Water vole ecology and survey course 2017

Want to learn more about the elusive water voles and how to spot their signs ?  Then come along to our informative training day at NWT Hickling Broad Nature Reserve and learn about their ecology, habitats and surveys.
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© Alex McLennan

The course will give you :

  • an introduction to water voles and their ecology,
  • current population trends and distributions
  • updates on the most recent legislation,
  • a practical outdoor session looking for water voles “in the wild”
  • what signs to look out for on the river banks that show water voles are living there.

The morning session will include an introduction to water voles and their ecology; covering water vole lifecycles, habitats, food, predators, the problems they face, reasons for population decline and current legislation. In the afternoon we will venture outside looking at survey techniques and recording forms, equipment, safe surveying, how and where to look for signs, identifying potential water vole habitat and field signs.

HousekeepingMuch of the afternoon will be spent out in the field; we will also have use of the Visitor Centre facilities.

Please bring wellington boots, suitable outdoor clothes and waterproofs.  We recommend bringing a pair of practical gloves for ground searching and a strong walking stick or similar (for support and for parting vegetation). It is also advisable to bring insect repellant.

Hot drinks and biscuits will be provided, but please bring your own packed lunch.

Workshop Leaders: Sue Traer

Date and Time: Wednesday 21st June 2017, 10:00am – 4:00pm

Location: NWT Hickling Broad, Norfolk (NR12 0BW)

Cost: £75.00 plus V.A.T (£45.00 plus V.A.T for concessions)

Booking: To book a place, contact Carolyn Smith at Norfolk Wildlife Services by emailing carolyns @ norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk, or by telephoning 01603 625 540.

Spring Newsletter 2017

All our latest wildlife news in our Norfolk Wildlife Services’ Spring Newsletter 2017.

In this issue we bring you :

Or click to download a pdf copy

Blackthorn flowers and hedgerow assessments

March marks the meteorological start of spring and it’s also the time to start looking out for the first blackthorn [Prunus spinosa] flowers.

blackthorn flower

Photo © Ian Calderwood

Blackthorn flowers are easy to spot because they appear before any of the hedgerow leaves.
As soon as you spot the first flowers you’ll suddenly begin to notice whole swathes of them.  At this time of year of you might be forgiven for thinking all hedgerows are predominantly blackthorn, but our hedgerow assessments can offer an insight into the diversity of hedgerows.

 

Why are hedgerow assessments important?

Hedgerows are protected under the Hedgerows Regulations Act 1997 and these are part of planning regulations. The Regulation was brought into effect due to the changes in agricultural practices which saw a rapid removal of hedgerows from the countryside.

“Hedgerows have their part to play in helping us to respond and adapt to climate change, providing conduits through which wildlife may move, and protecting soil, livestock and property against extreme weather events. They even help to lock up carbon and provide a sustainable source of fuel. ” Hedgerow survey Handbook (2007)

This protection covers hedgerows over 30 years old and over 20 metres long (or if shorter, connected to other hedgerows at both ends or part of a longer hedgerow).

Hedgerow removal is a tricky subject and a landowner who wishes to remove a hedgerow must serve a Hedgerow Removal Notice in writing on their local planning authority. The authority then has to determine whether or not the hedgerow is ‘important’ and whether or not to issue a Hedgerow Retention Notice.

What makes a hedgerow important?

This is where hedgerow assessments come into their own.

hedgerow

Photo – Emily Nobbs

We need to assess how many woody species are within the hedgerow, how old it is and whether the hedgerow is associated with any archaeological sites of interest.

There are lots of different combinations of features that make a hedgerow important, such as being at least 30 years old and have a minimum of 6 woody species and a supporting bank and/or ditch running along its length.

Woody species include alder, wild cherry, dogwood, black-poplar, hawthorn and of course blackthorn.

The NWS Arboriculturist can help

Jim Allitt is our resident Arborculturist and can help with any questions you have regarding hedgerows and what you can and can’t do.  Having a hedgerow assessment early on in any proposed development will allow you to understand more about the hedgerows you are working with and help you to plan any mitigation.

So the next time you see a hedgerow full of blackthorn flower don’t dismiss it, you may be looking at a very important hedge!

Survey season ahoy!

It’s that time of year again when we start planning for the forthcoming survey season.

