When it comes to utilities construction, the amount of preparation needed for the works is often underestimated. We’re afraid it’s not as simple as just getting your planning permission granted. Often, environmental issues and conservation orders come into play. Whether protected animal habitats or pesky plants, there are various situations that require additional consideration. This blog outlines the surprisingly common ecological challenges that arise during utilities development projects.
The most common wildlife implication that occurs with our jobs are specifically related to badgers and bats. In instances where a job requires excavation, such as digging trenches to lay underground pipework for a new mains connection, we must be careful of disturbing badgers and their setts (dens) which are legally protected in England. In terms of overhead powerlines, we must be conscious of disturbing bats, all species of which are also legally protected in England. If you have a project that is deemed to be a threat to badgers, bats, or their habitats, a licence is required from the government for the proposed site development to be allowed to go ahead. In order to obtain this licence, often an exclusion zone is accepted.
There are many other protected species that also pose a risk to a construction project, although we come across these less frequently on our jobs. These are including but not limited to; great crested newts, otters, natterjack toads, water voles, and freshwater pearl mussels. Interestingly, endangered species aren’t automatically granted protected status, for example hedgehogs and red squirrels are on the endangered species list but are not legally protected. Then there is another type of protected species to consider; those protected by the crown. Again, these aren’t common on our jobs as you can imagine, however we must still consider all swans, sturgeons, whales, and dolphins that are technically owned by the Queen and cannot be wilfully harmed.
A common occurrence that we do come across would be tree preservation orders, which prohibits the damage and destruction of trees and woodlands. All types of trees can be protected by a tree preservation order, but no type is automatically protected. The local council is responsible for making tree preservation orders for their constituency. If construction works is required around a protected tree, there are guidelines to follow. You must not excavate by machine; it is mandatory to hand dig to ensure no damage to the tree’s roots. You must also leave an exclusion zone around the tree that is the same width as the canopy of the tree, again to ensure the protection of the tree’s roots and survival of said tree or trees.
Aside from protected wildlife which must be safeguarded, we must also consider wildlife which could be harmful to a construction site. Japanese Knotweed is the perfect example of this; an aggressive weed that was introduced to Britain in the Victorian era and unfortunately isn’t suitable for our ecosystem. None of our wildlife eat it, and no other plants can compete with it. As it can grow up to 10cm a day, and root in the tiniest cracks, this has caused an invasive problem where the plant can completely take over both rural and urban areas. Japanese Knotweed can damage underground cabling and pipework, as well as building foundations and structures. In any instance where Japanese Knotweed is found, a specialist company must be employed to come and remove it properly.
Another harmful site implication to consider would be ground contamination. Types of ground contamination are including but not limited to; asbestos fibres released during demolition works, mining releasing sulphuric acid and mercury, hydrocarbons released during fuel storage, arsenic in cow pat and other chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides on agricultural land. Again, certain permits and licences are required for building works to be allowed on contaminated land that involves reducing the health and safety risk of the contamination spreading.
As you can see from this blog, there are many ecological implications to consider with construction site planning and development, particularly with larger commercial plots which will cover more square footage of land and naturally provide greater risk. We advise project managers to consider site investigations and evaluations from environmental consultants, listen to expert advice and governing bodies, and be prepared to make adaptations, most likely exclusion zones, for your project to go ahead. As for our blog, if you enjoyed reading this, make sure you’re following us on socials to be the first to know about our next blog release.