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Why ecologists are now using UKHab surveys

Graham conducting a habitat survey

You may have noticed that ecologists and consultancies are moving away from the use of the JNCC Phase 1 habitat survey methodology to conduct habitat surveys and are instead using the newer UK Habitat (UKHab) Classification Working Group methodology. The UKHab classification system was released back in 2018 and it has since seen a near industry wide uptake for using this methodology, including Wild Frontier Ecology.

UKHab is a much newer classification system compared to JNCC’s Phase 1 with the last edition published in 1992. Legislation, policies, industry standards and mapping have changed considerably in that time and the UKHab classification system now provides a more modern and simple classification tool relevant for the present day. UKHab also has a greater variety of habitat types available for the surveyor to classify habitats compared to the older Phase 1 classifications. For example, there are 29 different primary codes for grassland with different categories covering lowland and upland grasslands. There is no longer a ‘semi-improved grassland’ category which will be familiar to those who previously used the Phase 1 classifications.

Producing habitat maps within GIS is a key part of Wild Frontier Ecology’s work and UKHab is designed for producing maps within GIS. This easily helps us to produce detailed habitat maps for our clients, which becomes slightly trickier if you’re using the Phase 1 classifications as it was designed for producing maps with paper and colouring pencils. UKHab has a standardised symbology much like Phase 1, which makes the habitat maps easy to interpret.

Biodiversity Net Gain was enshrined in law within the Environment Act 2021 and is expected to become mandatory for all large development projects in November 2023. To produce a Net Gain assessment for a proposed development the practitioner must use DEFRA’s Biodiversity Metric. The Biodiversity Metric uses the UKHab classification methodology and it is one of the main reasons why many ecology practitioners have switched to using UKHab. It saves time for ecologists to use UKHab, as otherwise all habitats classified using Phase 1 will need to be reinterpreted to use DEFRA’s Biodiversity Metric.

Though there are many benefits to UKHab it is not perfect and will likely be continually updated in response to the feedback from ecologists and other practitioners.

Preliminary Ecological Appraisal – Grassland case study

In September 2022 a small housing development was proposed for an area of retained tussocky grassland (0.3ha) in Norfolk. The client required a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) to assess the ecological impact of developing such a site. The PEA was used to support an outline planning permission application.

The site received an Extended UK Habitat survey which involved a walkover of the proposed development site and an assessment for the suitability of two nearby ponds for breeding great crested newts. The walkover identified the habitat type of the grassland as rank modified grassland with low floristic value, there were two fruit trees with bat roosting potential and the site is enclosed by largely native hedgerows of varying quality.

Close up of slow worm held in hand

Slow worms are one of the reptile species that can be found in grassland habitats.

The report advised the client that further reptile surveys would be needed before any development works can begin, as tussocky grassland is favoured by reptiles. One of the trees with bat roost potential was also identified for further surveying effort, as the current plans showed the tree would be removed by the proposed development. A full, detailed investigation of all the potential roost features of this tree using torches and endoscopes was advised before the main bat activity surveys with a further two inspections within the bat activity season. The report also provided a Precautionary Working Method for great crested newts to avoid impacts to great crested newts during construction.

Our report supplied the client with provisional habitat mitigation including advice for planting six native fruit trees and the sowing of a wildflower meadow to compensate for the loss of grassland habitat. We also provided advice for ecological enhancements which included the incorporation of integral bat and bird boxes within all dwellings at the proposal site.

The flagging of the above further surveys from this report is important for the client as these surveys are typically only possible within a short survey window. Knowing these details will help the client to better plan the timescale for the development and what particular aspects may be possible at certain times of the year. The client is also now looking into the feasibility of retaining the fruit trees with bat roost potential.

Bats found in a building – A case study

Wild Frontier Ecology was commissioned to provide an ecological assessment report for the demolition and rebuild of a detached property and garage in Holt. An initial visual inspection in June 2021 found bat droppings were present in the loft of the house, and a single brown long-eared bat was roosting in the adjacent garage.

Brown long-eared bat flying in loft

Brown long-eared bat

A dusk emergence survey was undertaken in July 2021 and a dawn return to roost survey was undertaken in August 2021. These confirmed that the garage building was also being used as a roost by a common pipistrelle bat.  An assessment report was produced which allowed planning permission to be granted in January 2022.

Wild Frontier Ecology returned to the site and re-inspected in March 2022; as no bats had been recorded using the house the droppings were sent for DNA analysis. This confirmed that this building was also used as an occasional roost by a brown long-eared bat. A mitigation and enhancement plan was produced to ensure suitable compensation was in place.