However, don’t think we have been twiddling out thumbs since November!  There have been Phase 1 surveys to carry out and arboricultural impact assessments to write – but now we’re coming up the busy season.

By planning ahead and taking account of various seasonal constraints posed by many protected species we can help project managers avoid potential delays in submitting planning applications or enabling construction works.  For example the breeding season for great crested newts typically starts in mid-March and continues until mid-June (subject to weather), which dictates the optimal window for surveying.


Survey calendar

 

Click on the image to view a calendar that identifies the seasonal constraints associated with ecological and protected species surveys.

 


In anticipation of the survey season we’ve been tidying up the equipment shed, ensuring we have all the kit needed for the months ahead:

  • The great crested newt bottle traps have been made making sure all the associated canes all have hazard tape on so we don’t lose any.
  • The bat detector batteries are all on charge and the pencils have been sharpened.
  • There have been trips to the DIY store and roofing felt cut to size for reptile surveys.
  • The life-jackets have been sent for a service ready for water based surveys and our wellies have all been cleaned.

We look forward to working with you during this survey season and throughout the year.  If you have any questions about surveys and when they can be undertaken please do let us know.

A newt direction for species licencing?

As March and the great crested newt survey season approaches, you may be wondering whether the vote to the leave the European Union changes the surveys required for planning ?

Great crested newt

There are currently no plans to abolish protection of European Protected Species (EPS); protection we presume will be transposed into UK legislation by the Great Reform Bill, although the species was already fully protected under UK law prior to its European designation.

However as part of the Red Tape Challenge, Natural England are reviewing their approach to licences. In December 2016 the agency released the results of a public consultation held in spring 2016 on 4 potential new policies for EPS licensing :

Policy 1: Greater flexibility when excluding and relocating European Protected Species (EPS) from development sites.

Policy 2: Greater flexibility in the location of newly created habitats that compensate for lost habitats through development.

Policy 3: Allowing EPS to have access to temporary habitats that will be developed at a later date.

Policy 4: Appropriate and relevant surveys where the impacts of development can be confidently predicted.

Policy 1 and 2 both look at the idea of “mitigation banking” – which is previously built mitigation that developers can buy into. This changes the emphasis from spending time trapping and removing newts to building a resilient network of pre-planned habitat for them. These two policies should provide developers with more certainty around costs and any delays that might be incurred. However this non-conventional exclusion and relocation technique is controversial and may not yet be approved.

Policy 3 allows newts access to land where development will temporarily create habitat likely to attract EPS, such as mineral extraction. On completion of development it will be necessary to provide well-prepared management plans to ensure gains to the target species. This would only work where the conservation status of the local population would not be detrimentally affected.

Policy 4 is intended to avoid duplicating effort where the distribution of newts is well known and can be inferred from existing data. This policy is intended to reduce costs and increase benefits to EPS through varying licencing approaches to suit site-specific circumstances.

For more information have a look at the pilot in Woking where major urban expansion allows for a planned approach for mitigating for newts.

What is a Habitat Regulations Assessment?

The UK’s international obligations to biodiversity require our rarest and most irreplaceable wildlife sites – those of international importance – to be stringently protected. This includes sites protected for their habitats and species (Special Areas of Conservation, “SACs”), bird populations (Special Protection Areas, “SPAs”) and wetlands (Ramsar sites).

To meet the UK international commitments means preserving these sites except in cases of overriding national need, so evidence provided must be “beyond all reasonable doubt” of no harm; otherwise permission can be refused under the so-called “precautionary principle”. Where this evidence is absent, the usual National Planning Policy Framework para 14 presumption in favour of development no longer applies and is replaced by para 119.

Where development plans or policies do potentially affect these sites, the effects are considered via a Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA). An HRA involves screening, scoping and consideration of alternatives – similar to an Environmental Impact Assessment. However, an HRA focuses tightly upon the “integrity” of the site – those features for which the site is designated.

Norfolk Wildlife Services (NWS) has a long track record of dealing with HRAs: as a county Norfolk 8.5% is designated SPA, 5% SACs and 4.2% Ramsar. Within HRAs we often consider hydrology, emissions and recreational disturbance and cumulative and in-combination effects.

 

Responsibility to complete the HRA rests with the “competent authority” – either the planning authority or the inspector. Ecological effects on international sites are a complex area and frequent showstoppers for developers since the responsibility is on the applicant to provide the proof.

