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In 2018 we started the process of implementing the BREEAM Strategic Ecology Framework (SEF) into our UK family of schemes (BREEAM, HQM and CEEQUAL). The following schemes were the first to incorporate the updated approach:

  • BREEAM UK New Construction 2018 – launched March 2018
  • Home Quality Mark ONE (HQM ONE) – launched August 2018

This has resulted in changes to how the BREEAM’s ecology content promotes protection, mitigation of impacts and enhancement of ecology that bring it up to date with current practice and policy, whilst also preparing the ground for up and coming policy changes. The background to the changes were summarised in the December 2018 Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) “In Practice” magazine. The article is available here.

Implementation will continue with other UK family schemes as these are updated. The next scheme likely to be released incorporating updated ecology criteria taking account of the SEF is CEEQUAL – the civil engineering environmental quality mark. More information is available here.

During our routine ‘check-in’ with our Assessors and from queries and comments received from those involved in applying, delivering the ecology criteria (ecologists and contractors), we have started to build a good picture of how the criteria and methodologies are being received and what is needed to provide additional support to those working with them.

It takes time for those involved in the assessment of a new or updated scheme to get to grips with the assessment criteria especially when it has changed significantly” said Yetunde Abdul – BREEAM’s Scheme Development Manager and ecology lead. “We listen carefully to feedback received and use this to help us tailor the support and guidance that we give to those involved in assessments.”

Initial feedback received from users of the updated schemes currently in operation has highlighted the need for greater clarity in three main areas:

  1. The scope and background of changes, the clarity of the assessment criteria, and their correct application in a range of situations
  2. What is expected of the assessor and other professionals/stakeholders/ roles involved in the process
  3. The resources available to support assimilation of the changes and accessibility of these to those involved in the assessment process

In response we are working on providing a range of additional resources to help clarify these areas and support those going through the process.

The changes, the assessment criteria and situation-specific considerations

‘There has been a shift in the ecology assessment criteria towards alignment with the practices of ecologists and project teams. This was necessary, not only to support their ownership over this aspect of the BREEAM process so promoting efficient and effective delivery of outcomes, but also to support installation of viable on-going maintenance monitoring and management activities to help realise the positive outcomes for ecology and biodiversity envisaged’ said Alan Yates, BREEAM Technical Director.

The December 2018 CIEEM article here provides an overview of the background to the changes in BREEAM. A strong driver for these changes was the desire from ecologists to better align BREEAM with their current practices, reflect their project timelines and relate better to the ecological aspects of the construction process. This was also reinforced by BREEAM Assessors who do not have the technical expertise to review the detail of ecological requirements.  Reflecting this feedback, the majority of the content was drafted with the ecologist and project in mind.

Although at first sight the revised criteria and methods appear more complex, the requirements are a shift towards reflecting best practice which has developed since the last time the assessment criteria were updated in 1998. A feature of the revised criteria is the sequential flow as indicated in the diagram below. This feature aims to promote outcomes which result in the viable and sustainable realisation of ecological benefits long term. The criteria also aim to reflect forthcoming developments in the sector to ensure that the approach is future proofed as far as possible. With this in mind, we worked closely with CIEEM, Natural England and others to help ensure the criteria developed in line with current best practice and up and coming changes / development in this sector.  This includes the government’s drive towards greater biodiversity net gain. The current DEFRA consultation on this provides more related information, here.

There was also an acceptance that some sites may not warrant specialist ecologist input if ecological risks and opportunities are limited. In line with BREEAM’s overarching aim we wanted to provide the project team with some direct ownership of ecology specification and solution implementation with the support of specialist advice where needed. The simplified ‘Project Team Member’ route can be applied in these instances so encouraging ecologically beneficial actions on such sites. Collectively, these changes are very much geared towards supporting policy developments in the sector such as the UK’s 25-year environment plan and the drive for biodiversity net gain, see here.

