Summer 2018 Newsletter

Find out what Norfolk Wildlife Services has been up to over the Spring and Summer 2018. Read highlights of our projects and work in our 2018 summer newsletter, or alternatively you can select individual articles from the newsletter below.

This issue:

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Keep in touch, if you need any advice or protected species surveys undertaken please contact us!

Hazardous tree inspection for TPO

NWS Aborist Jim Allitt recently advised on the management of a substantial oak tree subject to a Tree Preservation Order and within the Broads National Park.

Our client, Mr Coleman, had concerns over the extent of deadwood in the canopy, especially where it was close to his and a neighbouring property, but as also keen to retain it as a beautiful feature of his home.

Mr Coleman asked NWS to determine the condition of the tree and make future management recommendations. The tree was surveyed to look at issues such as weak unions or forks, cavities, and especially any defects hidden higher in the canopy.

Hazard tree feature – Branch failure

Sometimes hazards are obvious but subtler hazards may go unnoticed and mechanical failure may occur without specialist management.

Under the Occupiers’ Liability Act (1957 and 1984) the ‘occupier of the land’ where the tree is rooted has a duty of care to ‘take reasonable steps to prevent or minimise the risk of personal injury or damage to property’, both for visitors to the occupiers land (1057) and other persons (1984). The law is quite complicated.

To avoid or deal with risks while retaining the tree, a reasonable and balanced approach to future management requirements is needed, with a full understanding of calculated risk involved. In this case, NWS suggested a 2m, crown reduction and to clear larger deadwood from the canopy so that ‘sailing’ from the wind stressed the branch unions less.

Aerial tree inspection by Jim

Since the tree was protected, the works had to be agreed with the local planning authority, the Broads Authority. NWS’s successful application demonstrated that the works retained the screening the tree provided but were also necessary to reduce the risk the tree posed to the adjacent house and property.

Trees as assets : 7 rules for designing with trees

Trees on a site increase visual attractiveness, are great for wildlife and add considerably to property values. Maximising use of existing tree assets in designs will maximise the financial benefits for new developments. Here are NWS’s 7 tips:

  1. To maximise value from tree assets start at the concept stage; here a simple tree survey will suffice: a ‘Tree Constraints Plan’ with ‘Root Protection Areas’ (RPA).
  2. RPAs are minimum core areas to protect your trees; seek specialist advice if RPA conflicts with your design as to whether redesign is required.
  3. On sites with many trees, use BS5837 categorisation to prioritise the importance of individual trees, based on amenity, wildlife and landscape value.
  4. Allow room for future growth based on tree’s longevity; shading plans help design building orientation and fenestration.
  5. Allow for “hidden” issues for trees such as visibility splays, drainage (esp SUDS) and utility connection; trees with faults may need intervention to help them.
  6. An Arboricultural Impact Assessment (AIA) will help when instructing the contractor to protect trees plus organise site clearance, construction and final landscaping and planting.
  7. Find an arborist you can work with, seek their advice early and get their regular input.

If you are interested in how much your trees might add in value to your site, there are various techniques from the Capital Asset Value for Amenity Trees (CAVAT) through to ecosystem services calculations.

Jim calculates a tree’s RPA

 

Mason Bees

An often-heard concern each spring and summer is “bees are destroying my house!” Residents of older buildings will notice bees industriously excavating their south-facing brickwork, and understandably worry that this will compromise the building.

These bees are one of the several species of mason bees in the UK. The commonest is the red mason bee (Osmia bicornis). The red mason bee (like most bees) face a range of pressures, including habitat loss, pesticides, disease and climate change. They are hugely important pollinators of our crops and flowers, the red mason bee being particularly effective at pollinating fruit trees.

Unlike honeybees and bumblebees, mason bees are ‘solitary’, meaning neither living in colonies nor having workers. Once mated the females cleans out an existing hollow (e.g. gaps in window frames, roof tiles or airbricks ) or excavates one from soft mortar or sandy material.

