Biodiversity is defined as, “All the different kinds of life you’ll find in one area – the variety of animals, plants, fungi and even micro-organisms such as bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life” *
There is extensive legislation and guidance which places responsibilities and duties, both legal and best practice, on all public bodies as well as individuals across the UK and the world. Worcester, although a City, is a very biodiverse district with many green assets, including its own Green Infrastructure which is included in the planning policies of the South Worcestershire Development Plan. All around the City are the important habitats which support all the species that comprise well balanced biodiversity locally, and one purpose of the planning system in Local Government Districts is to sustain and enhance this environmental quality across the area of its jurisdiction, and in particular make sure it is positively considered in all planning applications. National and other legislation concerning species and the environment must also be properly heeded where development, from large to small, is concerned.
Connectivity and Biodiversity Enhancement
Native species are usually highly mobile and move from place to place, for example, to feed and breed. Biodiversity cannot exist effectively in isolation and needs to be part of a connected system often referred to as Green Infrastructure. This can be of varied quality from important nature reserves to a single hedgerow or road verge, but allows movement of insects (e.g., pollinators) and other wildlife between sites and areas of habitat they may use (for shelter, food, breeding etc) Such a network has been defined for the City and it is always considered if a planning application might affect it, especially if lost or broken. The planning system will also try to enhance biodiversity within the proposals it sees, and this can be especially effective if associated with greenspace connectivity due to its position. Creation of new green connections are especially important and sought after. Biodiversity enhancement does not always have to be because mitigation is required, but also to add to the City’s native habitat and quality of life for residents. It is worth remembering that there are health benefits, for example, to tree and woodland planting related to air quality, as well as leisure activities and even aspects of mental health have been concluded by some studies.
Examples of good biodiversity enhancement in Worcester
One of the best examples in the City would be Plantation Drive and Parsonage Way woodland corridor. It’s now more mature and is both a new native woodland area on what was an open site initially. It’s also very good strategically in connecting together the formerly isolated woodlands of Warndon Wood and Tolladine Wood Local Nature Reserves. The biodiversity there now is very much improved with many native species such as Oak, Ash, Field Maple and Wild Cherry thriving, together with a developing woodland floor and all the species associated with the habitat.
Warndon Villages' green corridor
There are other good examples in Warndon Villages such as the cycleway/footway corridors, often based on existing hedgerows or old field boundaries. Many have been supplemented with native copse and wildflower meadow areas, increasing the biodiversity and value as connecting green corridors is so important in green infrastructure planning and provision.
Another good example involving a single housing development is the former Fire Engine factory site near Gregory’s Bank. Here historically the stream was put in a duct under the factory, entering and exiting a large pipe at each end of the site. The new layout involved exposing the stream in a new shallow valley forming a green corridor through the new housing area. Together with native planting including the new banks of the watercourse the biodiversity enhancement here is excellent and includes the now exposed aquatic habitats.
At a smaller scale there are two examples of single private dwellings using green building technology with surrounding gardens featuring woodland, orchard and native flower meadows where good biodiversity has been achieved. Also of course in a densely urban setting the planting of a single native tree can represent enhancement over existing tarmac or concrete.
Bird boxes can also provide shelter and breeding opportunities for various species of birds, especially where in towns and cities, the usual nesting habitat is in short supply or tending to disappear due to development. Old trees especially which need maturity to provide the holes required for the nest sites of many species such as Blue and Great Tits, House Sparrow, Robin and others, need many years to mature even if replaced, so a box will offer the site needed to keep breeding numbers in good order.
Sparrow Nest Box
Private gardens are often full of food and shelter for birds, so boxes located on or near dwellings can be especially beneficial. Some birds have specialist needs, such as the Swift, which due to modern building techniques and maintenance are losing the cracks and crannies they need here when they return from Africa to breed.
