Posts Tagged ‘Ecology & Planning’

I estimate, that mid-June in each and every year, is approximately the middle of the calendar year; and approximately the middle of the main ecology survey season (in the UK).  With an enforced few days in the office given the weather (cool, grey skies and damp conditions), why mention the blues?

Well, I don’t want readers (Yes! it is still the plural) to think I have sunk in to a depression given the imminent EU Referendum (I haven’t).  It is just that as an invertebrate ecologist (mainly it would seem nowadays), I seek, I crave, I aspire to the blues.  Blue skies.


Blue skies over flower-rich grassland.  An invertebrate and an invertebrate ecologist's delight

Blue skies over flower-rich grassland. An invertebrate and an invertebrate ecologist’s delight!

Blue skies equals, in a UK summer, high pressure.  Meteorologically and work wise.  It means that I am busy, in the field surveying.  In 2016, I have been, and will continue to be surveying in various locations between south-west Scotland (near Stranraer) and east Kent (east of Canterbury).  And various places in between.  But today is a grey day so I am ‘stuck’ in the office.

A form of invertebrate survey, be it an initial appraisal or more detailed surveys are increasingly being asked for pre-planning by local authorities and environmental consultancies.  I don’t know why this seems to be the case.  It might be merely a consequence of an improving economy and an increase in house building (for example).  But it might also be that ecologists in consultancies, ecologists in local authorities and environmental co-ordinators within larger developers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to understand what invertebrates, be they individual species, assemblages or guilds such as pollinators, could be or are present on site.  May be developers, business & industry, and local authorities ‘connect’ with the concept that insects such as pollinators are ‘useful’ (as are dung-beetles which are more than proverbially useful)?  Whatever the reason, 2016 is exceptionally busy for me and I am very grateful to all my clients for commissioning me to work with them.

Indeed, it is so busy that I have, with the client’s agreement, delayed a survey until 2017.  So whilst I will be very busy during the second half of 2016 (be it the calendar year or ecology survey season), it remains a good time for others to consider if a site might need an invertebrate survey.

Like the appearance of blue skies, it is gladdening to know that invertebrates are increasing their profile and recognition within the planning and nature conservation sector.


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It has been a significant time since I last wrote a post; indeed it is approximately 3.5 months ago.  April, May, June and so far in July, I have been continuously busy with surveys in various places in England including Devon, Buckinghamshire, London, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Cumbria and the Outer Hebrides.  The surveys have mostly been of the invertebrate variety and have included greenfield and brownfield sites; supporting Ecological Impact Assessments and pure ecological research.

Whilst I am writing this looking out of my new office (I have moved to north Leeds in May 2015) to clear blue skies, the season has been challenging owing to prolonged periods of poor spring and early summer weather…not conducive or helpful for invertebrate surveys.

What is stimulating me to write this short blog is the recent article on BBC News (see here) which reports on today’s publication by HM Treasury entitled “Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation“.  In particular, Chapter 9 of the document and specifically paragraphs 9.15 and 9.16:

9.15 The government has already committed to legislating for statutory registers of brownfield land suitable for housing in England. The government will go further by legislating to grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites identified on those registers, subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details. On brownfield sites, this will give England a ‘zonal’ system, like those seen in many other countries, reducing unnecessary delay and uncertainty for brownfield development.
9.16 In the spring, the government consulted on reforms to bring forward more brownfield land for development by making the compulsory purchase regime clearer, faster and fairer for all parties. This first round of reforms will be introduced through legislation in this session of Parliament. A number of additional proposals have been received from that consultation; the government is considering the case for these additional compulsory purchase reforms to further modernise the system, and will bring forward proposals in the autumn. These will allow local authorities and others to drive forward and shape brownfield development, and will not alter the principle of Secretary of State sign-off on compulsory purchase orders.

[bold text, Government’s emphasis]

On first appraisal, the proposals are suggesting that this process, if implemented, will result in planning applications, and therefore construction, becoming easier and reaching completion more quickly with less due diligence than is currently the case.

