Cooling towers at the coal fired power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Nottinghamshire.

Environmental assessment

Environmental assessment covers a variety of techniques which are widely used in planning to inform decision-making.

It is a general term for processes which help to ensure potential threats to the natural world from new developments are properly identified and minimised.

What is Environmental Impact Assessment?

Environmental Impact Assessment is used to produce an Environmental Statement that must accompany applications for developments which are large or located in sensitive areas.

The statement predicts possible environmental damage from the development and sets out how that damage would be reduced. The evidence in the Environmental Statement must be taken into account by the planning authority when they decide if the development can go ahead.

Strategic Environmental Assessment is required for a range of plans and programmes that set the framework for such projects, so that environmental issues can be considered and dealt with earlier in the planning process.

Sustainability Appraisal is a similar technique to Strategic Environmental Assessment. It often covers the same requirements, but also addresses the social and economic impacts of policies, plans or programmes. It is frequently used to predict and evaluate the effects of development plans.

Environmental assessment processes

The assessment processes download on the right provides a summary of the key differences between these forms of environmental assessment. It also covers 'appropriate assessments' required by the Birds and Habitats Directives, under which Natura 2000 sites - a European network of important wildlife sites - are designated. Where a plan or project is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site, appropriate assessment applies a series of strict tests to ensure the integrity of the network is maintained.

The environmental assessment process provides an opportunity for people with an interest in future development to voice their concerns. Consultation both with the public and with statutory bodies (eg Natural England) is an important part of environmental assessment.

We have a long history of involvement in environmental assessment in all its forms through both casework (environmental assessments for particular developments) and policy.

We lobby to ensure that laws require wildlife issues to be properly addressed in environmental assessments and that these laws are correctly applied. We also develop and promote good practice in dealing with wildlife issues in environmental assessments. Finally, we check that environmental considerations are taken into account when decisions are being made about whether plans or specific developments can proceed.

Environmental Impact Assessment

Bell heather Erica cinerea, heathland restoration, Farnham Heath RSPB reserve, Surrey, England
Environmental Impact Assessment considers a project's potential effects on wildlife and the environment.

Strategic Environmental Assessment

Common or Eurasian crane Grus grus, flock flying close to wind turbine, Near Diepholz, Lower Saxony, Germany
How to best protect the environment and encourage sustainable development at the early stages of preparing plans and programmes.