House being demolished by a machine

Building demolition under way

A Bat Low Impact Class licence was used to legalise the demolition of both buildings in July 2022 under the supervision of an Ecological Clerk of Works. The garage roof was soft stripped by hand whilst the house was mechanically demolished following a full visual inspection of the known roost site. A translocation bat box was installed on a tree on site and the new building is now under way on site. This will include two integral swift boxes and an integral bat box.

Whilst our client was initially surprised to find bats roosting in the property they were happy with Wild Frontier Ecology’s professionalism, and that an effective and timely resolution could be put in place.

Wild Frontier Ecology takes to the trees!

  • August 10, 2021
  • Blog

Two members of the WFE team can now be found swinging about the trees after successfully completing the City and Guilds NPTC Level 2 Award in Tree Climbing and Aerial Rescue.

In the beautiful grounds of Shrublands Hall near Ipswich, practice trees were roped up and ascended by one of our bat licensed Ecologists, Mary Goddard, and Arboriculturist Alex Lowe. Whilst the trees were smallish to start, their ambitions were large and soon they were scaling bigger and bigger trees with increasing “elegance” and “style”… Safety is always put first – they don’t really swing around the trees, it’s more controlled than that! WFE use the Double Rope Technique (DRT) for climbing, our climbers are fully kitted out with brand new LOLER compliant climbing gear and both have both passed First Aid training courses.

The climbing duo are now putting their skills to use looking for bat roosts in trees and aerial inspections for tree health and safety.


Bat roosts in trees

This method of surveying trees for bats can follow an Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey where potential niches have been identified and the safety of the tree for climbing assessed. Where moderate and high potential trees that are safe to climb are identified, aerial inspection surveys can be undertaken to thoroughly examine potential roost features. This can substantially reduce the need for further survey work.

Dusk or dawn bat activity surveys for trees have a low success rate in terms of finding active roosts and can be especially difficult when trees are in leaf – which is the majority of the bat survey season. Climbing inspections, on the other hand, allow us to get up close and personal with potential niches and with the help of an endoscope, roosting bats can be observed directly or their droppings discovered and collected for analysis. Sometimes niches are found to be unsuitable for bats despite appearing suitable from the ground. In these cases, trees can be downgraded to low bat roost potential and further surveys no longer required, provided that best practice mitigation measures such as soft felling are followed.


Aerial tree inspections

Our new climbing abilities also allow us to better inspect features of concern following a tree risk assessment survey.

WFE’s Arboriculturist can undertake detailed ground level surveys of individual trees or systematic inspections of entire tree populations, identifying any features which may pose an unacceptable risk to people or property. If necessary, features of concern such as cavities, fungal decay or splits can be examined more closely through an aerial inspection to provide a more detailed understanding of the health and safety of a particular tree.


To find out more about WFE’s tree climbing services or enquire about our costs, please contact us at or on 01328 855680.

Ancient and veteran tree habitat survey in Norfolk

Veteran sweet chestnut

WFE was fortunate enough to be asked to evaluate the fantastic collection of ancient and veteran trees at Heydon Hall in Norfolk; part of a wider piece of work to put together a Parkland Management Plan. Of the 600+ individual trees scattered in grassland or grouped together in avenues, just over 60 were identified as ancient or veteran. WFE undertook an ancient tree survey using the Specialist Survey Method to determine the diversity of fungi, epiphytes (lichens, mosses, climbers), invertebrates, birds and mammals supported by the tree.

A diversity of fungi were identified, with each tree on average supporting 4.5 fungi species including heartwood rotters such as Chicken-of-the-Woods Laetiporus sulphureus,  skin like coverings on standing deadwood such a Peniophora quercina and even microfungi growing on lichens such as Illiosporopsis christiansenii.

Oyster mushroom on horse chestnut

Lichens and moss were abundant, with each tree supporting on average 10 lichen species and 2 moss species with several identifications of possible veteran specialist lichens. Many of the veteran and ancient trees had moderate or high potential for roosting bats – an important consideration in the planning of any tree work as part of future parkland management.

WFE also undertook an extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey of the entire parkland. Taking the ancient and veteran tree survey and ecological information together, advice was then provided on how best to manage the parkland for biodiversity. Focusing in particular on how to protect and enhance the existing valuable features such as the open grown trees, grasslands, ponds and woodland.

WFE’s combined ecological and arboricultural expertise were very useful for this project. A comprehensive report on our findings and advice for both trees and ecology was produced. We are excited to see how this feeds into a new Parkland Management Plan and benefits biodiversity in the Parkland going forward.


Phase 1 survey of a brownfield site

phase 1 brownfield site

Derelict buildings sometimes require bat roost assessments

An extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey was commissioned for a site in south Norfolk. The site consisted of 0.3ha of unused land, including an old dilapidated building and several trees with bordering woodland, farmland and existing development. WFE undertook a site survey to classify the habitats to JNCC standards, and with the methods being ‘extended’ to include a general evaluation of potential habitats for any protected or valued species. The habitats on the site and surrounding area were classified, hedgerows were appraised, buildings and trees were inspected for bats and considerations were made concerning other protected species.