However, there is a key phrase that is worth noting.  In paragraph 9.15, “…automatic permission in principle…,subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details.” implies that the necessary due diligence (contaminated land and remediation and protecting species and habitats, including great crested newts, bats, invertebrates and communities such as the UK Habitat of Principal Importance (= UK Priority Habitat), Open Mosaic Habitat on Previously Developed Land (OMH) will still require consideration, survey and appropriate and proportionate mitigation and enhancement in accordance with legislation, other Government policy drivers (e.g. Biodiversity 2020) and the British Standard (BS42020: Biodiversity in Planning & Development).

So, in my view and perhaps others (e.g. here), the proposed new policy implementation may not be as helpful as George Osborne may wish.

This leads neatly on to my and Sarah Henshall’s article published in the June 2015 issue of In Practice published by the Chartered Institute of Ecology & Environmental Management (see below).

Proposed New Guidance for Commissioning Terrestrial Invertebrate Surveys – A Call for Feedback

Proposed New Guidance for Commissioning Terrestrial Invertebrate Surveys – A Call for Feedback

The Government is clearly pushing for development on brownfield sites and the pressures on biodiversity is likely to increase.  The proposed guidance is aimed at consultant ecologists and local authority ecologists, though planners can read it too!  It is hoped that it will provide a useful single resource to allow a consistent approach when considering whether invertebrate surveys are required…on brownfield or greenfield sites.  Please take time to read the article and if you have any comments or suggestions on what the proposed new guidance should contain, please send me, in the first instance, some feedback to my e-mail address (see contacts page).


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About a month ago, the National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG) was published and I wrote the first of my blog entries shortly afterwards.  And in it, I wrote:

And here I present the first confusing element of the new NPPG (in relation to biodiversity remember). The new NPPG makes reference to the Government Circular in Paragraph 11 and Paragraph 16 of the Natural Environment section.

I was referring to the different tenses mentioning Government Circular 06/05 Biodiversity and Geological Conservation in the respective paragraphs.  One referred to it in the past tense, the other in the current; so it wasn’t clear whether the Circular remained extant, or not.  So I e-mailed the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) with two queries relating to this and another point.  This week, I received the reply.

DCLG wrote that “Circular 06/2005, which is a joint circular with Defra, has not been cancelled and remains extant.”.

So that clears this up.  Government Circular 06/2005 remains extant and a live document.  Unlike the the 13-page list of guidance documents that have met the shredder.  One guidance document relating to biodiversity has been cancelled, that being Planning for Biodiversity and Geological Conservation: A Guide to Good Practice, which underpinned Planning Statement 9.

However, there are nine documents that are related to the broader environment which have been cancelled:

  • Evaluation of Environmental Information for Planning Projects: A Good Practice Guide (1994);
  • MPG 14: Environment Act 1995: review of mineral planning permissions (1995) and related annexes;
  • Preparation of Environmental Statements for Planning Projects That Require Environmental Assessment: A Good Practice Guide (1995);
  • Circular 02/99 – Environmental Impact Assessment (1999);
  • Environmental Impact Assessment: A guide to procedures (2000);
  • Note on Environmental Impact Assessment Directive for Local Planning Authorities (2004);
  • Letter to Chief Planning Officers (2006): Planning Applications: Arrangements for Consulting Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment as a NonStatutory Consultee;
  • Environmental Impact Assessment and Reviews of Mineral Planning Conditions (2008); and
  • Letter to Chief Planning Officers: Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – Implications of recent judgments 18 Nov 2009.

A quick perusal of these documents doesn’t immediately alert me to any specific concerns relating to biodiversity and nature conservation but that is not to say that their demise will be beneficial or neutral.  Indeed, Martin Goodall’s planning blog on this subject condemns the NPPG and the loss of much useful guidance “…which, in my professional opinion, it was folly to scrap.“.

The other query put to DCLG related specifically to Paragraph 16: How should biodiversity be taken into account in preparing a planning application?

Paragraph 16 clearly deals with biodiversity and not just European Protected Species (under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010) such as great crested newts; or domestic protected species (e.g. under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) such as the water vole.

Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus).  A European Protected Species and Biodiversity

Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus). It’s biodiversity, but not as DCLG know’s it (see paragraphs below for explanation)

In the second sub-paragraph of Paragraph 16, the NPPG states:

Where an Environmental Impact Assessment is not needed it might still be appropriate to undertake an ecological survey, for example, where protected species may be present. Separate guidance is to be published by Defra on statutory obligations in regard to protected species which will replace the advice previously set out in Circular 06/05: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation.

