What does NPPF say about ecology or wildlife ?

National Planning and Policy Framework has quite extensive consideration of ecology and wildlife, including the need for a landscape scale approach to planning and for wildlife gain during development.  We find it quite a big document to download, so the following are the relevant extracts from the National Planning and Policy Framework. We have added in titles for ease of navigation. Continue reading

*** NEW SERVICE *** Tree consultancy

Bee on thorn flower

Bee on thorn flower

Norfolk Wildlife Services now offers an arborist service for trees alongside its existing wildlife services.  During development planning, arboriculture often requires consideration with ecology. Indeed with bats and trees the two often interact.

Furthermore in many of our urban and brownfield spaces, trees and woodland are frequently important features – sites on which we already offer ecology advice to clients. Specified properly in site management, trees and woodland can offer enhancement for the amenity, ecology and landscape of a site, as well as benefits for leisure and recreation.

With arboriculture being a natural synergy with our other wildlife services, we wanted to offer our customers a joined up service for all their trees requirements.  What we offer is :

  •  Tree surveys for development ( to BS5837 )
  •  Woodland management and planting advice
  •  Arboricultural Impact Assessment
  •  Planting plans for small sites
  •  Applications for tree works
  •  Liaison with planners, tree officers and statutory authorities

We are not tree surgeons, but can recommend or source you a reliable contractor should you request. Our ability to source the right contractor for your circumstances means you will have the contractor that fits your needs.

Not sure what type of tree survey you need – read our easy introduction to tree surveys

Photo gallery for bat mitigation

Bat licence delays – May update

Brown long-eared bat captured during demolition work

Brown long-eared bat caught in demolition work

Finally some good news for bat licences !  The bat queue seems to be declining and the delays are down from four to three weeks. Not brilliant, but better than nowt. Our forecast is for no improvement in the immediate to near future seems to have been wrong ! We don’t have May data for newts, cos we are too busy doing surveys still.

There are still staff shortages within the species protection teams, so the reduction must be down to the effort of the staff. We suspect that they will now be given a large pay rise in recognition of their efforts.

Natural England delays remain in reviewing European Protected Species Licence applications. If you need to gaining a licence and how it might affect your project, please contact us as soon as possible.

The following are based on ‘New’ Application processing time during the four week period 06th April 2015 to 08th May 2015 :

Bat Update (as of 8th May 2015)

  • 202  ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ 368 on 6/4/15 ; 355 on 10/2/15 ; 279 on 22/12/14 ]
  • “New application processing time: Average delay of 14 days (44 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ Reduction from 47 days on 6/4/15 ; 48 days in February and 47 days in 22 December ]

Similar processing times were reported for Modifications and Resubmissions.

 

How many surveys for great crested newts ?

Great Crested Newt on handGreat crested newt captured by nettingGreat crested newt fence with bucket

We thought it helpful for clients to have set out what actual Natural England requirements are for licencing – how old your survey can be  – and how many surveys are necessary.

Natural England guidance

Natural England guidance on presently acceptable levels of survey effort is set out in their EPSL method statement form – which we present below – slightly tweaked.  This sets out both the type and age of data viewed as acceptable.  You can use the filters to find your project type.

This is our Excel table here : Great crested – survey effort and age

Deconstructing this gives some interesting insights about the age of data required, but also whether as to whether a full six surveys or repeat surveys are necessary.

Low impact licences and survey data

If we read through this table, you will find that low impact or temporary development can often use presence/absence data alone, which makes sense.  You may only need four instead of six visits ( or possibly only one if you find them first time ! ). Newt numbers decline rapidly away from ponds ( either the creatures are too unfit or simply due to dispersion effects ). The effect a long way from ponds can therefore be predicted as being low, based on their presence alone.  Far enough away and you can assume de minimus effects, and possibly avoid surveys all together.

