were introduced to Britain by accident in 1902, thanks to the dedicated yet somewhat careless private collector Lionel Walter Rothschild, and they’ve thrived in the region around his home ever since. They favour warm, quiet places and have been encountered in houses, attics and airing cupboards.

The edible dormouse is listed as an invasive species under Schedule 9 Part 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), which makes it a criminal offence to release them into the wild. However, it isn’t clear whether they actually pose a threat to native dormice by competing for resources and habitat. Therefore, somewhat contrarily, it’s also illegal to harm them (also under the Wildlife and Countryside Act) in that certain methods of killing or taking them are prohibited, except under licence.

What’s that bat? It doesn’t matter – they’re all protected

Pipistrelle batDevelopers often fall foul of bats. And it doesn’t matter what type of bat it is – they’re all protected by law, and it’s an offence to ‘intentionally or recklessly’ injure, kill, catch or even handle a bat. Vitally for anyone carrying out development or redevelopment, it’s also illegal to damage, destroy or even obstruct the places bats use for shelter and protection.
As a respected Brighton-, Manchester- and Cardiff- based ecology consultancy, we’re properly licensed to carry out bat surveys locally and nationally. We do so in line with all the latest current statutory guidelines, and everything we do refers to industry best practice.

If you’re wondering whether you can get away without a bat survey, the number of court cases ought to put you off! Just like all protected species, where bats are concerned it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Ecological surveys affect all these creatures and more

Dormice and bats are just the tip of the iceberg. Did you know you also need an environmental assessment if you have any of the following protected species on the land you’re planning to develop?

  • Badgers
  • White-clawed crayfish
  • Great crested newts
  • Natterjack toads
  • Pool frogs
  • Otters
  • Water voles
  • Reptiles

Want to know them all? The Natural England website has a comprehensive list.

If you need to get started on a development but you’ve spotted a protected animal on the site or nearby, or suspect a protected species may be present, please call us for advice. The earlier we can get the area surveyed and establish what’s there, the better for your budget and development deadline.

The positive side of Japanese Knotweed, Britain’s most hated invader

August 28th, 2014
Japanese knotweed chutney

Knotweed chutney and knotweed cake

Everyone hates Japanese knotweed. The invader is widely feared and reviled, responsible for ruining home purchases, destroying infrastructure, driving legal action, making life impossible for local wildlife and sticking around in the soil for so long it seems more or less invincible. Japanese knotweed control is big business. But playing devil’s advocate, is there a positive side to the plant everyone loves to hate? Some people think so.

New Scientist magazine reader bucks the trend

According to New Scientist reader Ruth Burroughs, the dreaded weed isn’t all bad. Here’s what she said in the magazine’s 5th July 2014 edition:

“I was concerned to read the diatribe against Japanese knotweed. While not wishing to defend some of knotweed’s thuggish habits, your article was in my view both biased and unscientific.

To describe it as having the “biodiversity value of concrete” is absurd. It is in fact a valuable nectar source for many insects, including honey bees. Its phytochemistry is complex and fascinating and beyond the scope of this letter, but suffice it to say it has broad antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity as well as being a rich source of resveratrol, a compound claimed to have many health benefits. The plant has a long history of use in Japan as a medicine and a food source.”

Knotweed, Alzheimers, cancer and heart disease

Livestrong magazine, an online health portal, agrees with Burroughs, claiming:

“According to Whole Foods Magazine Online, Japanese knotweed contains significant concentrations of the potent antioxidant resveratrol. Resveratrol occurs naturally in many foods such as grapes, peanuts, mulberries and red wine. Consumption of Japanese knotweed promotes several beneficial health effects due to the presence of resveratrol.”

They go on to say that the amount of resveratrol in the plant is also thought to have a preventative effect on Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study by the Feinstein Institute of Medical Research in Manhasset, New York. While they’ve only noted the effect so far in cultured cells and animal studies, there are hopes the substance might also help prevent the disease in humans.

Research appears to suggest that resveratrol helps mitigate some forms of cardiovascular diseases and even some cancers. But, being realistic, the jury is still out. One thing is certain, the invader is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and manganese.

Can I eat Japanese knotweed?

Apparently so, and it tastes wonderful especially in recipes that demand a sour ingredient. In Japan, villages even hold annual knotweed festivals where numerous delicious recipes are showcased. But there’s more. It also contains a natural pesticide called MOI-106, which means it could eventually prove useful for organic farmers.

According to Wild Man Steve Brill:

“Best when 6 to 8 inches tall, the intensely tart, tangy shoots (discard all the tough leaves) taste like rhubarb, only better. A tough rind that you must peel (good for making marmalade) covers the taller ones.
Slice the stems, steam as a vegetable, and simmer in soups, sauces, fruit compotes, and jam, or bake in dessert dishes. Use sparingly. I’ve made terrific apple sauce and excellent strawberry compotes using just 1 part knotweed to 10 parts fruit.

