Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) has been used as a valuable tool since the publication of initial guidance in 2006. Now, ten years on, an update to this guidance has been published by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM).
The main process of EcIA remains the same, however the guidance has been updated with emerging changes in approaches to valuing nature as well as mitigation. The main changes that are found within the new guidance consist of the inclusion of ecosystem services and natural capital as important ecological features to be considered and the inclusion of Biodiversity off-setting as a ‘last resort’ compensation measure.
Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital
An ‘ecosystem approach’ to policy-making and environmental management is “a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way” according to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Similarly, DEFRA, published a White Paper in 2011 ‘The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature’ which promotes an ecosystems approach based on re-connecting people with the natural environment, considering the value of ecosystem services in decision-making and respecting environmental limits in sustainable development.
Ecosystem services are the processes by which the environment produces resources utilised by humans such as clean air, water, food and materials. Natural capital is the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from natural capital that humans derive ecosystem services.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2001 – 2005) defined four categories of ecosystem services:
- Supporting services which are required for other processes, such as soil formation, crop pollination and nutrient cycling,
- Provisioning services which provide products for human use, such as food, fresh water and timber production,
- Regulating services which maintain a health ecosystem, such as air quality regulation, climate control and disease control,
- And Cultural services which provide non-material benefits for people, such as through recreation and spiritual enrichment.
Under the new guidance these services should be considered within EcIA, allowing decision making to take into account the broader social and economic implications of ecological change.
Biodiversity offsetting includes activities that are designed to enhance ecological opportunities and biodiversity, and is usually used to compensate and mitigate for development. DEFRA state that biodiversity offsetting has the potential to deliver planning policy requirements, which can compensate for habitat loss in a more effective way. Ecosulis has recently been engaging with clients about biodiversity valuation and the principle of No Net Loss through our programme of Continued Professional Development (CPD) presentations, expanding on our Biodiversity Quality Assessment programme developed by Ecosulis director and scientific advisor Dr Alan Feast.
Further information on Ecosulis’ involvement with biodiversity valuation and its use in offsetting can be found here - http://www.ecosulis.co.uk/blog/biodiversity-valuation-and-no-net-loss-cpd and http://www.ecosulis.co.uk/blog/emerging-approach-conservation-setting-and-countywide-biodiversity-planning
Previous EcIA guidelines included considering compensation as a means to make up for residual negative impacts, this approach carries with it inherent uncertainty in defining what levels of compensation are required.
To counter this the new guidelines also incorporate biodiversity offsetting as a way to provide a more measurable form of compensation, particularly when residual ecological impacts are assessed as being significant. This concept requires that a consistent metric is used to quantify the overall losses (impacts) and gains (offsets) in habitats of the project.
At Ecosulis we have extensive experience of undertaking EcIAs for projects throughout the UK, often as part of wider EIAs. Further information regarding the new guidance can be found on the CIEEM website (http://www.cieem.net/news/293/guidelines-on-ecological-impact-assessment-second-edition).