Supplying ecological services to the rail industry almost always presents an interesting challenge. Emergency works programmes rely upon the ability to attend site with very short notice and to deliver to tight time constraints. Implementing protected species licenses and mitigation on-site for the likes of bats, reptiles, great crested newts, dormice, badgers and Roman snails relies on specialist skills and knowledge to ensure that works can continue within existing wildlife laws and with as little disruption to the project as possible.
At Southern Ecological Solutions (SES), the main aim has always been to try and avoid protracted mitigation and licensing programmes that can delay works packages for months on end. This can be done by drawing on expert knowledge of the wildlife legal framework and by gaining consensus with statutory consultees such as Natural England.
Licensed or non-licensed?
After conducting a scoping survey for a rail substation adjacent to a chalk cliff embankment in Surrey, Southern Ecological Solutions outlined the possibility of Roman snails being present within the woodland and chalk embankment habitat adjacent to the site, and the potential for them to use the works area as transitory habitat. No mitigation works were recommended at the time although, should Roman snails be observed within the works area, works would cease and an ecologist would be contacted.
This was, in fact, what happened. Roman snails were seen within the site boundary and works were halted. An ecologist was sent to site on the same day to reassess the use of the site by Roman snails and provide advice on actions to provide necessary mitigation in line with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
After further consideration by SES and independent legal advice, it was concluded that two potential mitigation options were available.
The first was a non-licensable approach, whereby the scale of the site’s use by Roman snails would be quantified using daytime and torching surveys and, if the numbers were found to be nil or low, habitat manipulation and the instatement of exclusion fencing would be undertaken under a method statement with an Ecological Clerk of Works (ECoW) present. Given that the active season for Roman snails is considered to be April-August, it was imperative that the exclusion of snails from the site and the works to be undertaken occur within this active window.
The second option was a licensable approach where, if an approach with significantly less legal risk than the non-licensable approach outlined above was desirable, or the site was found to support large numbers of Roman snails during the surveys, a conservation license should be sought from Natural England to actively translocate snails from the works area to areas of nearby suitable habitat.
If this approach were to be adopted, once a license was granted, exclusion fencing should be erected around the works site, and prior to the commencement of works, a period of translocation of Roman snails would be required. Due to the ecology of the species, Roman snails would not be moved more than 20-30 metres from the site at which they were found.
Following the surveys, it was deemed that, although Roman snails were utilising the works area, the majority were located within habitats adjacent to the work site and, as such, the non-licensable exclusion approach was adopted to mitigate for Roman snails on site. A method statement was prepared, outlining pre-works habitat manipulation of areas of suitable terrestrial habitat such as a small tussocky area of improved grassland remaining within the works area, and the instatement of exclusion fencing to isolate the area where works are still to take place to deter further snails from entering the works area.
Following erection of the fence, works were able to recommence three weeks after being halted. The ecologist’s knowledge and expertise was instrumental in saving the client from the prospect of a much lengthier halt to their works (see timeline above). The contractors conducting the works were instructed that, should any other Roman snails be found on site, for example, in the ground, the project ecologist should be contacted immediately.
Rather than have individuals with singular specialisms, SES has created a team of multi- skilled employees able to undertake the tasks that many firms would allocate to a number of employees. This approach saves time and money, and enables decisions to be made as and when required.
There are no elongated chains of management, with clearly defined line management structures and a senior management team experienced in all aspects of the business. The senior team maintains the ability to undertake all tasks expected of the group, so real life experience in the senior decision chain is not lost to purely office-based operators.
As an example of this multi-skilling, a field- based consultant with five years experience with SES could be a qualified and experienced ecologist, particularly in tree felling and vegetation removal, be IRATA-trained in rope access and an IPATH-trained MEWP operator, hold a protected species license, be an expert in badger mitigation, the live digging of setts and licensing, have specialist knowledge of invasive weeds and treatment, be an effective clerk of works and a PTS-qualified site delivery manager.
So SES ecologists, whether working alone or as part of a team, have a wealth of experience to draw upon and are unlikely to be surprised by much that the railway can throw at them.