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Producing an Ecological Assessment for BREEAM? Here’s what you need to know.

September 2016

Navigating your way through BREEAM criteria can be a chore: Which criteria are applicable? Do you need to consider any specific compliance notes? What are you responsible for providing? When do you need to produce things? Will you need to follow up post-construction?

The BREEAM manual isn’t exactly the most user-friendly document and it can get confusing and contradictory. In the spirit of making things as clear and straightforward as possible this post gives a summary of all the information you’ll need to provide if your Ecological Assessment is intended for BREEAM compliance (along with a few site specific nuances that you may come up against). If you’re looking for a simple way to provide evidence to a BREEAM assessor this Guidance Note GN13 is pretty quick and painless to fill in, sign and send over.

This also assumes that you’re targeting all of the Ecology credits in a BREEAM 2014 New Construction assessment and is based on the SD5076: 5.0 – 2014 BREEAM Manual.

TLDR – find exactly what you’re looking for:

Who is a suitably qualified ecologist?
When should you be involved?
Do you need to carry out a site survey?
When should the survey be carried out?
What should you be looking for during a Site Survey for BREEAM?
What ‘Features of Ecological Value’ are BRE looking for?
What are the Broad Habitat Types recognised by BRE?
Your recommendations for the landscape designs
Reviewing the landscape proposals
Your further recommendations
What else do you need to do prior to commencement of site-activity and post completion?


Who is a suitably qualified ecologist?

An individual achieving all the following items can be considered to be ‘suitably qualified’ for the purposes of compliance with BREEAM:

  1. Holds a degree or equivalent qualification (e.g. N/SVQ level 5) in ecology or a related subject.
  2. Is a practising ecologist, with a minimum of three years relevant experience (within the last five years). Such experience must clearly demonstrate a practical understanding of factors affecting ecology in relation to construction and the built environment including; acting in an advisory capacity to provide recommendations for ecological protection, enhancement and mitigation measures. Examples of relevant experience are: ecological impact assessments; Preliminary Ecological Appraisals (PEA); Phase 2 habitat and fauna surveys; and habitat creation.
  3. Is covered by a professional code of conduct and subject to peer review. Full members of the following organisations, who meet the above criteria, are deemed Suitably Qualified Ecologists for the purposes of BREEAM:
    1. Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)
    2. Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM)
    3. Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA)
    4. Landscape Institute (LI)
    5. The Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES)


When should you be involved?

As early as possible, RIBA Stage 1 ideally but no later than the beginning of RIBA Stage 2.

Your role during the Preparation and Brief stage (RIBA Stage 1 [A/B in old money]) will be to advise on early stage site layout and development density decisions so that opportunities to enhance site ecology are maximised. Following this your involvement at the Concept Design stage (RIBA Stage 2 [C]) will be necessary to provide more detailed ecological recommendations based on the outline design.

As your recommendations may impact on specifications worked-up by other design team members, such as landscape architects or drainage engineers, this early involvement allows the design to incorporate them.


Do you need to carry out a site survey?



When should the survey be carried out?

You must carry out a site survey of the existing site ecology, on which your report should be based at the Concept Design stage (RIBA Stage 2) in order to facilitate and maximise potential ecological enhancement.


What should you be looking for during a Site Survey for BREEAM?

You’ll need to visit the site and do the following:

  1. Determine whether or not it can be classified as of ‘Low Ecological Value’
  2. Identify any features of ecological value (ecologically important habitats, mature hedgerows etc.)
  3. Make a note of the broad habitat types that define the landscape of the assessed site in its existing pre-developed state. This should include area (m²) of the existing broad habitat plot types along with the average total taxon (plant species) richness within each habitat type (although these can be confirmed after your site survey)


What ‘Features of Ecological Value’ are BRE looking for?

The following is a list of features that BRE consider of ecological value, however there may be features that you, as an ecologist, consider to be of ecological value that aren’t listed here. If this is the case you should identify these in your report anyway.

  1. Trees determined to be of value using one of the following measures:
    1. More than 10 years old (or where age is unknown where the trunk diameter is over 100mm).
    2. Tree of significant ecological value (as defined by BS 5837: 2012 and confirmed by the Suitably Qualified Ecologist or qualified arboriculturalist).
  2. Hedges and natural areas requiring protection.
  3. Watercourses and wetland areas.
  4. Nesting or roosting opportunities for birds or bats within the building.


What are the Broad Habitat Types recognised by BRE?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of Habitat Types, rather a general guide to use as a basis. If there are other Habitat Types that you identify on site or different Average Total Taxon (plant species) Richness values that you wish to use you can do this.

