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General Survey Advice

Planning, Executing and Reporting Surveys

The following information is provided as general guidance of what should be considered and it is for the experienced surveyor to tailor the information appropriately to meet the objectives of the survey work, and any amendments should then be described in the report. It may also be appropriate to confirm methodological changes with the appropriate statutory agency.

Planning Ecological Surveys: Checklist of Actions when Planning a Survey

1. Identify objectives and information requirements
The objectives of a survey will vary greatly from one survey to another. In all cases, the requirements of the person or organization commissioning the survey work will need to be taken into account. At the simplest level it may involve determination of the presence or absence of a particular species. In other circumstances the objectives may be much more complex and demanding. It is important, whatever the complexity of the survey, that its objectives are clearly defined so that the information required to fulfil them can be determined. Some guidance on information requirements for habitats and species groups is provided in the literature, for example in Guidelines for Baseline Ecological Assessment1 and Developing Naturally2. As there is no accepted standard established for information requirements, it is crucial that these are identified at the outset.

2. Select appropriate survey methodologies
The methodologies and their application to a particular situation will be determined by a variety of factors. It will be necessary for the survey planner to:

  1. assess constraints imposed by season, time frame, personnel, legal requirements and finances on these methodologies;
  2. assess impact of the constraints on the effectiveness of methodologies and select those most appropriate to achieve survey objectives; and
  3. identify any peculiarities or constraints unique to the survey area that may affect the effectiveness of the survey.

3. Identify variations to the established survey methodology
This may include, for example, undertaking fewer site visits than recommended.

4. Inform client of the assessment of constraints
The client should be informed of implications of constraints before proceeding with the survey

5. Consult the relevant statutory nature conservation body
This is mainly relevant where the survey affects a protected species.

6. Undertake a health and safety risk assessment of the work associated with undertaking the survey
IEEM guidance3 is available to advise members on risk assessment for lone workers.

7. Assess competence of surveyor(s)
This is particularly important when working with any surveyor for the first time. The survey planner needs to be sure that all the surveyors have the relevant skills and experience to undertake the proposed work. Procedures that could be followed may include:

  1. check training records;
  2. check experience of applying the methodology to the circumstances of the survey;
  3. check past survey reports of new surveyors or sub-contractors;
  4. check appropriate licences are held if protected species are involved; and
  5. determine if the survey should be supervised and any quality control requirements.

8. Brief the surveyor(s)

  1. Provide a description of the survey objectives, survey methodologies and survey areas (including suitable base maps).
  2. Identify constraints on survey methodologies and describe how these are to be dealt with.
  3. Assess health and safety risks and agree on measures to be followed by the surveyor.
  4. Identify access arrangements and provide landowner details.

Undertaking Ecological Surveys: Checklist of Actions for Surveyors

1. Ensure all necessary information has been provided to undertake the survey
Each surveyor should ensure that they have all the necessary information to enable him or her to undertake the survey. This may include:

  1. descriptions of the survey objectives, survey methodologies and survey areas;
  2. identification of constraints on survey methodologies;
  3. assessment of health and safety risks and measures to be followed; and
  4. access arrangements and site or landowner contacts.

2. Ensure all required survey equipment is available and working

3. Ensure the necessary permits or licences to undertake work are in place

4. Prepare to record field data
This will vary greatly from one survey methodology to another and from one site to another. However basic practice standards should be maintained. This may include recording:

  1. basic field data e.g. date, duration of survey, weather conditions;
  2. constraints encountered that may affect the effectiveness of the survey;
  3. survey results in a standard format where appropriate;
  4. data clearly written so that it can be read or interpreted by others; and
  5. thoughts on recommendations for additional survey work.

5. Undertake a final check of required information before leaving the survey site

Reporting Survey Results

IEEM guidance4 is available to advise members on ecological report writing.



1 Institute of Environmental Assessment (1995). Guidelines for Baseline Ecological Assessment. E & FN Spon, London.

2 Oxford, M. (2000). Developing Naturally. A handbook for incorporating the natural environment into planning and development. The Association of Local Government Ecologists.

3 Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (2008). Risk Assessment for Lone Workers: Factors to Consider. Professional Guidance Series.

4 Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (2008). Guidance for Ecological Report Writing. Professional Guidance Series.