What is a Phase 1 Habitat Survey?

Author: Ian Hayes

Developers of land, of any size, are often required to carry out a ‘Preliminary Ecological Appraisal’ by the local planning authority. This is more commonly known as a Phase 1 Habitat Survey. Our ecologists are frequently asked - what does this mean, and what is it?

Phase 1 Habitat Assessment environmental Nevis

At its most basic it is a site survey for the flora and fauna it contains, a snapshot of the landscape. To do this, an experienced ecologist will carry out a Phase 1 Habitat Survey which records all the habitats, boundaries and water features on site. More often than not what is recommended is an ‘Extended’ Phase 1 Habitat Survey. The extended bit adds evaluation of the site for important habitat and boundary features, like hedgerows and streams, along with the potential for the site to have legally protected species either living on site or passing through.

The Phase 1 Habitat Survey was developed by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) to provide a standardised approach to surveying landscapes by plotting habitats, boundaries and important features using colours, symbols and ‘Target Notes’. The aim is to produce a level of detail which can be used to evaluate the site in its current state for interesting or important features or for certain protected species that inhabit the site. Following on from the initial survey recommendations are made by the ecologist for further more in depth surveys. Examples are surveys like the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) survey which plots the habitats in more detail using botanical surveys; or surveys for particular protected species such as bats, badgers, great crested newts, otters or water vole; all having their own standard surveying methods.

habitat protected species Nevis Environmental NVC

A Phase 1 Habitat Survey is usually the first to be carried out on a site best done between spring and autumn. Not only is the weather better (it’s not easy to define grassland types under a foot of snow!) but vegetation is more easily identified and signs of protected species are more abundant. The overall aim is to identify any ecological aspects of the site and/or development which will require further investigation. The result of these surveys will act as the baseline for appropriate mitigation recommendations which will prevent harm or destruction of flora and fauna, as well as protecting the client from prosecution. This makes the Phase 1 Habitat Survey an important starting point for any development which will impact of the landscape, irrespective of size.

This is the type of survey that an ecologist really enjoys; visiting a fresh site looking at wildlife, with the potential to come across a host of treasures. Although when it’s pouring with rain or snow or it’s foggy the fun side can be diminished. It’s also a great excuse to wander around land which is normally off limits to the general public. Having done this kind of survey for a number of years it never ceases to amaze me of the variety of sites and habitats we have here in this country, certainly never a dull moment. You just never know what you might find on Phase 1 Habitat Survey although for most clients we hope it’s nothing of significance.

With spring on the way, if you would like to investigate the potential for having Phase 1 Habitat Surveys undertaken please do get in touch.