Statutory wildlife sites designated for their importance to various habitats and species under the European Habitats and Birds Directives are collectively termed European sites. These include Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Ramsar sites. In planning and development, the assessment of effects on such sites runs parallel to generic Ecological Impact Assessment under a separate legal framework, and is known as Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA).
In practical terms there are typically two stages to HRA. In the first instance, a Screening exercise (sometimes known as HRA Stage 1, or the Test for Likely Significant Effects) is undertaken to determine whether any potential impact pathways are shared between a proposal and a designated European site. Where potential impacts are identified, an Appropriate Assessment is required (or HRA Stage 2, the Test for Adverse Effects on the Integrity of a European site).
Due to the complexities of the legal and policy framework surrounding HRA, as well as the ever increasing evidence of the direct and indirect effects of urban development upon sensitive wildlife sites, HRA is all too often a pivotal factor in planning refusals and appeals. However, at CSA our Ecologists have a market leading understanding of the intricate requirements of HRA, and will work with your team to ensure all aspects are considered and addressed. Among the issues of which we are experienced in resolving are:
- Recreational pressure, particularly on heathland and coastal sites
- Air quality effects and nitrogen deposition related to vehicle emissions
- Disturbance of key species, such as through light pollution
- Nutrient enrichment (including nitrates and phosphorus) of the water environment resulting from runoff and foul water discharges
It should be noted that following the UK’s departure from the European Union in January 2020, the protections afforded to designated European sites under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended), and all applicable European case law to-date, remain fully in force.