Habitat Surveying

This guide is based on the survey instructions “Open Space and Habitat Recording for Greater London”, which can be found as an appendix in “Connecting with London’s nature, the Mayor’s Biodiversity Strategy” 2002 (see references). It gives a very brief overview of the purpose and methodology of surveying to the London Survey Method.

If you are planning to undertake such a survey it is recommended that you refer to the full instructions. This survey format is sufficiently technical that some expertise in ecology is required to undertake the survey. It is not, therefore, suitable for general public use.

Personal Safety

Please read the safety page before planning any survey.


As well as recording various generic information about the site (e.g. site owner, major habitat(s), land use, maintenance etc), a habitat survey also records details of any notable species of flora and fauna and an assessment of species richness for the site. The most appropriate time to carry out a habitat survey is therefore in the spring and summer when the majority of species present at a site can be found.

Monitoring Frequency

A habitat survey would normally be repeated after a period of between five and ten years, but the interval would depend on the reason for the survey.


Survey form, binoculars, appropriate field guides to identify notable species (surveyors would normally require a broad generalist knowledge).


1 – Identifying where to survey

The purpose of habitat surveys is to collect data for open space planning. This requires all appropriate sites within a certain area to be surveyed to collect a full picture for the area. When planning a survey, it is essential to decide on the following criteria before commencing:

  • the geographical area to be covered (e.g. an individual London borough);
  • the minimum size for a site to be surveyed;
  • any land uses or habitats to be excluded. It is usual to cover everything predominantly vegetated or water, except private gardens. Open spaces which are predominantly hard surfaces, such as some town squares, should also be included for open space planning purposes;
  • the level and type of photographic documentation required.

2 – Defining the habitat “parcels”

The basic unit of survey is a piece of land called a “parcel”. A parcel should be as homogeneous as possible in terms of habitat, ownership and public access, and must lie within a single London borough. This can be a small individual site (e.g. a town square) or part of a larger site (e.g. a lake in a park).

These parcels and sites are defined on a survey map. This is usually at a 1:10,000 scale, although larger scales may be appropriate for parts of central London. The maps also indicate the habitat composition of the parcels, either with a colour code or with coded notes. Public access points to sites are also indicated on the maps.

3 – Undertaking the survey visit

Each parcel also has a written record on one or more standard A4 forms. Every parcel must be noted on the first form, which collects information about its name, location, ownership, habitats, species richness and details of the surveyor and the date and duration of visit.

The reverse of the form collects information on land use and planning status, accessibility, nature conservation interest, recreational facilities, potential for enhancement, threats, change since previous survey and an evaluation of the nature conservation importance of the parcel.

There is a field on this form to cover every aspect normally covered in surveys of this kind except for the species of plants present, for which there is an additional (optional) checklist form. This plant recording form will usually only be used for the more interesting or diverse parcels. It allows the collection of a list of species identified, with a coarse indication of abundance and qualifiers relating to maturity and distribution within the parcel. This information can also optionally be written on the parcel form.

A third form is available as a continuation sheet, or for a revisit when the standard details remain much the same. The plant recording form can also be used as a stand-alone form for use on successive visits to a parcel if no major changes have occurred.

Detailed instructions for completing the survey forms can be found in the GLA Habitat Survey Instructions.

Normally only one visit will be made to each parcel during the survey period, as the aim of the survey is to give a broad overview of the habitat, and not to identify a full list of all species present. The survey form includes space to record details of the weather and the time spent surveying the parcel. It is important that this information is recorded as they may have a significant effect on the numbers and types of species found at a site (e.g. on a dull, wet day very few butterflies will be found even if a number of species are present at the site).


Connecting With London’s Nature: The Mayor’s Biodiversity Strategy, 2002, Appendix 4 – Open Space and Habitat survey for London.