All good things come to those….

The New Year provides an opportunity to draw a line under the previous year, but also look back at it as a nice neat period of time. As an SME manager there is a temptation to blog about the financial facts and figures of 2015 and how good the turnover was, economic recovery etc etc. So I will indulge this temptation just a little bit without boring the reader of this, our first blog on the long awaited new website.Well 2015 was our most successful year to date: our highest number of projects ever completed in a calendar year, our highest number of requests for quotations. Our company reached its largest yet (10 staff) and we moved premises to larger offices with a much better view than the Dublin City centre. Aebhin Cawley (Co-Director) gave birth to a bouncing baby boy and we won some fantastic projects around the country. And from what we heard from our colleagues in the industry it has been a very busy year for other ecologists too.

Q3-4 of 2014 – over a year ago now -witnessed a significant jump in the number of planning applications and pre-planning ecological services that we asked to quote for. Many of these clients were new kids on the block taking over pre-recession development projects that had stalled or failed to get planning permission in the years before the main dip in the economy. Whilst these sites may have lain undeveloped and blueprints for proposals mothballed until the economic and political climate improved, the standards of environmental protection and the implementation of EC legislation rolled on. In 2008, when the economy started to slide, Appropriate Assessment (Habitats Directive Assessment, HRA etc etc elsewhere- but in Ireland it is AA) was lurking mostly at the edges of major projects and only a handful of local authorities and consultants such as ourselves were dealing with the requirements in any serious manner. But as the recession took hold and the number of new applications (and hence EIAs) began to drop, it seemed that the focus shifted to AA. Many of the environmental “campaigners” saw the weakness in compliance with AA by both developers and public authorities and exploited it to the hilt. Like a lot of changes that have occurred to ecological assessment practice in Ireland over the last 20 years, it has been driven by a small number of legal cases either in the State or on the European stage. Nearly all have resulted in a disproportionate amount of head scratching, knee-jerking and teeth-gnashing by developers who started to see the escalation in the level of scrutiny being paid to ecological issues. Whilst the majority of the Celtic tiger developers got to grips with the challenges that these posed during recession times, many of these fell by the wayside or lay dormant until 2013-2014 when phoenix-like they arose from the ashes to re-start many of their projects. But some have now found themselves in a very different world to the one they previously worked in.

In 2012-13 we launched as range of AA training courses and trained well over 200 staff from local authorities, engineers, architects and consultants from other disciplines in a pretty short space of time. We had already anticipated the demand for this training but what we did not expect was for a need for training in biodiversity to non-ecologists and a need to train engineers, planners and developers in how to deal with ecologists in their development design and pre-planning stages. Slowly but surely the demand for this training has grown and we now have an effective set of training modules that we deliver to a range of companies. But there are still a lot of developers, planning consultants and local authority planning officers who are yet to fully understand the need to integrate ecology early in the process. Each new ECJ judgement brings a flurry of interest in the mot de jour whether it is IROPI, favourable conservation status, reasonable alternative, compensation or another new term with new definitions attached. Keeping pace with case law is a challenge and local authorities have few resource to keep up with the rate of change, it is a challenge for us too but our livelihoods and reputation depend on being ahead of the pack when it comes to such forces.

So whilst 2015 was our busiest year it was also the most challenging year for many of our clients in terms of getting permission in such a rapidly changing legal environment. 2016 looks like being just as tumultuous with decisions such as Killaloe Bypass being well overdue and other projects such as the N6 Galway City Transport Project entering the EIA stage. Watch this space……..regularly…

So here endeth our first blog on the new website and it has been a long time coming so yes, all good things do come eventually. We will be trying to post pieces that will be of interest to our clients both past, present and future, to our colleagues in the industry and to the professional ecologists of the future. If you have any requests for Blog topics for the future then please do not hesitate to send us a suggestion.