Evidence supplied via a “shadow” HRA supplied by NWS is often used to assist these decisions. Altering site design later is often difficult later on so early advice from NWS is advisable to fully understand the options and whether effects can be avoided.

Calling all recent UEA graduates!

calling all UEA graduatesWe have been working with UEA to develop a Business Development Assistant internship opportunity with us at Norfolk Wildlife Services.

If you are a UEA graduate who is passionate about customer care and looking for some hands-on marketing experience then this could be the role for you.

Apply now for this chance to join the team and help us to deliver ecological and arboricultural consultancy services in the Norfolk area.

Working closely with the Consultancy Manager, you will assist in developing the marketing of the consultancy and also maintaining high quality standards of customer care.

Your role will include helping to design marketing materials as well as identifying and applying for external funding opportunities.

For more information check out the advert

Construction Environmental Management Plans

Recently at NWS we have found ourselves writing more and more
Construction Environmental Management Plans (CEMP).

We’re often asked “what is a CEMP, what does it cover and how Wondering about CEMPwill I know when if my project needs one?”

Well, wonder know more……

 

What is CEMP?

CEMP = Construction Environmental Management Plan

The purpose of a CEMP is to outline how a construction project will avoid, minimise or mitigate effects on the environment and surrounding area. Local planning authorities have an important role to play in overseeing the implementation of an appropriate CEMP.  This includes powers to enforce conditions during the planning process and to prosecute if any criminal offences occur.

When do you need a CEMP?

© Copyright Evelyn Simak

For small projects a method statement setting out specific restrictions and controls is often adequate to safeguard biodiversity interests. However, for larger and/or more complex developments the preparation and implementation of a CEMP is considered as most appropriate.

As suggested above, the planning authority may condition the need for a CEMP to be submitted before construction can begin. However, it is good practice to have one in place before this stage, so contact NWS if you are unsure and we can advise on the best way forward.

What information is included in a CEMP?

The CEMP sets out all necessary practical measures to ensure that biodiversity features are protected during construction and development implementation.

A CEMP is tailored to each specific site but all cover the same principles:

  • Risk assessment of potentially damaging construction-type activities
  • Identification of biodiversity protection zones
  • Identification of practical measures to avoid impacts during development.  This includes the use of exclusion fences, protective barriers and warning signs
  • The location and timing of sensitive works to avoid harm to biodiversity features
  • The times during construction when particular specialists (e.g. an ecologist) need to be present on site to oversee works as well as an overall view on responsible persons and lines of communication.

We follow the guidance in the British Standard 42020:2013 when compiling our CEMP documentation so our clients are assured that everything relevant is covered.

If you have any questions or require a CEMP of your own do let us know.

A winter view of field margins

Back in October our Ecological Consultant Sally McColl posted about the work she has been doing for the Jordan’s Farm Partnership and ever since then I can’t go past an arable field without checking out its field margins.  The environmental management plans that Sally has been working on aim to make a tenth of each farm used specifically to support nature.  This includes well managed hedgerows and arable field margins.

Walking round my local patch in North Norfolk there are plenty of areas where the hedgerows seem to be all you see and now its winter those hedgerows are without leaves.  This means you can peer through the bare twigs to the fields beyond and see the field margins.

In the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), cereal field margins, in particular, are a priority habitat and are managed specifically to provide benefits for wildlife, such as providing:

Arable field margin

Photo © Richard Webb

  • nectar sources for bumblebees and butterflies;
  • corridors of long grasses used as cover by beetles and grasshoppers, as well as mammals such as brown hares and field voles;
  • nesting opportunities for skylarks, corn bunting and grey partridge.
  • acting as a filter area to control run-off from fields.

Advice varies as to how wide a field margin should be with some organisations saying even a 1 metre margin can offer benefits to wildlife.  Many of the field margins I see in Norfolk are quite wide but just as many are almost non-existent, the field having been ploughed as close to the boundary as possible.

As well as farm management plans we also incorporate the idea of field margins into other reports we write, for example for residential developments. For each planning proposal we study the plans and make site visits to enable us to recommend tailored enhancements, such as buffer zones of wildflowers or grasses (the residential equivalent of field margins).

I like to think we’re doing our part to maintain and create corridors for our wildlife to thrive
.