You may even substitute cooked knotweed, which gets very soft, for lemon juice, transforming familiar recipes into exotic ones. Or use a chopstick to pierce the membranes that separate the segments of 1-foot-tall shoots, peel, stuff the stalks with sweet or savory stuffing, and bake in an appropriate sauce.”

Eat it… or get rid of it!

If you’d like to check out some tasty Japanese knotweed recipes, try Fergus the Forager’s excellent website or our very own Japanese knotweed crumble recipe. But if you don’t care about its nutritional benefits and just want to get rid of the stuff before it trashes your home, garden, driveway or premises, call us in and we’ll deal with it quickly, efficiently and professionally, with our proven, highly effective Japanese knotweed eradication measures.

Sustainable development – BREEAM domestic refurbishment and more

August 7th, 2014

Sustainable homeOnce upon a time you could buy a plot of land, submit plans, get them approved and go ahead more or less willy nilly, building and developing without considering sustainability, climate change, energy conservation or the overall efficiency and comfort of the building.

These days the legal landscape is very different and ethical considerations sit at the heart of every new build and refurbishment project. It’s an entirely different animal and it means developers and designers can’t ignore sustainability. We all have to carefully consider resource conservation, efficiency, social harmony and more, right from the outset. And it is taken into account at every stage of a building’s life, from the initial design stage through all aspects of the build, its operation and even a building’s eventual decommissioning.

What is sustainability?

So what, exactly, is sustainability? According to a statement made by the Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland back in 1987, it means:

“development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This seemingly simple statement proved so powerful it was enshrined five years later as a key factor in mitigating human-influenced climate change, set in stone at the famous 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

Complex guidelines about achieving lifetime sustainability

There are a great many guidelines, rules, regulations and recommendations to take into account. Together they influence a development’s sustainability through its energy use, the materials it’s made of, the waste it generates, the water is uses, its ecological impact, transport considerations and the use of the land itself.

What are your first steps if you’re considering developing an existing building, embarking on a new build or carrying out a refurbishment? It makes sense to get expert support to make sure you tick all the right boxes.

Factors for choosing a suitable sustainable development partner

You’ll need a company that provides a broad range of support including producing energy statements and checking your plans so they conform with BREEAM or the Code for Sustainable Homes, delivering expert assessment and consultancy. If they can advise you about Passivhaus design, even better.

Look for a partner who understands the importance of Life-Cycle Carbon footprint assessment and consultancy, and who can provide you with the appropriate SAP assessments – the Government Standard Assessment Procedure for the Energy Rating of Dwellings, adopted as part of Britain’s national methodology for calculating a building’s energy performance. And find a firm with experience in Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) consultancy , who’s happy to help with renewable energy feasibility studies and Waste Management Plans.

Compliance comes with many practical and financial advantages

Once all your BREEAM assessor, sustainability and performance ducks are in a row, you can go ahead and build in the knowledge that everything you do meets the right standards. You won’t be stopped in your tracks because you need to go back and fix things that haven’t been done properly. And your budget will be safe from the expense of delays and re-works.

Air Quality “diesel tax” for London

July 30th, 2014

Air quality diesel taxAs first reported in The Times, drivers of diesel cars in central London may soon be charged an additional £10, on top of the existing Congestion Charge, in an attempt to improve air quality by discouraging the use of the most polluting vehicles. The new proposals, suggested by Mayor Boris Johnson, could help to reduce emissions of the most significant air pollutants in heavily trafficked areas, particularly particulate matter (PM10).

Further details are expected to be revealed in a speech by the Mayor tonight, but the plans would have to go out for consultation before any decision was made on their implementation.

Johnson is also said to be lobbying the UK Government to raise taxes on diesel fuel, which is currently taxed at the same rate as petrol despite being a more significant source of PM10 (however, and conversley, diesel is also a more efficient fuel and requires less processing energy than petrol to produce). By introducing this charge in London, it seems the Mayor would effectively be introducing his own tax for diesel vehicles in the capital.

Meanwhile, development in London is booming, with Phlorum providing air quality assessments for more than ten, large schemes in the capital over the last six months. Phlorum’s expertise continues to ensure that clients see their plans come to fruition whilst satisfying the ever more stringent requirements of the London Councils’ technical experts.

BREEAM code for sustainable homes ‘New Construction Scheme’ beds in

July 25th, 2014

Energy ratings BREEAMSustainability is big business, good news when all the evidence reveals human-generated climate change is a reality and is affecting our lives in all sorts of ways. BREEAM, the internationally recognised sustainability measuring system for buildings, is at the forefront of tools available to the construction industry for its fight in this quiet revolution. And it’s moving with the times.

