AN ENVIRONMENTAL consultancy firm which aims to bring a fresh approach to land development is celebrating five years in business.

Ecology by Design based in Chalgrove, South Oxfordshire, has doubled in size every year since it was founded in January 2015 by Ben Gardner and he has further ambitious growth plans.

Now employing eight permanent staff and drawing on a larger network of specialists around the country, Ecology by Design primarily assesses and solves ecological issues arising during the process of land development.

A large focus is on how developments can directly benefit flora and fauna.

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Plymouth University graduate Mr Gardner turned to ecological consultancy after leaving a job in the civil service.

Half a decade on from starting his own firm, he plans to increase staffing levels and open offices in the north and eastern regions of the UK.

In October last year Ecology by Design became part of the Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses scheme, which provided the firm with mentoring, a formalised growth plan and a forum in which to meet other outfits already experiencing or on the verge of rapid growth.

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Mr Gardner said: “I worked for large consultancies and then got to a point where I could do a better job on my own. I was fortunate to become very busy very quickly and I was able to bring in very clever people around me.”

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Explaining the core of the consultancy’s work, the 37-year-old said: “Whether you’re an individual building an extension or a large developer creating a housing estate under certain UK planning laws you need to get an ecological survey carried out.

“We do the surveying and also design solutions. The vast majority of our work is done in-house but we also have a network of specialist contractors around the country.”

Part of the work carried out by Ecology by Design falls under what is known as ‘Paragraph 79’ planning policy.

Paragraph 79 of the National Planning Policy Framework concerns the building of isolated homes in the countryside – such as those seen on television on programmes such as Channel Four’s Grand Designs.

Planning regulations are generally heavily weighted against such development in the Green Belt, but Paragraph 79 offers some hope if the design is ‘truly outstanding or innovative’ and ‘would significantly enhance its setting, and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area’.

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For Mr Gardner and his team this can mean assessing the local ecological situation and looking at ways any development could provide a large benefit for flora and fauna.

“It’s quite involved and to prove an improvement is quite difficult,” the father-of-two said.

“But part of what we are trying to do is bring a fresh approach and drive innovation.

“A lot of ecology work is trying to mitigate against loss of habitat for things like bats and newts, but we’re actually trying to seek a net gain for these species.

"We want building work to actually improve their habitats.

“One of the key aspects of that is long-term monitoring to show the change that occurs, so we will be looking to monitor the impact on some sites for 10 or more years.”

To a similar end, Ecology by Design is also looking at new innovations such as a kind of ‘green wall’ not yet established in the UK.

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This is the practice of covering large facades in living plants to encourage insects and birds.

“Most green walls are slightly false, because they require some sort of attached framework or structure rather than being truly naturalised as part of the wall” said Mr Gardner.

“But we are working on one of the first of its kind in the UK, where the greenery is directly planted into the structure of the wall.”

Asked whether there was a growing understanding of his type of work, Mr Gardner, of Wallingford, added: “I think more businesses are realising there’s a real value in incorporating ecological elements into new developments.

“We provide an important service and support developers in protecting and enhancing flora and fauna, which is crucial to our environment.”

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Mr Gardner has expertise across the full range of ecological surveys, providing mitigation both under licence and unlicensed.

He has experience working with both public and private sector clients across the UK and in North America and holds survey licences for bats, great crested newts and dormice.