Acid grassland

Vegetation dominated by grasses and herbs on a range of lime-deficient soils which have been derived from acidic bedrock or from superficial deposits such as sands and gravels. They characteristically include a range of calcifuge or ‘lime-avoiding’ plants.

Arable and horticultural

Includes all arable crops such as different types of cereal and vegetable crops, together with orchards and more specialist operations such as market gardening and commercial flower growing. Freshly ploughed land, fallow areas, short term set-aside and annual grass leys are also included in this category.

Boundary and linear features

This habitat includes a diverse range of linearly arranged landscape features such as hedgerows, lines of trees (whether they are part of a hedgerow or not), walls, stone and earth banks, grass strips and dry ditches. These features may occur separately or in combinations forming multi-element boundaries. This habitat type also includes some of the built components of the rural landscape, including roads, tracks and railways. The narrow strips of semi-natural vegetation along verges or cuttings are also included.


Stands of vegetation greater than 0.25ha in extent which are dominated by a continuous canopy cover (> 95% cover) of bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) at the height of the growing season.

Built up and gardens

Covers urban and rural settlements, farm buildings, caravan parks and other man-made built structures such as industrial estates, retail parks, waste and derelict ground, urban parkland and urban transport infrastructure. It also includes domestic gardens and allotments.

This category has been split in to three individual broad habitat categories for the purpose of BREEAM:

  1. Gardens, allotments and urban parkland
  2. Built-up (maintained buildings and infrastructure)
  3. Derelict land (where the land was previously used for major historical industrial use or development).

This split is to reflect the differing impact of development in these types of habitats.

Broad-leaved, mixed and yew woodland

This form of woodland is dominated by trees that are more than 5m high when mature, which form a distinct, although sometimes open, canopy with a cover of greater than 20%. It includes stands of native broad-leaved trees (such as oak, ash and beech), non-native broad-leaved trees (such as sycamore and horse chestnut), and yew trees, where the percentage cover of these trees in the stand exceeds 20% of the total cover of the trees present. Scrub vegetation, where the woody component tends to be mainly shrubs (usually less than 5m high), is included if the cover of woody species is greater than 30%.

Calcareous grassland

Vegetation dominated by grasses and herbs on shallow, well-drained soils, which are alkaline, as a result of the weathering of chalk, limestone or other types of base-rich rock. They characteristically include a range of calcicoles or ‘lime-loving’ plants.

Coniferous Woodland

Dominated by trees that are more than 5m high when mature, which form a distinct, although sometimes open, canopy which has a cover of greater than 20%. It includes stands of both native conifers (Scots pine but not yew) and non-native conifers (such as larch and Sitka spruce) where the percentage cover of these trees in the stand exceeds 80% of the total cover of the trees present.

Mixed woodland

This is not a category in its own right, but has been included separately by BRE Global for clarification.

Many areas of woodland contain both broad-leaved and coniferous trees. There is not a separate Broad habitat type for mixed woodland. Instead where mixtures occur they are assigned to the broad-leaved, mixed and yew woodland habitat type if the proportion of conifers is less than 80%.

The separation of coniferous from broad-leaved, mixed and yew habitat is applied at a stand or sub-compartment level within large woodlands to avoid areas that are predominantly coniferous being treated as mixed because they are part of a larger wood, of which 20% consists of pure broad-leaved trees. Therefore, most areas of mixed woodland that are assigned to the broad-leaved, mixed and yew woodland habitat type would normally have much more than 20% broad-leaved or yew trees.

Dwarf shrub heath

Vegetation that has a greater than 25% cover of plant species from the heath family or dwarf gorse species. It generally occurs on well-drained, nutrient-poor, acid soils.

Improved grassland

Occurs on fertile soils and is characterised by the dominance of a few fast-growing species, such as rye grass and white clover. These grasslands are typically used for grazing and silage, but they can also be managed for recreational purposes. They are often intensively managed using fertiliser and weed control treatments, and may also be ploughed as part of the normal rotation of arable crops but if so, they are only included in this Broad habitat type if they are more than one year old.

Inland rock

Habitat types that occur on both natural and artificial exposed rock surfaces, such as inland cliffs, caves, screes and limestone pavements, as well as various forms of excavations and waste tips, such as quarries and quarry waste.

Neutral grassland

Found on soils that are neither very acid nor alkaline. They support different types of vegetation communities compared to acid and calcareous grasslands in that they do not contain calcifuge (‘lime-avoiding’) plants which are found on acid soils, or calcicole (lime-loving) plants which are found on calcareous soils. Unimproved or semi-improved Neutral grasslands may be managed as hay meadows, pastures or for silage. They differ from Improved grassland in that they are less fertile and contain a wider range of herb and grass species. Usually the cover of rye grass is less than about 25%.


