Case Study: Ecology Survey in Oxfordshire

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The Wychwood Foundation is a charitable organisation that has submitted a planning application to build nine new apartments for those in need of extra care later in life or those with a debilitating illness. The apartments will also house those live-in care staff that provide the support for the residents. The development site lies adjacent to C.S Lewis Nature Reserve and there are concerns about the impact on the nature reserve and its resident wildlife.

A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal carried out by Arbtech in March 2016 identified suitable habitat on site for: amphibians including great crested newts, reptiles, roosting, foraging and commuting bats and breeding birds. There was also evidence of a badger sett. The following assessments and recommendations were made:

Designated sites

Impacts: Noise, light and dust pollution from the development could have negative impacts on the adjacent nature reserve.
Mitigation: protective, closed board fencing should be erected around the development area in order to protect the adjacent habitats from impacts including pollution. There should be a review of the design to ensure no light spill or disturbance post development.

Habitats and plants

Impacts: there will be a permanent loss of rough improved and amenity grass and scrub habitat along with several trees. Adjacent woodland and water bodies could be impacted by dust and light pollution during construction activities.

Mitigation and compensation: protective, closed board fencing should be erected around the development area in order to protect the adjacent habitats from damage and pollution. The loss of the grass and scrub habitats can be compensated for by additional scrub planting around the remainder of the grassland on site that will not be developed. The quality of the retained grassland should be improved through increasing species and structural diversity.

Enhancements: a full ecological constraints and opportunities plan should be created to inform detailed design and mitigation.

Protected species and species of principal importance

Bats:

Impacts: roosting, commuting and foraging bats could be impacted by the additional lighting on site which could disrupt their natural behaviours and could lead to roosts being abandoned which would contravene legislation. The tree line along the western boundary has the highest risk as two of the trees have features that could support roosting bats. These trees are not identified for removal.

Mitigation: a dark corridor will need to be left around all tree lines/woodland areas. A dark buffer of at least 3m should be left along the western and southern tree lines so that these areas can continue to be used by bats. Any additional lighting on site should be on downward facing deflectors and PIR sensors to avoid excess light spill. If these measures cannot be achieved, further surveys may be required in order to establish the presence/absence of roosting bats on site and how commuting and foraging bats are using the site in order to determine whether a licence is needed to carry out the work.

Enhancements: three bat boxes should be added to trees within the woodland to the south. Schwegler 2FN boxes are appropriate for woodland and should be positioned at least 3m off the ground and face in a south/south westerly direction. Bat friendly planting can be added to the landscaping design to attract invertebrates that bats will feed on. The bat conservation trust publication Encouraging Bats provides a list of species: http://www.bats.org.uk/publications_detail.php/231/encouraging_bats.

Breeding birds:

Impacts: tree and scrub/long grassland removal could destroy in-use nests and could kill or injure birds and their young, which would contravene legislation. There will be a small but permanent loss of habitat, however given the abundance of woodland both on and adjacent to the site and further habitat to the south, the loss of habitat is unlikely to impact bird populations in the area.

Mitigation: removal of trees and scrub/long grassland should take place outside of the bird breeding season from March to August. If this timeframe cannot be avoided, a breeding bird check must be carried out immediately prior to clearance and any in-use nests found must be left until the young have fledged. The lost scrub and grassland habitat should be replaced elsewhere on site to mitigate for habitat loss. At least four bird nesting boxes should be added within the woodland on site. Schwegler 1B bird boxes are suitable to attach to the trees. Fruiting and flowering plant species should be included in new landscaping to provide foraging resources.

Enhancements: A green roof could be considered as an enhancement to provide additional habitat for birds on top of the above mitigation.

Reptiles:

Impacts: reptiles may be killed or injured during the grassland and scrub removal. There will be a permanent loss of grassland and scrub habitat.

Mitigation: mitigation measures will be determined once further surveys have been undertaken to establish the presence of reptiles, species and population size. This may involve translocation of reptiles to a suitable receptor site so that they are not harmed during development which would contravene legislation.

Enhancements: log, earth and vegetation piles can be created around the site to provide hibernacula/refugia for reptiles.

Great crested newts:

Impacts: if GCN are present within the ponds in the local area, they are likely to be using the scrub, grassland and woodland on site. GCN could be killed or injured during vegetation removal and there will be a loss of habitat which would contravene legislation.
Mitigation and compensation: mitigation and compensation measures will be designed once the presence or likely absence of GCN within the ponds on and surrounding the site has been established. If GCN are present, a European protected species licence (EPSL) may be required to carry out the development.

Enhancements: ponds on site can be enhanced for GCN by decreasing shading around ponds and dredging the ponds to improve structure and increase depth (under licence if GCN are present).

Arbtech are creating a full ecological mitigation plan and carrying out reptile and great crested newt surveys in 2017 in order to achieve planning consent, and ensure that the development does not contravene legislation concerned protected species. The DEFRA Circular 06/05 states: ‘It is essential that the presence or otherwise of protected species, and the extent that they may be affected by the proposed development, is established before the planning permission is granted, otherwise all relevant material considerations may not have been addressed in making the decision.’ All protected species work will need to be carried out before planning consent can be given. Any mitigation measures and subsequent licences (if necessary) can be addressed in a planning condition.

As well as protecting and mitigating for protected species that could be impacted by the development, it will also need to be demonstrated that a net gain in biodiversity can be achieved as per the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) paragraph 109 that states the planning system should ‘‚Ķcontribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by: minimising impacts on biodiversity and providing net gains in biodiversity where possible, contributing to the Government’s commitment to halt the overall decline in biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures.’ This will be achieved through an enhancement and long term management plan that will focus on the retained habitats on site and also the adjacent nature reserve.

With the right surveys, mitigation, compensation and enhancements, there is no reason why the development cannot provide a long term benefit to the community, as well as the wildlife that is such an important asset to the local area.

Customer Feedback

Ecological Walkover Survey

Very prompt and helpful even though she was going on holiday during the process

5 stars
Bat Surveys

Excellent, prompt and clear concise advice

5 stars
Arboricultural Impact Assessment

Alan was very prompt and efficient and understood all the complications, survey and info submitted to Council and I will inform of the results etc., Donald

5 stars