Everything You Need to Know About Bird Surveys
Across the UK are an estimated 600 species of birds, with breeding populations accounting for as many as 168 million. All birds are protected by relevant legislation, namely the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). Under strict parameters, it is illegal for any individual to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird or recklessly disturb or harm any bird nests or eggs.
While it is easy to assume that only a broad range of species with dwindling bird populations may fall under the Act, schedule 1 in fact clarifies that it applies to all wild birds, including the UK’s common widespread bird species such as wrens, robins, sparrows and pigeons. Even when a single bird, nest or egg is impacted, the individual at fault will be subject to punishment, with potential penalties including fines and/or a prison sentence.
Considering the conservation concern from the perspective of the UK government, presenting compliance to the local authorities by way of adhering to laws protecting birds is of principal importance for anyone likely to have a significant effect on them. Both land and property developments commonly pose a threat to birds, and as such, developers and other individuals involved in the planning process are advised to organise a bird survey to ensure that the planning project won’t breach relevant legislation.
A selection of bird surveys are available to meet a variety of planning requirements and achieve several purposes. By facilitating the correct bird survey, the development plans can continue accordingly without any risk of contradicting laws relating to the safeguarding of protected species of birds and policies enforced by local and national authorities.
For instance, a breeding bird survey (BBS), nesting bird survey (NBS) or wintering bird survey (WBS) are specific surveys required in certain circumstances, whereas a preliminary ecological appraisal (PEA) for habitats, nests and biodiversity action plan (BAP) species local to you are universally utilised to support applications for planning permission.
Following a PEA, the local planning authority will be in possession of the ecology report that will act as a robust method statement designed to demonstrate effective methods to protect birds, and the developer won’t need to go through the hassle of organising phase two surveys or applying for European protected species licences (EPSL).
Types of Bird Surveys
Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)
Before any species-specific surveys are undertaken, a preliminary ecological appraisal (PEA) is regarded as the first stage of site visits that are utilised early into the planning process to gauge qualifying features on a development site. A prior desk study will uncover local population trends, followed by a physical inspection of the site that will uncover any and all valuable, rare or invasive ecological assets. Due to the frequently applicable nature of a PEA survey, it is convenient that it can be conducted throughout the year to support planning applications regardless of the month it was undertaken.
In an assessment, an ecologist would use indications of protected species such as droppings, prey remains, nests or suitable roosting features as sufficient reason to trigger further ecology surveys, such as the necessary bird surveys if any are found on the site. A PEA is often recommended to eliminate any ecological constraints, but it also applies on sites in relation to county wildlife sites (CWSs), local nature reserves (LNRs), special areas of conservation (SAC), special protection areas (SPAs), sites of special scientific interest (SSSI), regionally important geological sites (RIGSs) and special verges.
Breeding Bird Surveys
Whenever a development site has been proven to have suitable features for birds to form viable habitats, a breeding bird survey will be required. It is the main scheme for evaluating population changes in regard to bird species and will be made up of multiple visits to the site within the optimal breeding season between the months of March and June. Experienced bird surveyors will monitor breeding populations and measure whether it is a favourable location for widespread breeding birds and if the proposed development is likely to disturb breeding bird species.
Using both video and audio recordings, an evidence base taken from the site will establish the importance of the site for widespread breeding birds. Once all breeding bird surveys are complete, the bird ecologist will work out the expected impact on birds caused by the planned development works and vice versa before coming up with mitigation measures to allow the project to continue. Provided the breeding bird survey has resulted in the ecological consultant being able to produce sufficient steps forward, it should be able to help with achieving planning acceptance.
Nesting Bird Surveys
At any point where a bird’s nest appears on a development site or evidence suggests the presence of a bird nest, a nesting bird survey or nesting bird check would need to be undertaken by a bird ecologist. In an extensive inspection of all buildings, trees and hedgerows throughout the site within nesting season between the months of March and August, an ecological surveyor will look for signs of bird nests in the vicinity, and if any are found, it will be important to determine whether they are currently occupied by nesting birds.
A strict condition of nesting bird surveys is that no vegetation can be disturbed within the nesting season as part of development works until an assessment has confirmed that it is okay to do so. The removal of vegetation must then be carried out within 24 to 48 hours of a nesting bird survey being undertaken to avoid nesting birds from taking up occupancy in the affected area. If the survey uncovers any nests, the development work will halt until all adult birds and dependent young have departed of their own accord.
Wintering Bird Surveys
Many different bird species are classed as wintering birds based on activities which see them migrate to parts of the UK that are particularly mild during the cold months of the year. A winter bird survey or wintering bird survey will be applicable any time a species of such nature could be present on a development site, as determined by the time of year that the proposed development is scheduled for, local bird populations detailed in the common bird census (CBC), and expected population changes by wild birds during the period in question.