All the information we collected was mapped, supported by target notes and photographs detailing protected species issues. Further protected species issues were ruled out in this case and this fed into a final report for planning. If further surveys had been necessary, WFE could have produced what is known as a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) and a final report produced after necessary surveys had been completed.

Preliminary appraisal used to inform project design

In March 2019 a small proposed housing development in Suffolk required a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (or PEA) to understand ecological risks prior to our client making key planning and design decisions.  We would always advise doing this: issues flagged early can avoid significant delays and costs associated with seasonal survey constraints and re-design. Unfortunately an all too common occurrence when this advice is not followed.

In this case we were able to inform the client of the presence of great crested newts and reptiles in the surrounding area, both of which were flagged by a habitat survey and the data search we conducted. The data search also identified a sensitive grassland close by which was a County Wildlife Site.

ecological appraisal informs project design

A great crested newt found on site

The report we produced provided clear advice on the next steps, timings for necessary surveys, likely mitigation requirements and possible future licencing requirements. This information was fed into the design and planning stages.

Incidentally, the required great crested newt eDNA surveys were mobilised in April and we were able to complete our final report for planning by late May 2017 with no delay to the project timetable. If the client had come to us at the end of their design process, due to the seasonality of the surveys needed, the project would have been delayed until early-2020.

Waterbird disturbance surveys at the Upper Nene Valley SPA

WFE was commissioned to undertake a study on disturbance of waterbirds in the Upper Nene Valley Special Protection Area (SPA).  We planned the surveys carefully by visiting the site with the client beforehand, and then repeatedly visited four gravel pit sites to monitor human activity and disturbance at each site. Our surveys recorded the impact of disturbance to birds present, routes used by the public and birds using each waterbody.

With urban populations set to grow in Northamptonshire, this study provided information on the impacts of public disturbance on the populations of bird species for which the SPA is designated. These include bittern, coot, gadwall, great crested grebe, mute swan and tufted duck. We recorded the level of response of the waterbirds present to each disturbance. This showed how the birds were being disturbed by different activities.

Waterbird disturbance survey bird

Wild Frontier’s ornithologists surveyed disturbance to waterbirds in the Upper Nene Valley SPA

A variety of activities were seen across the sites including cycling and sailing. The largest proportion of disturbance was at weekends and the highest levels of activity and disturbance were mid-morning. Walkers and dog walkers were found to use the sites most often. These two groups were found to cause most of the disturbance.

These findings meant we could advise the client on the activities at each site and ways to reduce impacts. The client was pleased with the work undertaken and can act on our survey results to encourage more responsible use of the SPA.

Surveying trees for bat roost potential

  • January 29, 2020
  • Blog

When trees may need to be removed or worked on, their potential to be a home to bats has to be considered.

The first step in evaluating a tree for bats is assessing the number and quality of features where bats could potentially roost in the tree. Good bat roost features can include woodpecker holes, hollow stems and cracked branches to name just a few.

Wild Frontier Ecology undertook potential bat roost surveys for 300 individual trees and 23 groups of trees growing at a former RAF base in Cambridgeshire where a development was proposed. Trees were rated as having either low, medium or high potential for roosting bats.

Tree with bat roost potential survey

This Lombardy poplar has high bat roost potential. (Left: multiple cavities in the stem. Right: decay and crevices in the stem)

This information was provided to the developer along with a full arboricultural assessment assessing the quality of the trees for planning purposes. Generally, it was those trees which had poorer arboricultural value and limited future life expectancy that had higher bat roost potential. Wild Frontier’s combined specialisms in ecology and arboriculture helped to provide the developer with advice on which trees were suitable for retention and which could be removed.  

Future work on the site will include bat emergence surveys for those trees which are both targeted for removal and have potential for roosting bats. A subsequent application to Natural England for a European Protection Species licence can then be made to cover the required tree felling works and secure mitigation.


Long Stratton area action plan

Ecological Enhancement Advice targeted by habitat

WFE provided enhancement advice for a variety of habitats on site

WFE was commissioned to provide an ecological assessment of a proposed bypass and 1,800 house development at Long Stratton in Norfolk. We worked with the development team from an early stage on the location of development and greenspace. Ongoing ecological surveys were performed to refine project design, and further define any constraints and opportunities for enhancement.

Once surveys were completed, WFE provided a valued input into the landscaping design, advising significant ecological enhancements into the scheme which reflected the species and habitats shown to be present during surveys. This targeted approach will maximise the biodiversity net gain on the developed site. Considerations for the development included circular walks, cycle paths, wildlife planting, provision for arable plants and retention and reconnection of other important features such as ponds.

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