Your recommendations for the landscape designs

You’ll need to make appropriate recommendations for enhancing the ecological value of the site which include, and go beyond, compliance criteria for all current EU and UK legislation relating to protected species and habitats.

Ecological recommendations are defined as measures adopted to enhance the ecology of the site. Measures may include but are not limited to:

  1. The planting of locally appropriate native species or non-native species with a known attraction or benefit to local wildlife.
  2. The adoption of horticultural good practice (e.g. no, or low, use of residual pesticides).
  3. The installation of bird, bat and/or insect boxes at appropriate locations on the site.
  4. Development of a full Biodiversity Management Plan including avoiding clearance/works at key times of the year (e.g. breeding seasons).
  5. The proper integration, design and maintenance of Sustainable Drainage systems (SuDS) (such as rain gardens), green roofs, green walls, community orchards, community allotments etc.


Reviewing the landscape proposals

Once you have provided your recommendations the landscape architect should provide a design that incorporates your recommendations and details the different landscape types.

As with your assessment of the sites ecological value during the site survey, you’ll need to review the landscape proposals after your recommendations have been taken on board and determine the impact of the proposed development on the overall ecological value of the site.

To quantify this you’ll need to determine the broad habitat types that define the landscape of the proposed design. This should include area (m²) of the proposed broad habitat plot types along with the average total taxon (plant species) richness within each habitat type.

See ‘What are the Broad Habitat Types recognised by BRE?’ and ‘What ‘Features of Ecological Value’ are BRE looking for?’


Your further recommendations

Confirming new ecologically valuable habitat
If, as part of your recommendations and the landscape architects design, a new ecologically valuable habitat appropriate to the local area is created, you’ll need to confirm that this includes a habitat that supports nationally, regionally or locally important biodiversity, and/or which is nationally, regionally or locally important itself; including any UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) priority habitats, Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) habitats, those protected within statutory sites (e.g. SSSIs), or those within non-statutory sites identified in local plans.

Recommendations for on-site activity – Biodiversity Champion
As part of your recommendations you may advise that the principal contractor nominates a Biodiversity Champion with the authority to influence site activities and ensure that detrimental impacts on site biodiversity are minimised.

Recommendations for on-site activity – Site Training
As part of your recommendations you may advise that the principal contractor trains the site workforce on how to protect site ecology during the project. If so this should include specific training to be carried out for the entire site workforce to ensure they are aware of how to avoid damaging site ecology during operations on-site. Training should be based on the findings and recommendations for protection of ecological features highlighted within your report.

Recommendations for on-site activity – Site Records
As part of your recommendations you may advise that the principal contractor records actions taken to protect biodiversity and monitors their effectiveness throughout key stages of the construction process. If so this should outline that this commits the principal contractor to make such records available where publicly requested.

Recommendations for on-site activity – Programming
Where flora and/or fauna habitats exist on-site, you may advise that the contractor programmes site works to minimise disturbance to wildlife. For example, site preparation, ground works, and soft landscape works have been, or will be, scheduled at an appropriate time of year to minimise disturbance to wildlife. Timing of works may have a significant impact on, for example, breeding birds, flowering plants, seed germination, amphibians etc. Actions such as phased clearance of vegetation may help to mitigate ecological impacts. This additional requirement will be achieved where a clear plan has been produced detailing how activities will be timed to avoid any impact on site biodiversity in line with your recommendations.


What else do you need to do prior to commencement of site-activity and post completion?

Protection and enhancement of ecology
You may be appointed prior to commencement of activities on-site to confirm that all relevant UK and EU legislation relating to the protection and enhancement of ecology has been complied with during the design and construction process.

Landscape Habitat Management Plan
You may be appointed to produce a landscape and habitat management plan, appropriate to the site, covering at least the first five years after project completion in accordance with BS 42020:2013 Section 11.1. This should then be handed over to the building owner/occupants for use by the grounds maintenance staff.



Can the report be written by someone who is not a suitably qualified ecologist under the BREEAM definition?

Yes, providing a suitably qualified ecologist reviews the report and confirms that it complies.

Where a Suitably Qualified Ecologist is verifying an Ecology Report produced by another ecologist who does not meet the SQE criteria, they must, as a minimum, review the report and confirm in writing that they have found it to:

  1. Represent sound industry practice.
  2. Report and recommend correctly, truthfully and objectively.
  3. Be appropriate given the local site conditions and scope of works proposed.
  4. Avoid invalid, biased and exaggerated statements.

