This week we talk to Rob Cooke, member of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) about the importance of professional consultancy.
‘European protected species can be a particular challenge, especially great crested newts. Developers need to take account of newts in their plans through mitigation or compensation if they are present; otherwise they risk breaking the law. Rob Cooke is a member of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and Director of Natural England, the Government’s advisory agency on the natural environment. He explained, ‘Developers come to us for licenses, but with increased demand coupled with public sector cutbacks it’s hard to deal with the volume of applications.’
‘Understanding how the newts will be affected requires survey work. Until now this could only be undertaken at certain times of the year because newts hibernate in winter.’ However, progress is being made. Last year a new technique was rolled out, allowing detection of the presence of great crested newts through water samples by identifying DNA residue. This helps determine their presence or absence at any time of year.’
‘Environmental consultancy is still relatively new – around 20 years old’ Rob estimates. ‘So occasionally developers might be advised to take steps that are probably more than those needed to meet licensing requirements. Conversely, fairly inexperienced consultants may be pressurised by developers to cut corners.’
‘Consultants should clearly outline the boundaries of what they are able to offer. Joining a professional body gives a degree of protection and insurance as well as upholding standards through a code of conduct. Natural England may fast-track consultants to get licences if they are members of a recognised professional body because we know they’re professional.’
‘Collectively as environmentalists we face the challenge of ensuring environmental protection works hand in hand with the wider economy and does not unduly constrain development, nor is it afraid of it.’
Professor Andy Friedman, CEO of PARN
First appeared in Newsweek, edn. 24 April 2015