How to compare herbaceous plants survey quotations?

First, it is essential to determine if an herbaceous plants survey is necessary at all. If a detailed plan or design requirements require it and the local government has mandated it, it’s clear. But what to do if the need for this site investigation study is not clear?

Herbaceous plants survey is not necessary in areas where human activity is and has been regular, such as Lawn site type, Vegetation of yards and road edges, or Park/orchard site type areas. The obligation to conduct herbaceous plants survey extends to undeveloped areas where new housing, utilities and structures are planned. If it’s unclear whether this particular site investigation study is needed, it’s advisable to clarify this with the local government first and include this information in the inquiry.

After sending out the design brief and necessary additional materials with the request for herbaceous plants survey quotations to various partners, it’s time to start comparing the received quotations. While it may seem logical to compare quotes based on price alone, especially since the same information was sent to all, making a final decision based solely on price may not be wise.

Here’s a list of factors to consider when comparing quotations:

Content of the quotation

It’s crucial to analyze whether what was requested in the initial task is reflected in the quotation.

The scope

Inventory should be conducted within the design work area and relevant contact area. Sometimes the size of the contact area is specified in the design requirements; sometimes it is not. If the scope of the contact area is not specified, this should be agreed upon with the local government. Generally, a 5-10 m wide area around the property is sufficient, but this needs to be included in the request for quotation and verified if the service provider accounts for such a work area.

Suitable methodology for the survey, experience, and competence of the expert

It is crucial to ensure that the service provider has the necessary competencies, knowledge, and skills for herbaceous plants survey. Usually, a degree in biology, ecology, or equivalent is sufficient. However, it’s worth verifying the specific field of expertise in biology and ecology, as an expert in carnivores or birds may not be as competent in herbaceous plants. You can ask the service provider about their competencies. A portfolio can provide a good overview of previous work experience.

Different methodologies allow for different levels of detail in inventory. The most commonly used methodology for herbaceous plant survey is the “Classification of Estonian vegetation site types” described by Jaanus Paal, which allows determining vegetation site types.

Depending on the size of the area of interest, one must decide how to apply the methodology – whether to work through the area in transects and observe changes in communities, or whether a more general overview across the area is sufficient. Here, the experience of the herbaceous plants expert is crucial – how well they can identify plants in vegetative stages, their experience with more rare species, communities, and vegetation site types.

If it’s known from preliminary data that protected or invasive species grow on the area, it’s essential to plan the work in a way that the relevant species are in a recognizable growth phase during the survey. Additionally, it’s not sufficient to check only previously known coordinates for these species during the survey. Some species are very mobile and they spread or have unpredictable growth cycles, sensitive to changes in light conditions or water regimes.

For example, the presence of one species of orchid can highly indicate the likelihood of finding another orchid species in entirely unexpected places. Thus, it can turn out that under dense alder forest an entire ditch is covered in dozens or even hundreds of broad-leaved helleborine plants, or from the brownfields behind the Linnahall in Tallinn, 4 species of orchids can be found in the wasteland, although looking at the map, one might wonder why it’s necessary to investigate such a plot at all. This way, II category protected species have been unexpectedly found in random places like the shady yard corner of a storage facility or between the wall of a decaying building and the foundation collar.

Karulauku pildistas meie rohttaimede inventeerija Kaie Eha

Our botanist Kaie Eha photographed the Ramsons

Detail level and timing

The seasonal variability of herbaceous plants indicates that fieldwork must be conducted several times during the vegetation period to identify all plants present. In practice, this means fieldwork is done in May-June for identifying species occurring in springtime and in July-August for identifying the species occurring in summer. Attempting a quick survey in late September may completely miss many species growing in spring time, such as ramsons, which can be hard to notice under lush vegetation even in late July unless it’s known that they should be found in a specific area. Similarly, it’s impossible to detect where Canadian goldenrod will thrive in late summer during a May inventory.

The quotation should specify how many times fieldwork is conducted for the survey to identify all herbaceous plants on site. As previously mentioned, it’s not possible to decide the number of inventories based on map data alone – if additional inventory is needed upon arrival, it may be too late to make changes to the quotation. Here, the experience of the expert is helpful – even if the inquiry for the work is made in late summer, it’s wise to ask for two inventory visits during the vegetation period. It’s not responsible to accept a report where the presence of some protected plants occurring in spring time is known in advance, but the site is visited in September when most of the above-ground parts of these species have already disappeared for the year – this leads to misleading information as if the species no longer exists in the area, and necessary measures for their translocation or protection from harmful factors during property development are not undertaken.

Content of the report

The report must include an explanatory note, coordinates of protected plant locations, a list of plants, and a drawing. According to § 53 of the Nature Conservation Act, public disclosure of the exact location of a I and II category protected species individual in mass media is prohibited. This means that if I and II category plants are found, two reports are prepared. The so-called public report does not contain detailed locations of I and II category plants, meaning these plants’ precise locations are omitted from this report (coordinates are not provided and not shown on the drawing). The so-called working report includes the exact locations of I and II category plants on the drawing and their coordinates. This is not made public but is sent to the local government, and design team working on the project.

Communication and cooperation

The best design comes from cooperation. If the design brief isn’t very detailed, for example, if the scope of the site investigation area isn’t defined; or if something else needs clarification, then this information must be requested. If the service provider has asked and clarified these details, it indicates that they have thought through the details about their service and are offering exactly what is needed for this particular design. Efficient and effective communication is a prerequisite for project success. One cannot assume that all parties are aware of the requirements for such work and what site investigation studies are needed in specific locations. Explaining this is even more critical if the site investigation studies are delayed to the following year, as the species visible in spring would otherwise be missing, but the developer or constructor is already in a hurry. Also, it’s already late for a herbaceous plants survey if construction work has already begun on the site and the vegetation has largely been eliminated during earthworks. Here, it’s important to think through the order of tasks, as there’s no time gain if construction is halted due to the absence of herbaceous plant survey.


A portfolio generally provides a good overview of a company’s experience. If there’s previous experience with the company and a positive history of collaboration, that’s beneficial. Otherwise, feedback from previous clients can be valuable to understand the company’s reputation. Additionally, recommendations from colleagues who have had positive experiences can be helpful.

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