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  • John Thompson, Principal Ecologist - EcoNorth

Taking Pride in ‘doing one thing’ unlocks benefits for communities

At feasibility, preplanning, and discharge of conditions the weight of environmental and ecological requirements can seem daunting, especially when presented within weighty EIA documents, technical reports, mitigation plans, and licence documents. I say this as a practicing ecologist engaged in all aspects of projects from design, construction all the way through to post construction monitoring. Since 2015, I have been fortunate enough to work on a large construction project (Morpeth Northern Bypass), a major construction project for my home town and County of Northumberland. The feeling at initial meetings, between Carillion Civil Engineering (Principal Contractor) and EcoNorth (project ecologists), was similar to that described above with a clear focus on how to deliver the stated environmental requirements and the construction all within the law.

Due to the number of constraints known on the project it was quickly established that ‘everyone’ needed to be aware of the ecological constrains, after which point all individuals could apply the relevant caution while working closely with the ecological clerk of works. Systems and safeguards were then developed collaboratively which meant that all works required considered ecological risks at each stage. Before long most of the construction team could identify a tree with ‘bat risk potential’ from distance. This level of ‘engagement’ and involvement within the team grew and before long lunch time ‘guess the dropping’ competitions were being held and ‘bird of the month’ information circulated around the construction team. The daunting reality of working in and around biodiversity had become exactly what it should be within construction something to celebrate, and to take pride in its protection.

Once the philosophy of celebrating biodiversity was part of the norm on site, opportunities to take the celebration of wildlife conservation out into the community, through work with schools on pollinating bees, organized litter picking events on wildlife sites, and seeking opportunities to support through funding and other means relevant initiatives on key local species (in this case white clawed crayfish), were identified routinely.

One of the key ecological features and constraints for the design and construction of the road was the presence of bats roosting within the footprint of the scheme and utilising flight lines which crossed the route. For this reason, extensive deign steps and mitigation in construction were taken to ensure bat populations were safeguarded. The focus on bats prompted an opportunity to engage with the local community through ‘bat walks’ allowing up to 40 4-9 year olds at a time to take control of professional bat detection equipment and experience the reality of the world of bats in a way which would otherwise go unseen. Such events represented not only a celebration of the incredible biodiversity we were surrounded by but cannot always experience, but also a great opportunity to illustrate the extensive measures the construction industry can and do take to protect and enhance biodiversity.

I have no doubt that the community engagement measures which took place will stay with the project team, the local community and certainly myself for years to come and remain part of the construction legacy.

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