CIEEM supports all efforts that the governments of the UK, the Irish Government, and society are taking to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. We strongly advise our members to bear in mind the spirit of what is trying to be achieved, and to do their utmost to support it.
We believe that our members will make decisions that are right for their individual situations, with safety and helping to minimise any risk of spreading the disease, as the paramount considerations.
If you do undertake site-based work at this time, we have provided guidance (revised 31 March 2020) on how to do so safely.
We have further published Guidance on Ecological Survey and Assessment in the UK During the Covid-19 Outbreak (Version 1) (7 May 2020). This guidance document has been drafted by experienced ecologists as a tool to help CIEEM members continue to undertake ecological survey and assessment during the restrictions necessitated by the Covid-19 outbreak, where they can do so safely. This guidance applies to the UK only. We hope to publish a similar document for members working in Ireland in the near future.
Following recent reports of members being challenged for undertaking fieldwork, we recommend that members carry copies of relevant letters/paperwork with them (including for example the relevant letter from the relevant government linked below).
Members are reminded that as construction sites reopen, many will have been dormant and wildlife may have moved back in. We advise members to contact their clients regarding pre-start up checks for wildlife before construction and development works restart.
Please consider that any response that is required from emergency services will take longer and will be putting additional burden on health services.
If you are an ecological consultant, you should contact your clients to determine their stance on any site-based work that you are proposing as many clients are suspending projects. If necessary, take advice on any contractual implications.
The UK government added, on 7 April 2020, specific guidance for ‘outdoor businesses’ on the ‘Social distancing in the workplace during coronavirus (COVID-19): sector guidance’ webpage.
Following direct correspondence with Defra, CIEEM has received a letter from the Ministerial Contact Unit (dated 9 April 2020) clarifying how coronavirus guidance relates to ecological and environmental professionals in England.
The letter states that: “Ecologists and environmental professionals should therefore be able to continue with outdoor work, including ecological surveying and supervision, where they can continue to follow Public Health England guidelines.”
And that “… the cessation of environmental survey works would risk causing later delays in the development sector. We would like to thank CIEEM and other environmental professional associations for offering advice to help their members adhere to Government guidelines whilst going about their important work.”
Please do read the full letter and consider the UK Government guidance before deciding on the course of action for you and/or your business.
On Monday 11 May 2020, the UK Government published its recovery strategy.
Following direct correspondence with Welsh Government, CIEEM has received a letter from Julie James AC/AM, Minister for Housing and Local Government (dated 4 May 2020) clarifying the continuation of ecological work during the current Covid-19 restrictions in Wales.
The letter states: “The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 (“Coronavirus Regulations”) prohibit people from leaving or remaining away from the place where they live without reasonable excuse. One of the reasonable excuses is the need to travel for the purposes of work where it is not reasonably practicable for that person to work from where they are living. As you point out in your letter, undertaking ecological field work or studies is one of these examples.
The Chief Planner wrote to local planning authorities on 29 April to provide guidance on this, and a number of other practical planning issues, confirming our expectation that the planning system will continue to function during this difficult time.”
Please do read the full letter and consider the guidelines as set out by the Welsh Government, and the associated guidance for employers and businesses, before deciding on the course of action for you and/or your business.
On 24 April 2020, the Welsh Government published its framework for recovery, explaining how it will “lead Wales out of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis in a way that keeps everyone safe and revitalises our economy as quickly as possible”.
Members working in Scotland should follow the guidelines as set out by the Scottish Government, and the associated guidance for businesses. Scottish Natural Heritage has also provided specific guidance.
On 7 May 2020 the First Minister announced that the ‘lockdown’ would continue for a further three weeks. Members are reminded, therefore, that only essential travel, as defined by the Scottish Government, with its provisos, should be undertaken.
Members working in Northern Ireland should follow the guidelines as set out by the Northern Irish Government, and the associated guidance for business and employers.
Republic of Ireland
CIEEM has endeavoured to obtain clarity on the Government position on ecological fieldwork continuing in Ireland, including by writing to the Department of the Taoiseach. As it stands we are awaiting a response.
The Government in Ireland has stated that measures on easing the Covid-19 restrictions will commence on 18 May 2020. These measures are set out in the ‘Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business’ and state that, from 18 May 2020 it will “Permit phased return of outdoor workers (e.g. construction workers, gardeners, including people working on allotments). Social distancing requirements continue to apply”. In the light of this advice from Government, CIEEM considers that ‘outdoor workers’ in this respect includes outdoor ecological surveyors where full compliance with social distancing and hygiene protocols can be achieved.
It is important that this is not seen as a return to normal operations and, although members may no longer need to consider whether the work falls into the category of ‘essential services’, the questions of whether the task in hand is urgent and whether it can be done safely (see below) will remain as applicable as before.
The circumstances of each project will be different, and decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis. We recommend that members keep in mind the spirit of avoiding further spread of Covid-19 and suggest the following questions should be considered when making decisions, where a ‘yes’ to each question in sequence would allow an overall justification to proceed with the ecological site work under consideration:
- Is the task in hand urgent? Many ecological surveys or parts of them can be delayed, so members should only undertake work where this cannot reasonably be done and justify why a delay would not be possible in such cases. CIEEM is in contact with planning authorities and statutory agencies (e.g. NPWS) to open up a dialogue on how planning and development decisions will be made in light of Government guidance. We are also developing guidance for certain taxa on alternative approaches that can be taken to address gaps in survey information, for example by carrying out additional sampling later in the survey season.
- Can it be done safely? If site-based work is to be undertaken, CIEEM has provided guidance on how to do so safely. This guidance emphasises a Dynamic Risk Assessment approach, keeping the risks under review throughout the activity. Risks should be considered from door-to-door, and should consider that responses from emergency services will take longer, and that health services are under a considerable burden.
This webpage was last updated on 18 May 2020.