Exclusion habitats – a way to avoid unnecessary conflict when building new transport infrastructure

To facilitate the planning process of new transport infrastructure, it is essential to avoid unnecessary conflict with biodiversity conservation. By ”unnecessary conflict” we mean impacts on biodiversity that can be easily avoided if brought to the table on an early planning stage, but may cause predicaments, distress and delays later in the process if not well acknowledged. One such unnecessary conflict is that over small biodiversity hotspots. Most landscapes, also seminatural, cultivated or urbanized landscapes, contain certain habitat patches or features that are critical to the welfare of many or rare species; thus, conserving those features can have huge pay off for species conservation. Large solitary trees, hedgerows, rocky outcrops, natural springs, ponds and streams are all examples of ecosystem features that support far more species than one would predict based on their size alone. The small size of such ecosystem features make them particularly sensitive to the large scale habitat transformation caused by infrastructure construction, as they easily loose their ecological function or are wiped out completely. Their small size should however also make them relatively easy to avoid exploiting. Even in lack of formal protection of these small biodiversity hotspots, infrastructure developers should, for the sake of both biodiversity conservation and planning efficiency, voluntarily acknowledge and protect them. Accordingly, we have established the concept of ”exclusion habitats” for the Swedish Transport Administration (STA) – small habitats patches or features that should not be touched by new state-owned roads or railways. We have listed a number of exclusion habitats for Sweden, based on four criteria: the habitat should be i) limited in size, ii) well defined/easily identified, iii) non-restorable, and iv) important for species conservation. The exclusion habitat concept, including the habitat list, has been communicated with a range of conservation professionals, and is now integrated into planning guidelines for STA. In this poster, we present the exclusion habitat concept and describe some potential opportunities and risks that we have identified with the concept. The opportunities include, i.a, a smoother planning process, new options for biodiversity monitoring, and a ”spill-over” effect on conservation of and research on biodiversity hotspots in the larger society. The risks include a loss of focus on other (larger) conservation areas or non-listed habitats, and a loss of landscape perspective. Exclusion habitats provide a new tool for road and railway planning, but the outcome of this new tool is yet to be followed up.

Biodiversity hotspots, Exclusion habitats, Infrastructure planning