How long do ecology surveys and reports remain valid?

This is a question that frequently arises in relation to planning applications.

The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) has recently released an advice note about the lifespan of ecology surveys and reports.

The benefits of carrying out ecology surveys early on in the development process are widely acknowledged – constraints can be identified and addressed in a timely manner; and prompt engagement with our ecologists ensures that seasonally-constrained surveys are accounted for, the results of these being integral to a development’s scoping and design process.

The question of whether a survey is still valid emerges when there is a time lapse between surveys being undertaken and planning applications being submitted to the local planning authority. In some cases, several years can pass.

The local planning authority needs to base its decision on robust information and so, if the ecology report(s) isn’t recent, questions can arise as to how reliable the information is, which can have knock-on effects with regards to the design, assessment and proposed works relating to the scheme itself.

In order to provide clarity, CIEEM has recently released an advice note[1] addressing this issue.

When does a report need to be updated?

Each site and circumstance is different and so it can be difficult to generalise about the lifespan of a survey and report. However, broadly speaking, CIEEM have determined that surveys and reports that are less than twelve-months old are generally considered to be valid.

Surveys and reports that are between twelve and eighteen months old, are also generally considered to be valid, unless, for example, there are features present on site that a species of note could make use of within a short time frame, or where site conditions have changed significantly.

If a survey is between eighteen months and three years old, an update is required. This generally means a repeat site walkover survey to compare the current site conditions with those identified in the initial reports, thereby identifying any significant changes. Our ecologists can then advise on the validity of the original survey and report, and determine which surveys need undertaking (if any).

Surveys and reports that are over three years old are largely considered to be out of date. This will mean that in most cases, all of the surveys will need updating. This is something to keep in mind when planning a scheme so as to minimise impacts on costs and programming.

In some instances, specific guidance from regulators and survey best practice documents advise on time limits for survey validity, but in the absence of this, the recent advice from CIEEM is considered to provide welcome clarity to the situation.

If you have any questions about whether your survey and report is still in date, get in touch with our ecologists who can advise further.

[1] CIEEM, 2019. Advice Note on the Lifespan of Ecological Reports and Surveys.