[Note: bold text is my emphasis and the hyperlink connected to the word ‘guidance’ links to Defra’s website on the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives Review].

Now, does this ‘separate guidance’ refer to all biodiversity or just, as the hyperlinked text implies, only European Protected Species.  In my view, this is not particularly clear, espcially as Paragraph 16 is deaing with biodiversity.  On first reading, it would suggest that the new separate guidance will be for robins, as well as for bats.

A bat and a robin. NPPG  isn't clear as to which 'species' are being referred to (in my opinion).

A bat and a robin. NPPG isn’t clear as to which ‘species’ are being referred to (in my opinion).

DCLG replied stating that:

…the hyperlink in Paragraph 16 of the Natural Environment guidance has not been made in error as the sentence within which it is embedded deals specifically with European Protected Species…

The link refers to a review of guidance that forms part of Defra’s Smarter Guidance project. The project is in the process of comprehensively reviewing all user-facing guidance provided by Defra and its agencies. This includes unpublished draft guidance produced following the Habitats Review as well as all other published Government biodiversity guidance. I am not in a position to advise on the timetable for this work.

Hang on a second!  If Paragraph 16 is seeking to allow an individual to understand how biodiversity is taken in to account in the planning system, why insert a reference to new guidance on European Protected Species here?  Surely it would be better to just refer to it in Paragraph 11?  In doing so, this would remove the confusion (or may be I am just easily confused)? This may seem a pedantic point to make; but if the purpose of the new guidance is to present it in a usable and accessible way, it doesn’t seem to have got off to an auspicious start.

So to conclude Part 2, whilst Government Circular 06/2005 remains extant, ironically (based on DCLG’s response), it will be amended (Paragraphs 103 to 117 inclusive) at a future date though the timetable for this has yet to be finalised.

My final entry (Part 3), will form the next blog.

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Well, that was the summer that nearly wasn’t; to almost paraphrase a 1960s satire.

I’m writing this in my new office, under the rain and overlooking my garden.  A much better view than the one I had previously.

My old office view (left) and my new one (right)

The garden has a pond (with newts, but not these ones, and frogs in), which is planted up with native flora – purple loosestrife, brooklime, gypsywort, yellow-flag, common fleabane, cuckoo-flower and greater bird’s-foot trefoil…to name but seven species.  Surrounding the pond is a ‘meadow’; well, it is half the lawn that is left uncut between April and approximately September, which I’ve supplemented with some other native species, such as common bird’s-foot trefoil, common knapweed, cowslip, ox-eye daisy and meadow buttercup.  If I had my way entirely, I’d have stripped off the lawn, inverted the soil and sown a wildflower meadow mix…but I had to compromise, such is married life!

The garden is now my daughter’s playground so the meadow is subjected to a little more trampling than usual, and the snails get a bit more harassed and the little frogs get a good work out as my daughter practices being an ecologist…but she is only three and it is great to know that she won’t be suffering from nature defecit-disorder.  And in no more than two weeks time, she’ll be joined by a baby brother or sister…so I may be preoccupied during the last few days of September and the first week or so in October.

In the meantime, I hope to be able to spend a little more time writing; it’s been a while since I last wrote a technical blog and there has been much to write about – those of you that read my summer newsletter will recall that I mentioned the Good Practice Guidance for Green Infrastructure, which was published in July 2012; or the European Biodiversity Standard; and there is this website too which is well-worth a look.  My lack of writing has largely been due to a lot of survey work, which has included Phase 1 habitat, invertebrate and birds, with a little bit of helping out on nocturnal (and dawn) bat surveying.  My autumn and winter is looking to be reasonably busy too, if some of the proposals come to fruition; but that doesn’t mean to say I wouldn’t want more!

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You may have noted a reduced output of blogs this last few weeks.  This is owing to a large number of surveys that I am undertaking (largely breeding bird and amphibian related) and I have been away from my desk a fair amount.  However, it does remain for me to point out that the next four months are the peak period for ecology surveys so if you have any queries or need for an ecologist, please explore my website and contact me via e-mail or mobile phone; both of which can be accessed by me in the field (thanks to modern technology)!

