Habitat Creation and Management Plans
The process of habitat creation, restoration, mitigation and management is an integral part of many of the diverse projects for which we provide ecological consultancy services.
Stemming from our preliminary ecological appraisal assessments and habitat and protected species surveys, we can provide the necessary resources to design, plan, construct and then monitor the successful creation of biodiverse habitats.
What is Habitat Creation?
Habitat creation is the provision of new, or the extension of existing, ecosystems, with the aim of enhancing biodiversity and the associated benefits that come from that.
The creation of new habitat should consider all the needs of the ecosystem, such as the availability of appropriate nutrients, moisture, light, food-chain species, protection, stability, etc., in order to maintain diverse, healthy and sustainable populations of plants and animals.
The Benefits of Habitat Creation
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that new developments should seek to “identify and pursue opportunities for securing measurable net gains for biodiversity” (174b, p50).
A good way of achieving this, and facilitating planning approval, is to include Habitat Creation as an integral part of a proposed development. Increasing the ecological value of a site and/or protecting ecological features through habitat creation, are also relatively easy ways to gain valuable BREEAM credits. If protected species or habitats might be harmed by a development proposal, then habitat creation or enhancement could be a requirement of a planning condition or a protected species license.
Apart from the ecological benefits of providing plants that support wildlife, they increase our quality of life too. The presence of butterflies moving in an outdoor space, or the sound of bird song enhances the experience people gain from a well-planned development.
How the Habitat Creation and Management Process Works
The creation of new habitat needs to be done in a way that is feasible, effective and appropriate. Clearly a large infrastructure project will need a different approach to a small residential development.
Urban sites are often constrained by restricted space and multiple stakeholders with high levels of interest and influence. This is often an overriding factor in designing habitat creation works for biodiversity. With a little careful planning, biodiversity can be maximized in even small areas that need to maintain a particular aesthetic in order to keep clients happy.
The process of habitat creation and/or enhancement follows the steps below.
In order to deliver ecological enhancements, it’s important to understand what species and features are already present in the immediate and surrounding area. A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal involves an initial survey that can provide this information.
This must consider how the balance between the proposed development and the habitats and species that are to be retained, enhanced or introduced, is best achieved. Habitats and buildings should complement each other. There’s no use designing a feature that later proves to be incompatible with the use of the site, or for species that are not going to benefit.
This can vary significantly. At it simplest, it could be just letting an area of managed or unplanted land naturally become wild, or with the help of a change in management (e.g. less frequent mowing of grassland to encourage more species to establish). For some habitats, such as pond creation, this can require significant earth works, with associated effort and costs. The costs, in terms of time, money and use of space need to be assessed against the requirements of the client and the ecological benefits of the works.
Monitoring and Management
The success of the habitat created is further enhanced through effective management. This could simply be an appropriate mowing regime or the prevention and treatment of invasive non-native aquatic plants affecting ponds. Monitoring is also essential in order to gauge success and determine whether management regimes might need to change in order to achieve the required objectives or to get the most out of the habitat created.
Types of Habitat that can be Created
As well as the physical elements of habitat creation, that provide nesting sites and shelter for various species, a great deal can be achieved at a relatively low cost through planting.
Whilst native planting is undoubtedly going to provide the best opportunities for native invertebrates, it may not provide the visual interest that is wanted. Luckily, many non-native plants can be just as useful when undertaking habitat creation works, by providing comparable sources of nectar and foliage for food.
Common habitats that can usually be created with relative ease as part of proposed development works include the following:
Ponds can be created by excavating voids or allowing land to flood by diverting a watercourse.
Grassland can simply be created by altering mowing regimes or by replanting with meadow species.
Planting trees demonstrates a long term commitment to enhancing biodiversity in any scheme. As the climax ecosystem in most UK locations, woodlands are some of the most diverse habitats around and their creation should be encouraged wherever possible.
These are relevant for almost all types of development and can include nest boxes for birds and bats but also piles of logs, rocks, bricks and leaves for providing refuge and hibernation sites for reptiles and amphibians. Bug hotels, which comprise different materials for insects to bury into or hide under, can also be incorporated into many landscaping areas with relative ease.
Artificial Badger Setts
If a badger sett might need to be moved from a development site, then this can often be done under the strict requirements of an appropriate licence. New setts can be built from concrete pipe sections and excavated soil. Depending on how far the badgers are to be moved, fencing and boards can be installed to form paths directing them from the sett that is to be closed. Closure of a sett is achieved with one-way gates and fencing, allowing badgers to leave but not to return.
Using brush cutters, excavators, or similar machinery, to clear away scrub like brambles and other vegetation that can crowd out other plants, can be a simple way to allow a more diverse sward of grasses and flowers to develop.
Ecological Mitigation and Enhancement Measures
Coupled with habitat creation is habitat and species mitigation during construction and development works.
What is Ecological Mitigation?
Ecological mitigation is essentially the way in which impacts resulting from human activity, is minimised with respect to the species in the area being altered.
In practice this can be managed in a variety of ways such as restricting what works are done, and when the works are undertaken.
How the Ecological Mitigation and Enhancement Process Works
As land is developed, some habitat is destroyed or altered. The creation of new habitat is often required to mitigate this loss and provide a home for displaced species.The planning process requires a net gain in biodiversity.
It is also often necessary to protect habitat that is to be retained but which might be harmed by construction works. Similarly, adjacent habitat that could be affected by construction works might need protecting too. However, measures can include: temporarily relocating protected species away from the site; phasing the timing of the works so that they have the minimum impact; ensuring a qualified ecologist is present during the works to address any issues that arise; and ensuring that habitat enhancements are made which will benefit the ecology of the site once complete. Some specific examples are provided below:
This aims to stop newts wandering onto a construction site where they could be harmed. This can be used in conjunction with pitfall trapping or even ramped, one-way exclusion fencing to stop protected species like great crested newt re-entering breeding ponds once they have left. This can be necessary if a pond is to be moved as part of a development.
Badgers are creatures of habitat and are powerful diggers. If a development cuts across a path used by badgers they need a significant deterrent to divert them. Badger fencing is therefore tough, steel, chain-link fencing that is part-buried into the ground.
Similar to newt fencing, this is usually a flexible plastic barrier designed to exclude reptiles from construction areas or to corral them into an area where they can be safely translocated to a suitable receptor site, facilitated with artificial refugia matting or tiles (e.g. roofing felt, carpet or corrugated roofing).
Bat Box Installation
If buildings or trees that are used by roosting bats are to be demolished, then (following any appropriately licensed works to avoid harming the bats) new roosting habitat can be created by putting up bat boxes. For more significant roosting sites, dedicated structures might need to be built to rehouse populations of bats.
Often an easy way to increase the biodiversity of a new building is to incorporate a green roof. Hardy succulent species like sedums require little management and are easy to establish. However, diverse meadow species can have an impress visual impact without costing too much in terms of establishment or maintenance.
Green roofs are particularly effective in gaining valuable BREEAM points too.
The species diversity of grasslands and meadows can be rapidly and greatly augmented, with greater success that sowing seeds, by plug planting. This involves translocating excavated ‘plugs’ of soil around groups of plants or individual plants and carefully incorporating them into the target site. This can work particularly well with plants like orchids, which have a symbiotic relationship with soil microbes.
One way in which a site’s species diversity can be significantly increased is by removing nutrients from the soil. Most usually this involves scraping away the topsoil, which stops fast growing species from dominating.
If you think you require Habitat Creation or Management services, please contact one of our expert consultants.