National Grid is developing proposals for a new overhead electricity line between Norwich in Norfolk and Tilbury in Essex.

Part of The Great Grid Upgrade, a wider upgrade to the existing electricity transmission network across the UK, the work will ensure renewable energy generated offshore can reach millions of homes and businesses – while contributing to the government’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050.

Minimising the environmental impact of this work is more than just a legal requirement for National Grid – it’s a priority.

That’s why it is working with ecology consultancy Arcadis to ensure wildlife and historic habitats are sufficiently protected ahead of any work commencing.

Eastern Daily Press: The ecology work will include habitat surveys for bats, birds, invertebrates and other wildlifeThe ecology work will include habitat surveys for bats, birds, invertebrates and other wildlife (Image: Arcadis)
Emma Pickering, ecology lead for Arcadis on the Norwich to Tilbury upgrade, believes National Grid’s careful consideration of local ecology is integral to the network upgrades.

“I’ve worked with a lot of other developers, and I would say National Grid is putting ecology at the forefront,” she said.

As a key provider of environmental and planning support, Arcadis has a core of six to seven ecologists working on the National Grid project, supplemented by 30 to 40 field surveyors as and when required.

Their scope of work will take in everything from ponds and other water bodies, as part of the initial ecological survey, through to habitat surveys for birds, bats, invertebrates and other wildlife.

The season for survey work is typically between April and September, although some of the surveys are seasonally restrictive – for example, to take account of nesting birds between April and July.

“As ecologists, our first job is to establish a baseline for the site in question, which will be at a snapshot in time,” said Emma.

“For Norwich to Tilbury, we typically use the preferred route corridor as the survey limit. However, each survey will vary depending on what the subject is. Birds need a much wider survey area, for example.

Eastern Daily Press: Arcadis has six to seven ecologists working on the project, supplemented by 30 to 40 field surveyorsArcadis has six to seven ecologists working on the project, supplemented by 30 to 40 field surveyors (Image: Arcadis)
“The scope of the survey changes in order to get a full understanding of the total impact.” It all starts with identifying the most important ecological feature on sites potentially affected by the proposals, then developing accordingly, Emma explained.

“It’s our job to ensure that ecology is at the forefront of our approach, not an afterthought.”

She explained that the core ecological feature on the Norwich to Tilbury route is ancient woodland, which National Grid has made “significant efforts to avoid”.

As ecology lead, Emma has a project management role that is heavily focused around the consultation periods, when she has direct contact with local communities.

Growing up with grandparents who were farmers, she has been interested in the outdoors since she was a child.

“I was always happiest in wellies,” she said. “I also loved talking to people, so wanted to find a career that blended the outdoors with a social side.”

Emma studied biology at university, whereby she took ecology modules that included practical elements. She also did work experience at an environmental consultancy.

Starting her career on National Grid’s graduate scheme, she worked on the Hinkley Connection Project – which will connect Hinkley Point C nuclear power station to the grid – for more than a decade from 2011 to June 2022.

Eastern Daily Press: Principal ecologist Emma PickeringPrincipal ecologist Emma Pickering (Image: Arcadis)
Emma said there are plenty of opportunities for younger people to work on ecology projects like the Norwich to Tilbury upgrade.

“Due to the seasonality of the work, ecology consultancies are always desperate for assistant field surveyors. These roles are open to anyone – no ecology background is required – and they will be paid to gain work experience alongside a senior field surveyor.

“It offers a great opportunity to get a proper understanding of what’s involved, as well as gain valuable experience which can be called upon at a later date.”

More broadly, it’s a chance to leave a long-term legacy on local environments.

“Working on big projects means you can have a big impact,” Emma concluded.

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This article is part of LOCALiQ's Clean & Green campaign, which aims to promote our region as the biggest in the UK and Europe for all forms of renewable energy.