I’ll be hoping to provide a more news orientated blog in the next week or so.  In the mean time, the survey calendat below may prove to be of use.

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Well, after a break from the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), and having written two previous post-publication blogs on the subject (see here and here), it is high time to conclude my thoughts…at least for now.


This Friday will be exactly one month since the NPPF was published.  Based on statistics published on the Department of Communities and Local Government website, approximately 40,000 planning applications will have been submitted during this period.  That is a lot of decisions to be made.  In fact just under 240 decisions per minute.  Just as well they reduced the amount of text then!

Of course, the above figures include private extensions, changes in use and other minor elements of the planning process which will barely touch on the NPPF so it isn’t really fair to infer that such a large number of decisions have already been made and taken in to account the NPPF in any detail.  But in all seriousness, what is the outcome of the NPPF and how has it been used (if it has), in the context of nature conservation and biodiversity, in the first few weeks of its existence?

Well, to summarise the previous two blogs, the main topics of discussion were:

  • Brundtland definition of sustainability: now in; but not contained within the policy section;
  • Brownfield sites: effect on the Priority Habitat (Open Mosaic Habitats) and confusion over terminology;
  • Guidance documents: retention of Planning Policy Statement 9’s supporting guidance and Government Circular 06/ 2005 on biodiversity and geology; and
  • Presumption: the use of the word and its meaning in law.

Already, there has been evidence of confusion and from one prominent individual.  His photo garnishes the ministerial forward on page ii of the NPPF…yes, Greg Clark.  The Minister for Planning.  The author.  The top dog.  Where the buck stops.  Except, that it would seem that the buck has been passed on.

Speaking to the British Property Federation in the second half of April, Greg Clark stated that the NPPF is a:

“…framework for local decision-taking” and it is for councils to make judgements on its interpretation.

So it would seem that it is entirely up to local authorities to make local decisions for local people.  And just in case a planning inspector disagreed with a local decision, Greg has helpfully added that he’ll be keeping a close eye on such behaviour to ensure it doesn’t happen.  If this is confusing, then helpfully, the DCLG has provided a helpline to help local people make their local decision.  Except, in a bizarre twist, the Chief Planner has confirmed that the helpline is not there for local (or national) people to get help about the policy.  So in what circumstances would you ring it?

I imagine that this is all getting quite tedious by now; the message is consistently inconsistent, there will inevitably be confusion and legal challenges.  Just as well then that the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) has produced a checklist and an “about the NPPF” page; except, when you read it, it is not particularly helpful unless you are a local authority looking to ensure that its Local Development Document (LDD) is aligned with the NPPF…but hang on a second…surely local people make the local decisions; so if they decide that their LDD is not going to be aligned to the NPPF, what then?  The planning inspector daren’t raise this as his/ her boss is keeping a close eye on him/ her to make sure that the local decision is respected.  And Greg has said that it is up to councils to make the judgement.  And no one can ring the helpline as it is not there to get help.  Hmmm…are you thinking what I’m thinking?

I have a cunning plan...

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I’ve just come back from an ancient woodland…a very ancient woodland.  It has probably not changed much, definitely for hundreds of years, possibly for thousands of years and potentially for several million years.  It owes its existence and importance to the northern European ice age, its precarious position on steep volcanic slopes, the local climate and isolation from anywhere elsewhere in Europe or North Africa.

Corona Forestal Site of Community Importance, a European Protected Site of importance for its birds, plants and habitats

The woodland I was walking through and up can be found on the northern, wetter side of Tenerife and clings to the steep slopes of Mount Teide, the third largest (by volume) volcano in the world.  It is a particular kind of woodland known as Laurel Forest or ‘Laurisilva‘.  This particular and rather odd woodland was once distributed right across the Mediterreanean Basin from the Caspian Sea in the east to the Iberian Peninsula in the west.  Today, as a consequence of climate change, initiated by the last Ice Age, they cling on, metaphorically and literally, to a few of the Macronesian islands, which the Canary Islands (and therefore Tenerife) form a constituent part.  There is a certain atmosphere walking through a habitat and seeking fauna (endemic pigeons in my case) that has changed little for millions of years (plant fossils show little if any differences to today’s living specimens).

And something else may have experienced little or minimal change.


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