The age of data is based on spring/summer survey seasons elapsed ( but see also later for a potential complexity here ):

Survey done Age of survey (before May[?] 2015)
March to May 2015 0 (before May 15)
2014 1
2013 2
2012 3
2011 4
2010 5
2009 6

So this year, data from the 2011 summer season is 4 years old, assuming you apply before end of May[?] 2015.  This also means that for some low impact schemes, older data will be helpful.  There are various caveats to this.

It is not 100% clear from the footnote on the NE guidance whether the age of the survey is the number of survey seasons missed, inclusive or exclusive of the present year.  It would seem more logical that 2015 data is 0 years old until March 2016, but in fact it appears to be 1 after May this year. However it would be impossible to survey, get planning and apply in the time period. We will take this point up with Natural England for clarity [ thanks to someone for pointing this out to me ].

What survey effort is most helpful ?

This raises for us an interesting question about proportionality and efficiency – what solution for survey effort allows most accurate information most efficiently ?

Given that most ponds are in the small or medium range and that large counts are generally from aggregation across ponds, should we focus more on the number of ponds involved and their functional nature ?

eDNA difficulties for presence/abscence

A difficulty of eDNA for results is that it shows us nothing of the pond’s function.

Four nocturnal visits will not only give a very good guide for impact assessment,  but also should generally reveal if the animals are breeding successfully and may turn up eggs or efts dependant on timing.

Many ponds around a breeding pond have occasional newts, but are not of high enough quality for breeding – this issue was never tackled by HSI.  Vice versa large numbers of males lecking at a pond indicate one thing.  Knowledge about successful breeding at a pond seems to us essential in stating the effects on the population.

Conclusions

So to return to the question only four surveys with presence or possibly even eDNA to prove absence could be sufficient for your needs, or you may be able to rely on existing older data. However really your consultant needs to have some understanding of population ecology to advise you on mitigation and obtaining a licence. Following guidance verbatim is not a good solution and could waste your money – sorry that slipped out.

With this in mind we advise you not to rely on this article for formal advice, but let us discuss with you how it applies to your suituation – please contact us directly if you have a licencing query or you have some observations about the article.

There is more Natural England advice on their website : https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/great-crested-newts-apply-for-a-mitigation-licence

New EPSLs – reduced paperwork

Natural England have updated their European Protected Species licence forms, reducing some of the paperwork burdens on applicants.

New application form for bats

There is a new EPSL application form, which we think makes a lot more sense.  We are not sure if it is editable in all versions of Adobe Reader, but you can certainly use Foxit.  There are seperate forms for <3 species and >3 species, with a lot of tick boxes replacing the need to repeat text in and squeeze stuff up. It should make it more accessible for clients and easier to complete, plus indicates that NE may be streaming licences into low and high impact schemes, which makes a lot of sense.

Applications for home improvements and small scale housing developments

The guidance on the need for a Reasoned Statement has changed, making it only necessary for more complicated applications.  This doesn’t imply that you don’t need a licence – simply that the paperwork is becoming more proportional to the situation.  You need to read the details, but this means no more 20 page documents justifying a loft conversion or putting in a dormer window from NPPF. It also may reduce the paperwork burden on barn conversions under Permitted Development rights.

The exemptions are below.

Exemptions for Bats

“The following categories of work for all bat species and their roosts*:
i. repairs and maintenance, roof replacements, loft conversions, extensions and renovations of existing domestic dwellings and associated structures (eg garages).
ii. small-scale housing developments, including those that may require the demolition of existing buildings (whether domestic dwellings or other types of building).
*Unless the population is of regional or national importance – in which case please contact Natural England (see below) to discuss whether a Reasoned Statement is required.”

Exemptions for Great crested newts
“The following categories of works:
i. repairs and maintenance, extensions and renovations of existing domestic dwellings and associated structures (e.g. garages).
ii. small-scale housing developments within the curtilage of developed or previously developed (brownfield) sites, including those that may require the demolition of existing buildings (whether domestic dwellings or other types of building).”

