Baker Consultants

Andrew Baker Shares His Thoughts on Habitats Regulations Assessments in IMEA’s Impact Assessment Journal

Last year, Baker Consultants’ Managing Director, Andrew Baker, penned a thought piece for the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) Journal in response to the Nature Recovery Green Paper that was published by DEFRA in March 2022. The paper outlined a number of possible changes to existing legislation and options for consultation that could heavily impact the HRA process and the level of protection that European sites receive.

Andrew’s thoughts on HRAs are still very much relevant a year on, and have now been shared in IEMA’s Impact Assessment Journal, which contains insights from other industry professionals and their thoughts on current processes and their impact on meeting legislation, the consultation and planning for sites and species protection.

In his piece, Andrew presents the notion of “celestial teapots” to symbolise the particular challenge associated with trying to prove a negative when it comes to proving that a plan or project will not have an adverse effect upon the integrity of an ecological site. The metaphor is borrowed from philosopher Bertrand Russell’s famous analogy involving a hypothetical teapot orbiting the sun; a claim that can’t be disproven but lacks empirical evidence. The metaphor illustrates that the burden of proof relies upon a person making empirically unfalsifiable claims, hence the “celestial teapot”.

Andrew explains, “I was recently talking to a fellow ecologist – an expert in bat ecology. He was starting a suite of surveys on an isolated hedge in the middle of an arable field at the behest of the local planning authority ecologist and Natural England. They had asked him to prove that the removal of the hedge would not have an adverse effect on an SAC designated for lesser horseshoe bats, which was located over 6km away. The search for the celestial teapot was on. For those not familiar with the ecology of this species, the chances of them being present in such an environment is about as close to zero as one could get. Unfortunately, such situations are not uncommon.”

Throughout the article, Andrew raises some good questions about scientific absolutes and how certain parts of the HRA process is open to abuse, as the requirement to prove a negative isn’t as tightly regulated as it probably should be. However, due to budget cuts for Natural England, the resources aren’t there to properly regulate the HRA process.

The full article, and edition of the IMEA Impact Assessment Journal, is available to read here.

Find out more about his response to last year’s Nature Recovery Green paper here.