We have been closely following UK government advice with regards to COVID-19 and the dynamic situation that we find ourselves in. In accordance with current advice and knowledge about the virus, we have made a number of changes to our methods of working to ensure that safe working practices are being upheld.
In addition to guidance from the government, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) have produced their own advice sheet, the contents of which we are also incorporating into our methods of working – this is constantly being reviewed and updated as more information becomes available/new government restrictions are introduced.
In accordance with recent travel restrictions and social distancing measures, we are only undertaking fieldwork where it is absolutely necessary and is considered safe to do so, which involves reviewing projects on a site-by-site basis.
We are working to reduce fieldwork where this is justifiable and we are redesigning our approach to some surveys to eliminate the need for any contact with people, or at the very least, maintain appropriate social distancing. Long journeys and overnight stays are also being avoided.
We have produced a risk assessment that specifically addresses COVID-19. This document is ‘dynamic’, being subject to constant review to ensure that any fieldwork is undertaken with ‘minimal and manageable’ risk, in accordance with government and CIEEM advice.
All of our staff members carry either hand sanitiser, or soap and water with them for all site work – following government advice on hand-washing and hygiene.
We are no longer carrying out any internal inspections of occupied or active buildings, or conducting any face-to-face meetings. If it is necessary to meet someone on site for access purposes, appropriate precautions and social distancing measures will be rigorously applied.
Any fieldwork requiring surveyors to work at height – including tree climbing and use of ladders – will not be undertaken, due to the need for support staff to be present in close proximity.
In line with CIEEM guidance, great crested newt surveys involving bottle trapping will no longer be undertaken, both to reduce the need for staff to stay away from home, reduce the need for staff to enter water (which increases the risk of close contact with other surveyors) and reduce the handling of equipment.
We are presently reviewing our approach to bat emergence/re-entry surveys by looking at ways to reduce the number of people needed on site, and ways to eliminate the need for surveyors to meet at all when undertaking surveys.
In view of the fluid nature of the situation, whereby new information and guidance is constantly being made available, we are reviewing things as and when the government provides new advice or new transmission risks are identified.
There is the possibility of further restrictions being introduced that may make fieldwork impossible, but as long as the standing government advice allows us to undertake work which we feel presents a very low risk, we will continue to operate as safely as possible with due consideration for our staff and the wider public.
*UPDATE 11th April 2020*
On the 9th April 2020, DEFRA sent a letter to CIEEM clarifying how coronavirus guidance relates to ecological and environmental professionals in England.
This 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.”