Bats too are gradually losing their natural roosting and breeding sites, so specialist boxes for them help a great deal to conserve the many species of bats we have in the City. These “artificial” habitats nevertheless add to the biodiversity in a different way, allowing species earlier opportunities (or to continue) to breed, and especially in towns and cities where natural habitats are inevitably less than in the countryside.
The ultimate example of a specialist bird “box” is the platform for the Peregrine Falcons, now breeding again successfully in Worcester due in huge part to that particular new enhancement to its territory.
- Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
- Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000
- The Natural Environment & Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 (which imposes a statutory duty on all Local Authorities to conserve biodiversity)
- Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended)
- Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (known as the 2010 Habitats Regulations)
- The Protection of Badgers Act 1982
Planning Policy and Guidance
- The National Planning Policy Framework
- Planning for Biodiversity and Geological Conservation: A Guide to Good Practice
- Government Circular 06/2055.
When are surveys required?
It is important to know what is on or near a site from a biodiversity assets point of view before proposals are planned out or designed so that they can be fully considered, ideally retained and/or enhanced, as proposals develop over time. At the decision stage of any proposal all these aspects must be known so that a sustainable decision can be reached, they cannot be conditioned for later.
- Look for features or habitats such as – ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, woodland, hedgerows, veteran and other trees, grassland, gardens (especially mature ones) and allotments. ‘Brownfield sites' can be equally important for biodiversity, many species may use them, and especially so when adjacent to or linked to another semi-natural habitat. This list is by no means exhaustive.
- Bat surveys are usually required when a development includes demolition and significant modifications or conversions, especially of roofs and roof voids.
- Check with Worcestershire Biological Record Centre for existing records of protected species either on the site or nearby as many species are highly mobile.
- Check with a Planning Officer / Natural Heritage Officer / Biodiversity Advisor
- Note that surveys must be submitted with the planning application (not added as a condition) and must contain enough information to allow a full assessment of the potential impact of the planning proposal on protected species.
- All surveys must be up to date (i.e., normally no more than 12 months old) and carried out by a suitably qualified ecologist.
- Timing is very important, and all surveys must be carried out at the appropriate time of year/day (this may be dependent on hibernation/activity patterns) and under the right conditions (e.g., temperature, visibility and weather)
- Do include relevant mitigation and enhancement measures – also to be shown clearly as part of the design of the planning submission where appropriate.
What constitutes a survey
Surveys can be at different levels depending upon what is appropriate. They may be species-specific if that is the only issue e.g., a bat assessment or full survey depending on requirements. Or they may be site specific such as a Preliminary Ecological Assessment (PEA), or a Full Ecological Survey (Habitat and Species Survey) again depending on requirements. Often a PEA may conclude the need for a full survey if further detail is required, or a further seasonal survey if that is an issue. Speak to your ecologist about what is the most appropriate requirement to assist/be needed for the planning process.
About the Habitat Regulations
If it looks like a protected species or habitat might be affected, especially a EPS (a species of European importance), following an appropriate assessment/survey.
The scheme must demonstrate consideration and compliance with the three derogation tests, where appropriate as below.
The three derogation tests as set out in Regulation 53 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 are:
- Is the development needed for:
- Public health and safety?
- Other imperative reasons of overriding public interest incl. those of a social or economic nature?
- Preventing serious damage to property?
- Are there any satisfactory alternatives (resulting in no or at least less risk of harm)?
- Is there adequate compensation provided to maintain the favourable conservation status of the population of the species?
Note that the European Protected Species regime applies whether related to a planning application or not. All the legislation noted above is “stand alone” legislation which applies outside of the planning system too (except of course the Planning Act, which is concerned directly with planning)
Chris Dobbs CMLI - Landscape and Biodiversity Advisor
other links that may be useful to you:-
- Worcestershire Biodiversity Action Plans
- Bat Conservation Trust
- Worcestershire Biological Records Centre
- Worcestershire Bat Group
- Worcestershire Wildlife Trust
- The Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)
- Herefordshire Nature Trust
- Malvern Hills Trust