There are also similar improvements around applications to conserve and protect Listed Buildings, Scheduled Monuments and places of worship.

You will need to read the fine print to see if this applies to you or contact us for advice.

A very sensible development from Natural England.

The document from Natural England is attached below :

Does my application need supported by a Reasoned Statement April 2015

Bat and newt licence delays – April

We thought an update of European Protected Licence delays for bats and great crested newts on our previous February stats article might be of assistance.

Natural England are still unfortunately experiencing delays in reviewing European Protected Species Licence applications. If you need to gaining a licence and how it might affect your project, please contact us as soon as possible.

The Natural England FCS test are also now processed and signed off at a regional level, which may have lead to some teething issues.  It has helped by improving lines of communication once an advisor has been allocated.  Generally discussion on allocation dates are “vague”, but once the licence is allocated and processed this is generally quick. As a corollary, then it is difficult for clients to plan with certainty when a licence will arrive, except at short notice.

Delays with bat licences have not worsened, but remain steady at around three to four weeks.  Hopefully newly trained staff should be assisting now, but our forecast is for no improvement in the immediate to near future.

With respect to Great Crested Newts, we would forecast that there will be additional delays, which are shown by the lengthening queue, due to the normal “spring surge” of new applications.

The following are based on ‘New’ Application processing time during the four week period 2nd March 2015 to 3rd April 2015 :

Bat Update (as of 6th April 2015)

  • 368  ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ Up from 355 on 10 February, 279 on 22 December ]
  • “New application processing time: Average delay of 17 days (47 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ No change from 48 days on February and 47 days on 22 December ]

Similar processing times were reported for Modifications and Resubmissions.

Great Crested Newt Update (as of 6th April 2015 )

  • 162 ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ Up from 52 in February, 19 on 22 December ]
  • “New” application processing time: Average delay of 5 days (35 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ 32 days on February, 37 days on 22 December ]

There were similar processing times for Modifications and Resubmissions.

 

Great crested newt mitigation workshop, 17 April 2015

A one-day mitigation workshop is being organised by the Association of Wildlife Trust Consultancies at Hampton Nature Reserve [ aka Orton Brickpits ], Peterborough on Friday 17 April. It will be hosted by Dr Silviu Petrovan of Froglife with an exclusive chance to gain access to restricted areas.

Great crested newt fence This great crested newt was found during pitfall trapping in 2014 This 1m x 1mx 2m hibernacula has a rubble/log base to provide crevices for overwintering newts

What the workshop includes

The day will run from from 10:00 to 4:00 and be an informal series of short talks and discussions on newt mitigation and licencing, followed by a tour of reserve.

For you of who don’t know it Hampton / Orton Brick Pits is one of the largest great crested newt colonies in Europe and also one of the few SACs designated for its newt populations.  It is connected under a main road by big tunnels, the “Newt Superhighway”, which Froglife have researched using infrared cameras and other automated equipment to look at efficacy of this type of mitigation.

Find out more about the somewhat shocking results at the event, as well as a reveal about reptile translocations success elsewhere, and get the chance to exchange ideas on newt mitigation schemes.

We would also hope to set up the mentoring scheme for people within the WT’s and AWTC seeking mentoring to allow them to apply independently to Natural England for newt European Protected Species Licences.

Getting a place and costs

Attendance is open to all Association of Wildlife Trust member organisations and Wildlife Trust staff.  Places are limited to 15, so it will be first come first served.

Transfers from nearby Peterborough Station can be arranged.

Cost will be £30 including lunch.

To book contact us at Norfolk Wildlife Services on 01603 625 540.

Top 10 ecology tips for doing in the spring

Although it was cold (and gloomy with the eclipse ) this morning, the East Anglian wildlife thinks spring is in the air.  Blackbirds and song thrush are fighting over garden string for their nests, violets and celandine are in flower and we have found our first great crested newt eggs.

