Last edited 28 Jul 2016

Ecological Impact Assessment EcIA

An Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) is the process of ‘…identifying, quantifying and evaluating the potential impacts of defined actions on ecosystems or their components...’ (Treweek, 1999). Ecological Impact Assessments can be carried out as independent studies, or as part of a wider process of environmental assessment.

Ecological Impact Assessments are a key part of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) required for some large or sensitive projects to ensure that environmental effects are properly considered. Environmental Impact Assessments provide local planning authorities with better information enabling them to make more informed decisions about whether permission should be granted and to allow imposition of more appropriate conditions and obligations to mitigate possible negative impacts. See Environmental Impact Assessment for more information.

Ecological Impact Assessments might also be carried out to:

  • Provide support for changes to agricultural land or forestry.
  • To provide information and guidance for developments where Environmental Impact Assessments are not required.
  • To provide decision-makers with information about the likely significant ecological effects of a project.
  • To ensure the best possible biodiversity outcomes are achieved.
  • To guide the development of a project brief.
  • To guide the development of a management plan.

The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) publishes two sets of guidelines for Ecological Impact Assessments that are widely adopted by ecologists and environmental managers, planners, developers, statutory authorities and NGO’s in the UK. These are intended to create a scientifically rigorous and transparent approach to ecological impact assessment:

In terms of building developments, the first of these is likely to be the most relevant. It proposes that the tasks necessary to undertake an Ecological Impact Assessment are:

  • Screening. If a planning applicant is uncertain about whether an Environmental Impact Assessment is required for a development, they can ask the local planning authority for a decision, called a screening opinion (or screening decision).
  • Scoping, to define the scope of the EcIA (this should include consultation). A scoping decision can also be sought from the local planning authority in relation to an Environmental Impact Assessment.
  • Identifying the likely zone of influence from the lifespan of the project.
  • Identifying and evaluating the ecological resources and features that are likely to be affected by the project.
  • Identifying the biophysical changes likely to affect ecological resources and features.
  • Assessing whether biophysical changes are likely to result in significant ecological impact.
  • Refining the project to incorporate ecological enhancement, mitigation and compensation measures for significant negative impacts.
  • Assessing the ecological impacts of the refined project.
  • Advising on the consequences of significant ecological impacts.
  • Monitoring and following up the implementation of mitigation measures.

The guidance suggests that the EcIA process is most effective when it is iterative, and collaborative.

NB The Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is a is a voluntary management instrument developed by the European Commission (EU) for organisations to evaluate, report, and improve on their environmental performance and to communicate environmental achievements. See Eco-Management and Audit Scheme for more information.

NB The UK government is undertaking a consultation on the introduction of biodiversity offsetting as part of the planning system. Biodiversity offsetting is a market tool which enables the off-site creation, restoration or enhancement of habitats as compensation for habitat and species loss resulting from a development. For more information see Biodiversity offsetting.

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