Additionally, written confirmation from the third party verifier that they comply with the definition of a Suitably Qualified Ecologist is required.

What is an ‘ecology related subject’?

Depending on the ecological content (minimum 60%), the following degrees might be considered relevant: Ecology, Biological Sciences, Zoology, Botany, Countryside Management, Environmental Sciences, Marine and Freshwater Management, Earth Sciences, Agriculture, Forestry, Geography, Landscape Management.

What classes a site as of ‘Low Ecological Value’?

This should be based on your professional judgement and site survey, however as a guide if you can answer no to the following questions the site is probably of low ecological value:

Has the Planning Authority required that an ecological survey or statement be prepared?

Is the development within 2km of a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA) or Ramsar site?

Is the development within 500m of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)?

Are any of the following habitats present on, or within 100m of the assessment zone?

  1. Broad-leaved woodland
  2. Water courses (rivers, streams or canals)
  3. Wetlands (ponds, lakes, marshland, fenland, reed bed)
  4. Flower-rich meadow/grassland
  5. Heathland (habitat/plants that thrive on acidic soils, such as heather and gorse).

Are any of the following features present within the assessment zone?

  1. Trees of ecological value
  2. Mature hedgerow (field hedgerows over 1m tall and 0.5m wide)
  3. Existing buildings (occupied or derelict) with either pitched tile, slate or shingle roofs, lofts, wall hanging tiles, weatherboarding or dense climbing plants, soffits and cellars, basements, ice houses etc. (these are generally suitable for bats).
What if the assessment is only one part of a larger site?

Where the assessment is of a single building that forms part of a larger development and the soft landscape and ecological features form a common part of the whole site, for the purpose of assessing this issue the broad habitat types for the entire site must be used.

What if the site has already been cleared?

For sites cleared prior to purchase of the site and less than five years before assessment, you should estimate the site’s ecological value immediately prior to clearance using available desktop information (including aerial photography) and the landscape type/area surrounding the site. Where it is not possible to determine that the site was of low ecological value prior to the site clearance then the credits can’t be achieved. For sites cleared more than five years ago, the ecological value of the site should be based on the current situation on the basis that within five years, ecological features would have started to re-establish themselves and therefore act as an indicator of the site’s ecological value.

What if features of ecological value have already been removed?

If features of ecological value have been removed as part of the site clearance activities then the development cannot achieve the credits, even if they are to be replaced as part of a new soft landscape strategy.

Do green roofs or walls class as an increase in ecological value?

The contribution of plant species on a green roof can only be incorporated within the calculation where a Suitably Qualified Ecologist has been appointed to advise on suitable plant species for the roof.

Presently green walls cannot be considered compliant within this BREEAM issue due to concerns over high maintenance requirements which are often not self-supporting/sustainable, resulting in deterioration of these plants. If the assessor feels that the green wall specified meets the aims of this issue and will be self-sustaining, details can be sent to BRE Global for consideration. Ground planted plants trained up a framework supported by the building would be acceptable (confirmed by the SQE) as these are not so dependent on systems and maintenance.

What if there’s limited space on site for ecological enhancements?

Where it is not possible to implement ecological enhancements within the construction zone due to overriding security issues, or where space for ecological enhancements within the zone is severely limited, ecological enhancements made to other areas of the site can be taken into account and used to determine the number of BREEAM credits achieved. These enhancements must be made within the boundary of the wider existing development and be planned and commissioned on a similar timescale to the assessed development. Examples of instances where this Compliance note may apply include new ‘infill’ building developments within existing HM prison sites, further and higher education campuses, mental health establishments, retail or business parks.

What if there are trees are of ecological value but they’re a danger to future users of the development?

If a tree is deemed to create a significant danger to the public or occupants by a statutory body or qualified arboriculturalist, then that feature may be exempt from the 'protection of ecological features' requirement.

What needs to be in the Landscape Habitat Management Plan?

BS 42020: 2013 Section 11.1 states that the following should be included in long term management plans for habitats, species and biodiversity features:

  1. Description and evaluation of features to be managed
  2. Ecological trends and constraints on-site that could influence management
  3. Aims and objectives of management
  4. Appropriate management options for achieving aims and objectives
  5. Prescriptions for management actions
  6. Preparation of a work schedule (including an annual work plan capable of being rolled forward over a five year period)
  7. Body or organisation personnel responsible for implementation of the plan
  8. Monitoring and remedial measures (see 11.2)
  9. Funding resources and mechanisms to ensure sustainable long term delivery of the proposed management.

Author: Alan Partington


Tags BREEAM Ecology