Inspired by a bit of spring fever,  we thought we would share out top ecology and wildlife 10 tips for 2015.

Enjoy the sunshine !

Bee on thorn blossom, March 2015

Bee on thorn blossom, March 2015

1. Watch out if felling trees

If you are doing any tree feeling or scrub clearance then you need to be very careful.  Birds have already started nesting and our prediction is that a mild winter will promote really quick breeding by most species.    If you have already missed the boat, then speak to us for advice on what to do and how to find out when they have left. You can find out how we have helped ENI Bacton here.

2. Don’t bother with eDNA tests for Great Crested Newts

eDNA tests were meant to be revolutionary for great crested newt surveys, by detecting small amounts of DNA in a pond, but have turned out not to be a damp squib. They have no more flexibility than normal nocturnal surveys, are more expensive per pond, and if you do find newts you need to do nighttime surveys anyway.  Plus if you don’t have kits and slots booked can take months to come back with a result. ADAS are pushing them hard and they do have some applications, but at present prices ask us if they are worthwhile.

3. Do book in your night time newt surveys

The key newt survey window is from April to May.  Miss the window and you might have missed the boat for the year………..ring us now and we will book it in for you.

4. Visit a Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve.

The new Cley vistor Centre is being built if you want to see ( we did the landscaping plan for this). For spring flowers NWT Foxley Wood is the reserve par excellence to go.  All our profits go back to NWT so you can see where this is all being spent.

5. Buy a bird box cheep

It is actually too late to put up bird boxes as a rule.  Most species if not nesting will have already set up territories long ago.  However buying late spring may get you discounts as retailers realise they have too much stock.  We can recommend Wildcare for their excellent customer service and range of boxes, and they will sometimes haggle on larger orders. Even cheeper is making them yourself. ?…

6. Watch out for judicial review and planning appeals

A frequent feature of recent years has been challenges by developers or objectors to planning applications.   We see the same mistakes year after year by other ecology consultancy that make you think they have never read Morge versus Hants. If you think JR or an appeal might be in the air, and want your case looking at then come to us. We also offer a critique service for existing applications and an expert witness service for ecology.  Get us involved with ecology right from the start and reduce your stress.

7. Be nice to Natural England staff

There are serious delays to EPSL applications, and the roll out of the new agri-environment scheme has been repeatedly delayed, but the thin green line of Natural England staff continue to stoically slog away with their limited resources and chippa spirit, while there are now rarer than than stone curlews in Norfolk. Whenever we need their help, the staff do the very best they can,  and we recommend when you meet them offering them a strong cuppa and possibly a choccy biscuit for good measure. Well done you lot.

8. Think about green space for walking the dog

Recreational pressure on the ecology of coastal sites is an emerging issue in Norfolk and Norfolk authorities have commissioned another study similar to that leading to policy CP10 in Breckland.  We can help design development sites with sufficient provision for informal recreation, which also makes them a better place to live for residents and more attractive to buyers.  The layout of greenspace at Bradwell was designed as dog and people friendly with our help and helped overcome objections.

9. Do something small for bees

Right now thorn flowers are a great place for them, but bees are in decline, which is bad for them and bad for us.  The new “ecological focus areas” of  agri-environment will help them with special nectar rich mixes,  but planting the right flowers for summer can help them everywhere. You need to get planting soon though – if you want wildflowers we have a few recommendations.

10. Have a day off from the office and do something different

Join Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Try volunteering with Norfolk Wildlife Trust on one of their reserves, or learning about wildlife. You can go on a guided bird spotting walk on 5 April at Cley Marshes, where our new landscaping is nearly in place ( did we say that before – we are quite excited !) ….. If the boss has the money, then join NWT as a corporate member and get along to a corporate event.  Good for the heart, good for the soul.  Find out about events, here in the easy to use calendar : https://www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/whats-on/calendar