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What Is Preliminary Ecological Appraisal and Why Might I Need One?

The following overview seeks to provide a background to the development of the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal process. Notwithstanding, it is strongly recommended that anyone wishing to understand the process in more detail consults CIEEM’s Technical Guidance Series: Guidelines for Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (

For the last two decades, preliminary ecological investigations have been undertaken under a variety of guises. For those of you who have been around as long as me, these surveys have been historically referred to as Ecological Site Walkovers, Ecological Scoping Surveys, Ecological Site Assessments, Ecological Walkover Surveys and more recently, Phase 1 Habitat Surveys and/or Extended Phase 1 Habitat Surveys. Although preliminary ecological investigations varied in their intended purpose, collectively, their main objective was to inform development decision making, in terms of compliance with legislation and policy requirements.

Over time, it became increasingly clear within the industry that in an absence of a standard approach, preliminary ecological investigations were resulting in ‘uncertainty’ regarding the required level of ecological survey and reporting effort, required by developers and regulators for decision-making. Consequently, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) published, as part of its Technical Guidance Series, a good practice guide for ‘Preliminary Ecological Appraisal’ - the term now used to describe the process of preliminary ecological investigation. The purpose of the guidance, which was revised in July 2012, was simple: to ensure a standard, consistent approach to initial ecological investigations, by outlining the required level of desk study, survey and reporting, including the use of ecological terminology.

It is important to note at this stage that a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal does not replace the requirement for an Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) – where an EcIA has been determined as a planning requirement. However, a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal can be typically undertaken in advance of an EcIA or where an EcIA is not required but some level of ecological investigation is needed.

Preliminary Ecological Appraisal should provide consideration of the following, which are described further in the CIEEM’s Technical Guidance Series: Guidelines for Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (CIEEM, 2013):

  • introduction to the development, purpose of the appraisal and details of the knowledge and experience of the ecologist undertaking the appraisal;

  • methods used for the desk study and field survey e.g. Phase 1 Habitat Survey (including consideration of the relevant study area);

  • results (baseline) of the desk study and field surveys, taking into consideration the need to protect sensitive data e.g. location of badger setts;

  • recommendations e.g. clear guidance on further consultation, field survey and/or mitigation requirements;

  • standard references; and

  • supporting appendices e.g. detailed data obtained through the desk study, site photographs or a detailed description of relevant legislation and planning policy.

In addition, the report of the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal should also present a consideration of legislation and planning context that is relevant to the pertinent authority area. In the vast majority of cases, a clear habitat plan (figure) should also be provided in the resulting report, based on the JNCC Handbook for Phase 1 Habitat Survey (JNCC, 2010).

Image Credit: Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management

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