Several project specific queries have been received by ecologists and assessors. Each one presents new insight, not only into effective application of the criteria, but also into practical realities of construction and integration of ecology alongside the built environment. Where queries received, and their related responses are similar in nature, we will add these to BREEAM Knowledge Base so others can review and benefit. BREEAM Knowledge Base is available at https://kb.breeam.com/

In summary these changes will ensure considerable harmonisation with the work of ecologists and project teams but BRE recognises that it will take time and support for project teams and professionals to get used to them.

What can those involved in the process expect?

The changes in the Ecology category in BREEAM naturally have an impact on how different roles in the assessment process relate to the delivery of ecological outcomes and the assessment process. The following table summarises some of the key activities and the relationship of some key roles associated with the process.

Some key activities associated with the assessment process BREEAM / HQM Assessor Ecologist (Route 2) Project team member (Route 1) Broader design / project team e.g. Architect, Contractor, Landscape Architect, Advisory Professional (AP)
Has an overview of assessment process Yes Not required but useful Not required but useful Not required but useful (exception BREEAM AP)
Checking compliance Yes Consider as part of activities Consider as part of activities Consider as part of activities
Carrying out processes in accordance with the requirements of the scheme including:

  • Calculations
  • Providing recommendations
  • Identifying specialist input
  • Planning and implementation
  • Monitoring, review and refinement
Limited to the award of credits only based on compliance check

Yes – lead and completion of process as required by the project.

 

Yes – lead and completion of process as required by the project.

 

Inputting as appropriate into process in line with the ecologist and project team member requirements.
Advising and supporting collaborative working Not needed but able to input into this as necessary to achieve outcomes

Yes – leading and supporting project team activities

 

Yes – leading and supporting project team activities

 

Liaising with those activities and leading on coordinating implementation
Implementing solutions, measures and actions No Yes – in response to client requirements Yes – in response to client requirements Yes – in response to client requirements (exception BREEAM AP)

Supporting resources – what’s already available and what’s coming soon…

Available now

Over the period of the scheme launches we have released several resources to help assessors, ecologists and project teams understand what needs to be achieved and how the criteria benefit the project and ecology. These include guidance notes, webinars, links to the BREEAM knowledge base and more. These have now been grouped in a central page on the BREEAM website available here.

Coming soon

Feedback has indicated the value of producing further information which outlines the ecology criteria, and its associated process separately from the assessment manual itself to support greater accessibility for all BREEAM’s stakeholders. In response to this we are in the process of developing a ‘Practical Guide to Ecology in BREEAM’. This will provide an outline of the ecology process in BREEAM, the value associated with each part, the key roles associated with the assessment process and how these fit in. Our aim is for this to be released in early Spring 2019. In addition, we will be running an interactive webinar open to project team members, assessors, advisory professionals, ecologists and others who wish to join.  This will seek to answer questions and discuss points relating to the assessment criteria. The webinar will be advertised on the BREEAM Ecology page in the coming weeks and will be run in Spring 2019.

What’s next?

We are always open to and appreciate feedback from any stakeholder in the process. This helps to inform the provision of resources and support we develop for those involved in the ecology assessment process and helps to achieve better ecological outcomes in projects assessed against the various BREEAM schemes. Keep an eye out for future resources by following us on Twitter/Linked-In, checking the Ecology web page/BRE Buzz articles, and if you’re an Assessor, keeping an eye on your emails and process notes. If you have any other questions or feedback about this methodology in the meantime, please do get in touch BREEAM@bre.co.uk

 

Take a look at some of the most sustainable buildings in the world on the BREEAM Case Studies.

Rich Cobb
About the Author
Rich Cobb - Housing professional in the BREEAM Homes and Communities team. I help to develop and maintain the Home Quality Mark (HQM); the UK's foremost certification scheme for quality and sustainable new homes. Main technical focus includes: ecology, energy performance and cost, low and zero carbon technologies, overheating, build quality, smart homes, aftercare support and post occupancy evaluation.

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