D.6: Describing Baseline Natural Heritage Information

Key Stages and Steps in the EIA Process
Stage 1: Before Submission of the Environmental Statement
  • Deciding whether EIA is required
  • Requiring submission of an Environmental Statement
  • Preliminary Contacts and Liaison
  • Scoping the Environmental Statement
  • Information Collection
  • Describing Baseline Environmental Information
  • Predicting Environmental Impacts
  • Assessing the Significance of Impacts
  • Mitigation Measures and Enhancement
  • Presenting Environmental Information in the Environmental Statement
Stage 2: Submission of Environmental Statement and Consideration of Environmental Information
  • Submission of Environmental Statement and Project Application for consent
  • Consultation and Publicity
  • Requiring more Information
  • Negotiating modifications to the Project
  • Considering the Environmental Information
Stage 3: Making the Decision
  • Making the Decision
  • Guaranteeing compliance
Stage 4: Implementation
  • Implementation of mitigation and compensation measures
  • Monitoring
  • Review, reassessment and remedial measures
  • Reporting

See Also Figure 2, Section B.4, Case Studies 1 to 4 and Appendices 1 to 5, 7 and 8

SNH's Role

SNH may respond to any requests about the baseline information, including comment on survey techniques and analytical methods that would be appropriate.

Statutory Provisions

SNH's input to the analysis of baseline information is a non-statutory procedure. However, the developer must include the information in the Environmental Statement so this is a necessary procedure for the developer. Guidance on this stage is also provided in PAN 58 at paragraphs 38 - 39 and 44 - 46. The status of collecting this information, however, is only “good practice”.

The Developer's Responsibilities

Collecting baseline information on the natural heritage ought to be a relatively straightforward part of the EIA process (compared to impact prediction and other aspects) but it is often done inadequately. Unless there is a clear understanding of the baseline and how that may change without the changes that would be brought about by the project, there is little hope of the Environmental Statement accurately predicting and mitigating the impacts of the development.

Information gathering should be comprehensive in respect of the significant environmental issues to be addressed in the Environmental Statement. Fieldwork should be carefully planned, bearing in mind the seasonal constraints on some work such as ornithological, botanical, landscape and archaeological surveys. Environmental information sources should be identified and the relevant central and local government authorities and agencies should be consulted. Local communities and voluntary bodies should also be consulted as these groups can provide invaluable information.

The Appendices 1 - 5 and 7 of the Handbook set out the best practice guidelines based on published work and SNH policies and approaches. This section sets out:

  1. common problems and pitfalls (Box D.6.1)
  2. good EIA practice (Box D.6.2) and
  3. advice on ensuring an integrated approach to the natural heritage.

Box D.6.1
Baseline Information: Good EIA Practice Avoids these Common Problems and Pitfalls

  • Reliance on existing recorded data only.
  • Insufficient time to conduct surveys at appropriate seasons/times.
  • Inadequate expertise in surveys.
  • Lack of understanding of what information is needed to inform the EIA process.
  • Inadequate resources for baseline surveys leading to incomplete or inept results.
  • Use of out of date material.
  • Lack of verification of collated information.
  • Omission of important information that is available/obtainable.
  • Lack of an adequate national/regional context eg. of Landscape Character Types.
  • Too narrow a focus on the site, paying insufficient attention to landscape, natural features, processes or influences of surrounding land.
  • Use of inappropriate techniques or inappropriate application of appropriate methods of survey eg landscape character assessment, NVC, Phase 1 Habitat Surveys etc.
  • Concentration on the easier aspects of survey eg. birds and mammals, whilst ignoring difficult ones such as invertebrates or bryophytes which may be better indicators of environmental conditions.
  • Inadequate acknowledgement of data limitations.
  • Omission, lack of understanding or misrepresentation of natural heritage designations, their purpose, reasons for designations and implications.

Box D.6.2
Baseline Information: Good EIA Practice

  • Thorough scoping of baseline data requirements and available information.
  • Consultation and agreement on survey subjects, methods and emphasis.
  • Use of best available information.
  • Identification of influences on baseline information that would lead to change in absence of the project.
  • Recruitment to the EIA team, temporarily if necessary, of people with skills and experience of field surveys in all relevant natural heritage fields.
  • Correct timing of surveys with adequate timescales to record variations in differing circumstances.
  • Careful verification and validation of existing records with an appropriate balance between use of documentary and field survey material.
  • Inclusion of likely changes that would be brought about by other projects already consented but not yet implemented.
  • Consideration of baseline information which would contribute to assessment of cumulative, offsite, indirect impacts etc.
  • Clear identification and agreement as to the appropriate level of detail of surveys and information gathering.
  • Relating all baseline studies to their relevance to the nature, size, duration and location of the project to ensure all relevant information is collated without submerging it in a volume of irrelevant or over-detailed information.
  • Early recognition of gaps in information and limitations in data that can be collated and consideration of how these gaps and limitations will be dealt with in the Environmental Statement.

Wherever ecological impacts are expected to affect botanical interests or habitats supporting animal species of interest, vascular plants should normally be surveyed to at least establish NVC communities as this information is likely to inform ecological assessment. In habitats where lower plants are important constituents of the vegetation (for example moorland, Sphagnum mires) bryophytes and lichens should also be surveyed. For similar reasons, benthic communities should be included in marine surveys. Landscape character assessments are an essential pre-requisite to effective landscape impact assessment.

Box D.6.3
Field Surveys

The developer should undertake field surveys in every case where natural heritage effects are likely to be significant or effects cannot be predicted at the scoping stage. Where relevant: landscape and visual surveys; habitat and species surveys; surveys of natural features and processes and countryside recreation/access surveys will be essential to adequately inform landscape, visual, ecological, earth heritage and countryside recreation impacts in Environmental Statements.

Where a long lead time on the Environmental Statement allows, it may be possible to monitor changes in existing conditions prior to the submission of the Environmental Statement. This would allow trends in ecological or landscape change or natural processes to be investigated and should be encouraged, although it is rarely possible to do this.

Integrating Natural Heritage Issues

Owing to the different professional skills involved, it is common practice in Environmental Statements to address natural heritage issues separately, for example:-

In many Environmental Statements even these sections or chapters can be subdivided, each being written by a separate author with specialist knowledge of, for example, aquatic or terrestrial ecology. In order to ensure authoritative assessment the practice of different authors each presenting their conclusions should be encouraged, but the Environmental Statement team co-ordinator should ensure that all of these differing elements are consistent and drawn together in an integrated and understandable presentation.

Box D.6.4
SNH Approach to Baseline Information

When discussing or commenting on a (draft) Environmental Statement, SNH should encourage rigorous assessment by appropriately qualified and experienced professionals with specialists used where appropriate, and the facility in the Environmental Statement for all of their respective assessments to be clearly and consistently set out.

However, SNH should also encourage an integrated approach to natural heritage issues. The interrelationships between landscape, visual, ecological and earth heritage information and the implications for the enjoyment of, access to and better appreciation of the natural heritage should be clearly set out.

SNH should encourage different aspects of the natural heritage to be assessed on a common basis wherever possible. For example landscape and ecological assessments may be able to use the same broad scales of significance so the significance of the different effects on the natural heritage can be directly compared.