Controversy. It’s an emotive word and not surprisingly, it’s use can be controversial.
And in the last 18 months, there has been a great deal of controversy in the field of ecology, in the field of planning, and in the fields themselves. And you can read about other ecological controversies here, here, here, here, here and here. I cannot remember the last time there has been such consistent controversy around ecological subjects as diverse as illegal persecution of birds of prey (raptors), the use of lead shot, upland habitat management, badgers and bovine tuberculosis (bTB) or environmental awareness.
But what has this got to do with a blog that primarily writes about ecology within the planning system?
Well, in my view, one connection is this. Wherever and whenever a developer or company engages and interacts with the natural environment, or indeed with our cultural heritage, they are expected to behave and by and large do behave, not just within the law, but meeting or exceeding industry best practice. Biodiversity (or nature conservation) is just one element of a series of environmental disciplines that are appraised (informally) or assessed (formally as an element of the Environmental Impact Assessment process) within the planning process and a considerable amount of money is spent by developers doing so. Indeed, the ‘green economy’ as reported by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) accounted for over a third of the UK’s economic growth in 2011/ 2012 and employs just under 1 million people (in 2010/ 2011). These are large numbers so nature conservation and biodiversity, just in economic terms, should be…no…must be taken very seriously. So in the context of two of the controversies mentioned above, here are some thoughts of mine.
Normally, anyone, including developers, when faced with an active badger sett within or in close proximity to their site would be expected to obtain a special derogation licence, issued by, in England, Natural England to enable them to either disturb or in certain circumstances, move the badgers on (see here for information). Developers in Somerset or Gloucestershire where their project coincides with one of the badger cull pilot areas (and assuming the cull actually goes ahead) could end up paying a consultant to complete the survey work, paperwork and mitigation when in ‘the field next door’, badgers are being culled under a separate licence.
Illegal Persecution of Raptors
There have been several incidents of dead birds of prey (raptors) being recovered by members of the public, including golden eagles, an iconic bird of Scottish moors and uplands. A very recent Government report by the Environmental Audit Committee in to wildlife crime has documented 633 confirmed bird poisoning incidents (so excluding birds being shot, trapped or snared) between 2002 and 2011. Many of these will be in upland areas, which may also be close to, or similar to, locations where renewable energy companies consider erecting wind turbines. The latter can be contentious too, but responsible developers undertake a considerable amount of effort, time and therefore cost, to understand whether the turbines, be they single or clusters, effect local bird populations, in particular raptors, wildfowl (ducks and geese) and waders (e.g. golden plover). So, in some circumstances, developers may be paying money to survey for birds on or close to sites where allegedly, some of the bird species (raptors) are being illegally killed by unknown third parties. This latter behaviour has absolutely nothing to do with the renewable energy companies, who can and do undertake (and pay for) beneficial habitat restoration on their sites. In other words, on paper, these birds should be there (based on habitat) but may be in some areas, based on some circumstantial evidence, they might not be as a result of illegal activity. And the costs and and effort and goodwill put in to restoring these habitats for breeding raptors may be damaged (?vandalised in a sense) as a consequence of behaviour by unknown third parties.
The points being made in relation to the subjects covered by the above two headings, and in particular, in relation to the badger cull, are that one business sector expends time, effort, money and possibly frustration in ensuring that their commercial objectives attain an acceptable level of ecological due diligence.
Within the planning process, the statutory authorities (Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Countryside Council for Wales); or stakeholders such as the RSPB or the Wildlife Trusts will review and pass comment on many planning applications which may have impacts and therefore effects on the aforementioned species. Some of their comments may be supportive, neutral or critical of the application’s ecological surveys (I hope not too many of mine!). From the developer’s perspective, these critiscisms may seem disproportionate or reasonable, depending on the content and context. But I wonder what developer’s think about the impending badger cull or the continuued illegal persecution of raptors? The former does not seem to be supported by science (but how they deal with badgers on or immediately adjacent to their development site is expected to); and the latter, which arguably contributes a significant and uncontrolled effect on raptor populations appear to rarely go challenged or reported. And in the case of one location near Hebden Bridge, in Yorkshire and not too far from me, the alleged wrong doings appear to be suddenly acceptable.
So it is in this context that I consider that developers may be interested in the ongoing ecological controversies. Of course, I am not advocating that the legislation and industry best practice that developers adhere to should be loosened (far from it!), but the badger cull and wildlife crime highlights the differences that developers may experience (and therefore question) and specifically with the badger cull, a potential paradox.