Over the last twenty-five years, BREEAM assessment has become a staple in the UK ecologist’s job role. The first radical overhaul of its ecological assessment methodology, since 1998, has been implemented by BRE this year. Kate Priestman takes a closer look at the changes – focusing on BREEAM UK Non Domestic New Construction 2018…
BREEAM, which was launched in 1990, is now recognised as the leading sustainability assessment method associated with the built environment – ecology was added in 1993. It is a voluntary method but is often required as standard by individual organisations when looking at the development of infrastructure, buildings and masterplanning.
The new Land Use and Ecology section was launched in March 2018, as part of BREEAM scheme: UK Non Domestic New Construction 2018. This was followed by its inclusion in the Home Quality Mark, published in August 2018.
The ecology methodology is underpinned by the Strategic Ecology Framework (SEF), which was published in 2016 as a response to developments in ecology best practice and policy. The SEF provides the foundation from which the ecology assessment criteria is developed across the individual BREEAM schemes. One of the key principles of the SEF is for the ecology approach to go beyond biodiversity – recognising the wider benefits and opportunities related to sustainability, natural capital and ecosystem services.
Consequently, the new ecology scheme criteria is based on a cross-sectoral approach that is outcome focussed and seeks to go beyond the regulatory minimum. It aims to create opportunities for ecologists to input into the design and planning of schemes, and link in with other specialists, for example landscape architects and local groups – looking beyond the confines of the site boundaries, to link into the ecology of the wider area. The overarching ‘issues’ (themes) of the new methodology are: identifying risks and opportunities, managing negative impacts, change and enhancement, and long term management and maintenance. This more robust approach requires, amongst other things, the zone of influence to be clearly defined and where possible, recommendations to be evidence-based.
Another change in the methodology is the two-routes approach, whereby a project can demonstrate compliance by following either a simplified route or a more detailed route, depending on the specifics of the individual site ecology baseline: area and distinctiveness of habitats.
A significant change to the methodology is the move from a plant species density approach, when assessing the change in ecological value between the baseline and the proposed scheme, to a methodology that is based upon calculating biodiversity units as a representation of ecological value – building on the approach developed by Defra and Natural England. The main habitat characteristics inputted into the new calculation are: habitat type, area or length, distinctiveness and condition. Risk factors are included in the calculation for area based habitats, which take account of spatial risks, in addition to risks associated with time taken for new/enhanced habitats to reach their target condition and risks associated with new/enhanced habitat delivery. Guidance note, ‘GN36 BREEAM, CEEQUAL and HQM Ecology Calculation Methodology – Route 2’, provides detailed explanation and methodology regarding the calculations, in order to determine the change in ecological value and the assignment of credits.
The new approach is keen to promote long term monitoring and maintenance of newly created habitat and enhancements, and encourage a more holistic approach to sustainability by working collaboratively with local stakeholders – feeding into wider targets and policy.
BRE are keen to ensure that the development and implementation of its ecology methodology continues to be collaborative, and are receptive to receiving feedback from ecologists as they apply the methodology to their projects. The new approach is considered to provide an improved and more robust assessment process than its predecessor, that is more representative of the current wider assessment methodologies within ecology – reflecting current thinking in terms of policy and approach.
About the Author: Kate Priestman (CEnv, MCIEEM), Co-Founder and Editor of Inside Ecology, has over sixteen years experience as an ecologist. Prior to setting up her own consultancy business in 2012, Kate worked in London for over a decade, providing the lead ecology role for a number of high profile projects. In addition to running Inside Ecology, Kate works as a freelance writer, author and artist.