Breaking ground on your construction project can be exciting, especially if getting to this point has been an uphill battle. However, your battles may have only just started, especially if Mother Nature fights back!
Whilst you may have had to address some of these matters during the planning approval process, issues ranging from protected wildlife species on site, to Tree Protection Orders (TPO’s) and harmful and aggressive plants, can still mean that starting on site can be anything but straightforward.
Within the UK, there are several species which could pose a problem to a construction project. These include those which are ‘commonly’ found, such as birds, to those species which are protected, e.g., bats, great-crested newts, otters, hedgehogs and red squirrels, and those protected by the Crown, e.g. swans. In addition, badgers’ sets are legally protected, which means that any excavation works should try to minimise disturbance to their homes.
Another major concern for those within construction, is the hibernating and mating seasons of such wildlife. These can have a tremendous impact on construction times, for example, bats hibernate from Nov-March which means that any bats found on site during those months are not to be disturbed. In addition, the local environmental officers or your local council may ask for bat boxes to be introduced to safely move the bats. Further to the bats, birds’ nest from March-June, newts hibernate from October-February, and the peak mating month of badgers is February. If your construction/development site is to start, doing so outside of these months is quite the challenge!
If your site does indeed contain protected species, your local council should be informed, and the necessary steps taken. During the planning application, the local authority should use a guide to assess whether the development may pose a threat to a protected species and disturb their habitats. If the site does pose harm to the natural habitats, Natural England will be contacted and they will further assess if the proposal will; affect the site of special scientific interest (SSSI), needs an environmental impact assessment, or the development needs an appropriate assessment under the Habitats Regulations (sourced via https://www.gov.uk/guidance/protected-species-how-to-review-planning-applications). From this assessment, Natural England may object to the planning proposal if it’s likely to harm a protected species on an SSSI, or give you the necessary advice on the protected species affected by your proposal.
Plants & Fauna
Not only is your construction site bound by the regulations regarding protected species of wildlife, but plants may also cause some complications and problems to your development. Plants, such as Japanese Knotweed, is an especially aggressive and abrasive plant which can grow up to 10cm a day, and even through concrete! It can cause damage to piping and underground cabling, foundations, and buildings structures – growing in the tiniest of cracks! If this plant is found on your development site, a specialist company is needed to come and disperse of the plant professionally before any more building work can continue. This incredibly invasive plant is estimated to cost the UK £166m per year in damage to buildings and infrastructure and its removal.
Other plants, such as Giant Hogweed, can also cause problems on your development. It’s not as difficult to control as Japanese Knotweed, but it can grow up to 10 feet high and it’s seeds can be carried by animals or waterways. The plant’s sap, however, contain a toxic chemical which, can cause blistering on human skin when reacting with light. This, therefore, should be removed by a professional company. Himalayan Balsam is another plant which could cause potential problems. This plant grows rapidly and can suffocate and smother other nearby vegetation and is spread via its seed – and with the plant producing over 800 seeds every year it can rapidly spread (as sourced via https://celsolicitors.co.uk/invasive-plants-weeds-uk/).
As mentioned above, all of the above plants can have a negative impact upon a development site but should all be professionally disposed of and by a licensed company.
Trees and TPO’s
Tree Protection Orders (TPOs) are quite common, and trees that are subject to TPOs cannot be felled or pruned without permission from the Local Authority, and this must be done by appropriate and experienced consultant or tree surgeon – an Arborist
Any site with reasonably mature tress should be checked for any TPO’s and these can be on individual trees or in some circumstances a blanket TPO may be present in an area. Most Local authority websites contain advice on the process of identifying trees with TPOs
These issues are generally dealt with through the planning application process, but recognising any likely issues is critical at the appraisal stage, and significant TPOs can seriously restrict the development area or even make the site unviable, so if that is the case, you need to know that as part of the pre-purchase due diligence process.
Early consultation with an Arborist and the Local Authority’s Tree Officer is advised, as they will prepare and agree a plan of the status of each tree and what can be done with it. Sometimes, the approved removal of trees can be mitigated by new tree planting elsewhere in the development.
However, trees with TPOs should not be felled or pruned without appropriate approval or heavy fines can be levied.
Help is at hand
Whilst all these issues should be carefully considered and addressed, this can be easily done by having both an experienced and qualified Ecologist and Arborist within your development team, as trying to take matters into you own hands can have disastrous consequences.
Like many things in construction and property development, knowing where to go for help is critical.
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