(Screening in EIA, spatial planning and decision-making)
A site’s biodiversity significance would typically be contextualised during any of the following phases of an environmental assessment process:
- Pre-application screening.
- Basic Assessment.
- Any official decision that may significantly affect environment.
Similarly, the quality of spatial planning decisions would also often benefit from knowing the broad, contextual biodiversity implications of a particular course of action.
The significance of a site or natural feature may only become apparent when it is evaluated in terms of a broader biodiversity context. Put differently, local impacts on biodiversity may seem unimportant, but can become highly significant when interpreted beyond the immediate boundaries of a site. Any alternative sites should be assessed in the same way as the primary site.
Even if a locality has a history of disturbance such as alien infestation, cultivation or recurrent fires, and it does not host any plant or animal species of special concern, it may nevertheless be significant for biodiversity conservation when viewed from a landscape or even national perspective.
Using biodiversity information to contribute to efficient planning and decision making
If consulted sufficiently early in project planning, contextual biodiversity information hosted on the SANBI-BGIS website can make an important contribution to an efficient and informed planning process. These benefits include:
- Indicating the potential significance of biodiversity as a factor in decision-making.
- Suggesting the degree of effort that may be needed to find a suitable alternative to avoid significant loss of biodiversity or ecosystem function in a particular area.
- Highlighting from the outset the potential need to appoint a biodiversity specialist during project planning and design.
Responding to the results of screening
It is always desirable to try and adapt a project proposal or plan by identifying alternatives that avoid loss of biodiversity and disturbance of ecological functioning.
If any of these biodiversity factors may be present at a site, or if you are uncertain about their presence or not, it is recommended that you appoint a specialist to provide biodiversity input to the planning process.
For additional guidance on how to identify potentially significant biodiversity issues during pre-application project screening, download:
- Guideline for involving biodiversity specialists in EIA processes (Brownlie, 2005), pp 19-22
- The Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment’s biodiversity in impact assessment background document to CBD decision VIII/28: Voluntary guidelines on biodiversity-inclusive impact assessment (Slootweg et al, 2006), pp 30 – 33