Late May 2014 saw the latest BREEAM UK New Construction scheme going live, an update inspired by the most wide-reaching consultation ever carried out for a BREEAM scheme. The UK Green Building Council, the UK Contractors Group and the Construction Products Association were all involved, giving the scheme’s latest facelift an even higher profile.

The latest revisions to the scheme include a dramatic change to the energy recommendations BREEAM provides. Part L of Britain’s Building Regulations are now the backbone of a UK-wide standard for energy demand as well as performance measures for primary energy and CO2 emissions. And individual national building regulations will be brought into play for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, delivering a more effective, granular framework to better meet local needs.

But there’s more, and it’s exciting stuff. The changes have streamlined the initiative’s requirements, making it easier to comply and dovetailing with existing regulations so there’s less overlap.

Less overlap with existing building regulations

The old requirement was for a percentage of the energy generated for a building to be from renewable sources. This no longer exists, simply because it’s already covered specifically in the building regulations.

Restructured management category

To align things more effectively with the building procurement process, BREEAM’s management category has been restructured.

Credit for reporting capital costs up front

There’s a handy new credit for developers who report on their project’s predicted capital outlays.

Bicycles ‘r’ us!

The new transport category revises the requirements for bicycle facilities, which is good news for cutting vehicle-led CO2 and other emissions and something that aligns perfectly with the growing public interest in travelling by bike.

Simpler responsible materials sourcing calculations

Anyone who has struggled with the original Responsible Sourcing of Materials criteria will be happy to know the new guidelines now bypass all those complicated calculations, making the whole thing much more straightforward. And there are two new issues in the waste category, designed to take care of buildings’ adaptability.

Two-part shell and core building criteria

Originally lumped together, now shell and core buildings are split in two, each defined separately and each with its own unique scope-specific criteria for assessment.

Do you understand the ins and outs of BREEAM?

More and more often, local planning authorities demand that new developments achieve a stated BREEAM level. If you’re embarking on a new build, whether you’re an architect, developer, builder or self-builder, are you adequately familiar with BREEAM? If not there’s a lot to take on board and, with the best will in the world, the BRE (the organisation behind BREEAM), while excellent, isn’t known for plain English communications.

It makes sense to have a design consultant on hand to make sure you fully comply with targets, so they can be implemented as early as possible in the building process.

Luckily we’re here to help. We’re licensed BREEAM assessors, highly knowledgeable about BREEAM domestic refurbishment, and every aspect of the guidelines. Our remit also includes office, retail and industrial buildings. If you need support with BREEAM in Brighton, Sussex and the South East of England, get in touch.

July 23rd, 2014

Digging a swale by welding a bit of sheet metal to an excavator bucket. Sometimes simple solutions are all that’s needed for apparently complex problems.

Video: Great Crested Newt Survey

July 21st, 2014

Quick video of Phlorum staff undertaking a great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) survey earlier this year.

Failed air pollution solutions – UK set to miss EU standards by 20 years

July 18th, 2014

London air pollution smogIt’s official. Despite the government recently claiming that the entire UK would comply with the EU Air Quality Directive by 2025, EU air quality targets in some of Britain’s biggest cities are now highly unlikely to be met, even by 2030.

All the EU’s member states were supposed to comply with stiff targets on air pollutants by 2010, a deadline long past. This has been due, in part, to emissions from the increasing number of diesel vehicles on our nation’s roads.

In addition to emitting more particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) than petrol vehicles, diesel engines also directly emit a surprising amount of nitrogen dioxide (petrol engines tend to emit much more nitric oxide, which is less harmful). Particulate pollution and nitrogen dioxide are linked to a host of nasty respiratory illnesses and increased mortality rates in areas of poor air quality and during high pollution episodes.

3 UK cities hotbeds of traffic-generated air pollution

The EU Court of Justice recently heard that three UK cities, London, Leeds and Birmingham, will probably not meet the goals by the prescribed date, during a civil case brought by the air quality activists Client Earth. Their case, that the British government has reneged on its legal duties on nitrogen dioxide, has already succeeded in Britain’s Supreme Court. The EU case follows on from the winning judgement, brought about by UK judges who asked their European counterparts to decide on the precise legal meaning behind specified areas of the EU Air Quality Directive.

The case is being tried in Luxembourg, with Client Earth insisting that fresh scientific evidence reveals nitrogen dioxide as having very similar devastating health effects as the notorious fine-particulate pollutant PM2.5, which those in power already acknowledge causes a tragic 29,000 premature deaths in this country alone every year. And Britain’s tax policies haven’t helped by actively encouraging more and more of us to buy diesel vehicles.

