Often overlooked, invertebrates are increasingly becoming a more important material consideration within the planning process, particularly in and around London.
Invertebrate is an umbrella term for any animal that does not possess a back bone, with this wide classification including butterflies, beetles, spiders, bees, ants, snails and worms, amongst hundreds of other familiar as well as very unfamiliar taxa (Tardigrade, anyone?). A number of high profile cases associated with brownfield sites along the Thames Gateway in the last 5 years have resulted in greater public and local authority awareness of the potential impacts upon protected and notable invertebrates. The value of invertebrates in maintaining functional ecosystems is also more understood than ever; they form the basis of biological diversity (biodiversity) and therefore have an important role in maintaining significant socio-economic assets in the UK, such as agriculture. Consequently, the need for more detailed invertebrate surveys is becoming more common, especially on previously developed brownfield sites.
Whilst critics would argue with the addition of what may be seen as more planning ‘red tape’, assessing a site for invertebrates, particularly on EIA projects, may stand to avoid inadvertently breaking the law, save thousand of pounds at a later stage, plus preserve responsible developer status in terms of CSR. Invertebrate surveys for planning are not a new phenomenon, but as a whole their application has not been widespread, which has resulted in significant declines of some species whose habitat has been impacted en mass without suitable mitigation.
Species in London to look out for include the streaked bombardier beetle that is now limited to only a few sites in the east of the city (mostly in Tower Hamlets and Newham) and is facing UK extinction, and the stag beetle which acts as the qualifying species for the designation of Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common as European protected sites for invertebrates (as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s) they are therefore required under the Habitat Regulations to be a material consideration in developments that stand to impact individual stag beetles, and therefore the conservation status of the species, in south west London – remember this if you are planning to build on sites with mature trees in this area).
The take home message is that invertebrates, which have historically in commercial consultancy been somewhat of an afterthought, are, rightly so, moving into the foreground of ecological considerations when undertaking baseline surveys and impact assessments. Particularly when working on brownfield projects around London it will be prudent to consult an ecologist – you don’t want to be the person responsible for the first UK extinction of the new millennium!
About the author: Morgan Taylor is a Senior Ecological Consultant at Greengage Environmental LLP. He specialises in urban ecology and London policy drivers.