Through focusing solely on wintering birds, an assessment can be conducted anywhere between the start of November to the end of February. In an effort to minimise disturbance, wintering bird surveys / winter bird surveys are carried out slowly and often can last between two and three hours to complete, consisting of around three surveys over three separate months. Although common in winter developments, an assessment of wintering birds would also be expected if a planning project was within close proximity of a nationally designated site.
Bird Survey Methodology
In all of the assessments we perform, Arbtech promises a high-quality service, and that extends to each and every bird survey coordinated by our ecological consultancy. Our coverage across the UK also means that all clients concerned about potential bird populations on their development site have access to the bird survey they need.
From a preliminary ecological appraisal to a breeding bird survey and from a nesting bird survey to a wintering bird survey, whatever assessment you need, our team can help to organise it, see it successfully completed, assemble the resulting ecology report and use it to find success in gaining planning permission or achieve the other goals for your development.
Bird Survey Guidelines
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 stands as the primary legislation created to protect birds and other protected species, and it was produced as a result of previous laws for individual species, such as the Protection of Birds Act 1954 for enforcing bird conservation over all the UK’s common species. Each of Arbtech‘s bird surveyors adheres to all applicable laws, understands the limitations caused by them, and ensures that the correct moves are made to allow a proposed development to progress, supporting planning applications as a result.
Our team of ecologists that specialise in assessments on development sites to address birds of conservation concern hold a high standard of service. A way of guaranteeing that our survey methods during all site visits are effective, relevant and safe is by referring back to appropriate regulations, organisations and authorities, such as the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), Natural England / Natural Resources Wales, the records of experts such as Bennun, Buckland, Greenwood, Howell, Steinkamp and Gilbert et al, and the corresponding local council.
Bird Surveys for Development
Each type of bird survey listed above is conducted to support development, with the local authorities expected to refuse a planning application for a site with breeding birds, nesting birds or wintering birds present without evidence that the necessary inspections have been carried out. A broader ecology survey such as a preliminary ecological appraisal (PEA), ecological impact assessment (EcIA) or ecological walkover survey will usually trigger the requirement for further survey techniques once any birds or evidence of birds is found.
Birds can build nests in a wide range of different settings, and as planning projects can be carried out practically anywhere, a bird survey may be required to deal with coastal, grassland, wetland, woodland, urban or farmland habitats. Fortunately, our experienced bird surveyors are capable of attending any development site across the UK for inspections on birds of conservation concern, and from there, we can retrieve the information required to move your development into future stages without unnecessary restrictions from the local council.
Bird Survey Report
Immediately after an ecology survey, the data collected from the inspection will be compiled into an ecology report. It is an applicable step to all protected species surveys – including bird surveys – and the report itself will contain all qualifying features that could play a role in assisting the application for a planning condition, such as confirmation that sufficient mitigation has been produced and initiated to allow the development to continue without harming local bird populations.
As well as providing the local planning authority with the requested information to simplify planning decisions, a bird survey report will also include information regarding population trends on the development site, results from the most recent common bird census, likely population changes caused by the project, an overview of the utilised survey techniques, and mitigation measures that will enable the plans to progress.
The guidance within an ecology survey report will also offer recommendations of principal importance that will tick any remaining boxes in the eyes of the local authorities. In the case of a bird survey, it could suggest additional bird surveys such as rare bird surveys, vantage point surveys and wetland bird surveys (WeBS), or if other protected species were found, the application of assessments for species that share similarities to wild birds, such as barn owl surveys or bat surveys.
When to Survey for Birds
While early ecology surveys such as a preliminary ecological appraisal or ecological impact assessment are flexible, a breeding bird survey, nesting bird survey and wintering bird survey are restricted by time due to the activities of the specific birds of conservation concern. Anyone in need of a bird survey would be advised to form an understanding of the survey seasons for birds that could impact their project.
To cater to the widespread bird species situated all over the country, a handful of different assessments are used, but with the stipulation of seasonal constraints that limit when each inspection can be undertaken in the year. As such, it is of principal importance that developers arrange bird surveys as early as possible to book a date and ensure no delays to their development plans.
Bird Survey Seasons
Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA): available all year
Breeding Bird Survey: March-June
Nesting Bird Survey: March-August
Wintering Bird Survey: November-February
Speak to Us for a Bird Survey Quote
If you are aware that you need a breeding bird survey, nesting bird survey or wintering bird survey, or if you aren’t sure and need assistance from our ecology team, reach out today by calling us directly, filling out our online quote form or using the communication options on our contact page. After you’ve provided us with details about your planning project and development site, we can send across a free quote and instruct you on the suitable next step to take.
After a date has been chosen for the necessary bird surveys to take place, an ecological consultant from Arbtech will conduct a desk study to retrieve information about widespread bird species and population trends on the site before attending the site to carry out the required survey techniques. The data collected from the assessment will then be displayed in an ecology report, along with appropriate mitigation to enable the development to continue and any applications for planning consent to be granted.