In its own defence the government is keen to highlight the EU’s failure to improve diesel engine performance, a fact the campaigners are happy to acknowledge. And officials also insist they’re:

“spending significant amounts”

to clean the air. The sum being invested actually runs to £billions, set aside to increase interest in ultra-low emission vehicles, sustainable travel and green transport, including a whopping £400m to support the fledgling ultra-low emission vehicle market next year and £500m more to extend support until 2020.

The case should be decided by the end of 2014, and will then return to the British Supreme Court in 2015 for the final judgement. If they lose, the government will be forced to look again at the tax policies that drive more take-up of diesel vehicles.

One key suggestion for bringing deadlines back in line is the total pedestrianisation of cities. With traffic in places like London’s Oxford Street emitting in excess of 3.5 times the legal nitrogen dioxide limit, increasing by as much as 10 times the limit when it’s busy, there’s a very long way to go.

The story also serves to illustrate how very slowly the wheels of justice turn. With 29,000 directly-attributable deaths a year pinned on fine particulate pollution and with nitrogen dioxide responsible for similarly gruesome statistics, let’s hope the matter is resolved as quickly as possible so that lives can be saved.

Is the air you breathe as clean and fresh as it can be, or are there hidden dangers? Do you need an air quality survey, carried out by professionals, inside or outdoors? If so we’ll be delighted to help.

RICS Article on Japanese Knotweed: Countering Invasion

July 17th, 2014

RICS Japanese knotweed articleThe latest issue of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Property Journal includes an article by Phlorum’s Dr Paul Beckett on Invasive Non Native Species (INNS).

The article singles out Japanese knotweed as a special case, which, due to some peculiarities of its biology and ecology, has rampantly spread across the UK, Europe and the USA, causing damage to built structures and underground services.

Some ‘horizon-scanning’ of future innovations in the battle against INNS and knotweed are also discussed in the article, including the following:

  • Remote sensing tools to determine areas of knotweed from your desktop;
  • Novel herbicides engineered to affect only target species;
  • Biological control using insects or disease-causing organisms to knock back INNS; and
  • Fragmenting knotweed’s extensive root system and ‘cooking’ the remains with high pressure steam.

You can download a copy of the article here.


Biological control – The latest news about Japanese knotweed treatment

July 11th, 2014

Japanese knotweed leafJapanese knotweed is the UK’s most hated and feared plant. It’s also derided much further afield, affecting large parts of the USA and Europe. As well as wrecking buildings and infrastructure, with often horrendous financial results, it’s choking waterways, damaging flood defences and ruining beautiful, unique and precious natural habitats. It has found its way to remote New Zealand and Australia and it is even volcano-resistant, growing happily in still-smoking volcanic ash.

Philipp von Siebold, the nineteenth century botanist who originally acquired a specimen of Japanese knotweed in the 1840s and whose horticultural firm decided it was a good idea to sell cuttings, would probably be horrified by the havoc his find has caused. At the time it was an instant hit with keen gardeners, loved for its majestic size, beautiful leaves and delicate flowers as well as its extraordinary vigour. By 1898 it was being recognised as a problem and by the 1930s it had acquired a sinister nickname: Hancock’s Curse.

Fighting a formidable foe

In the words of one entomologist in this week’s New Scientist magazine:

“outside its native range, knotweed has the biodiversity value of concrete. Nothing lives on it, nothing eats it”.

It’s clear the issue is getting worse, well on its way to becoming one of the globe’s knottiest invasive species problems. So what are the latest developments in the battle against this ferociously successful weed?

Will psyllids deliver a solution?

The answer could come from a tiny sap-sucking insect called a psyllid. They’re only 2mm long but the newly-hatched creatures drain the life out of the weed, depleting it to such an extent that it never reaches its usual mighty 4 metre height.

Hundreds of thousands of psyllids have been released into the wild at eight secret sites across England and Wales over the past four years, as part of Europe’s first ever biological control trial to combat the plant. If the results bear out the early signs, the insects could represent a critical weapon in the ongoing global war against the dreaded weed. And it could open the door to more biological controls against other invasive weeds that are rampaging their way across Europe and beyond.

The psyllid is called Aphalara itadori, which lays its eggs on knotweed. The nymphs eat the plants, preventing them getting any taller, and the rhizomes begin shrinking within a year. With just a year left to go in the five year trial, the signs looking very good indeed. And because most of Britain’s knotweed is genetically identical, cloned from the 1840s original, it’s highly unlikely the plants will develop immunity to the psyllid’s ravages.

The scientists involved hope that the insects will eventually establish themselves across the nation and while they probably won’t eradicate the invader completely, it might slow the spread. Better still, the damage they cause might enable native plants to start fighting back. If the day comes, it’ll mean Japanese knotweed treatment is no longer such a big issue, and finding a patch of it on your land won’t be such a nightmare.

In the meantime if you need help getting rid of it we’re your local Japanese knotweed specialists.