Red mason bee

Within these tunnels she moulds a series of cells, laying an egg in each, fills with pollen and finally sealing with mud. Over the year, eggs develop via larvae and pupae into an adult bee – digging their way out the following spring to begin the cycle again.

Most of the time, the effect of mason bees is inconsequential. They are often attracted to a wall because its’ mortar is very old and/or in poor, soft condition. In very large numbers however (and/or with unmaintained pointing) they can lead to significant damage, particularly if there is water ingress.

Why not try to give them an alternative nesting place besides your house by installing a bee hotel. These need to be in a sunny sheltered spot, > 1m off the ground and near a rich source of flowering plants.

INVERTEBRATE SURVEYS: Ask us about our specialist site surveys for insects, arachnids and molluscs etc., including river and coastal habitats.

Sally McColl gains full membership of CIEEM

After much hard work and an extensive application process, NWS is delighted to announce that Sally McColl, Lead Ecological Consultant, has recently gained full membership of the Chartered Institute of Ecologists and Environmental Managers (CIEEM) and is entitled to use the suffix MCIEEM.

Sally McColl surveying for great crested newts

CIEEM is the accreditation body for these professions in the UK. Its mission is both to raise the profile of the profession and to promote high standards to practice. All CIEEM members agree to adhere to the Code of Professional Conduct which give our clients confidence that our work is to the high professional standards set by CIEEM.

NWS is proud to be sponsoring all our staff to gain professional membership. Ben Moore and Ben Christie have also achieved CIEEM membership.

Mitigating for bats in buildings

Following bat surveys, a site licence for bats (European Protected Species Licence) from Natural England is often required before development works can take place.

Where bats are affected by building works, a licenced mitigation strategy must be provided. This can include many different options such as special bat lofts’ bat boxes and access tiles and even stand-alone buildings bat-cotes.

The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and Exeter University have recently published a study looking at what does and doesn’t work effectively.[1] Its conclusions were that:

  • Retaining existing bat roosts as far as possible “in situ” the development, even if modified, has the best outcome for bats, particularly when associated with re-roofing works;
  • Special ‘bat lofts’ within buildings worked better than bat boxes;
  • Bats may take several years to colonise newly built roosts, irrespective of bat lofts of boxes.

We are currently providing mitigation advice for a building conversion at Barnham Broom, which includes a brown long-eared bat maternity roost. The clients set-a-aside part of the barn to create a new roost area exclusively for bats. When we visited 1-year post-construction, there were bat droppings and an adult brown long-eared bat already using the ‘bat loft’. Our client, Julie Eagle was delighted “I am thrilled bats are continuing to use our site, and we want to encourage all wildlife here.”

Please contact us to discuss your project, and how best to incorporate bat mitigation strategies and licensing into your development.

[1] https://www.cieem.net/bat-mitigation-strategies-research-project

Brown long-eared bat

Framework wins for newts and agri-environment

NWS has won places on two major frameworks with Natural England and DEFRA in open national competitions. Firstly NWS has won a place on Natural England’s eDNA ‘great crested newt’ survey framework, via our strength in logistical management and specialist herpetology skills. this is an innovative project which will provide baseline distributions for new approaches to newt licencing.

Great Crested Newt on hand

Shortly after NWS won onto the DEFRA framework for botanical monitoring of agri-environment schemes to investigate the effect and efficiency of the English schemes. Collaboration with our supply chain and partners in other Wildlife Trusts consultancies was an important factor.

The government nationally holds a target of 33% spending with SMEs by 2022, and both Natural England and DEFRA are committed towards strengthening engagement with SMEs.

These tenders represent a positive opportunity for NWS to fly the flag Norfolk business and the Wildlife Trusts in national procurement.

Vattenfall partners NWS in best practice health and safety

Vattenfall is one on Europe’s leading generators of electricity and heat. Vattenfall pride themselves on their health and safety standards, protecting their people at work, and are committed to attaining high standards for the safety or employees and contractors.

They are also committed to working in strong partnerships that challenge themselves and their contractors to drive constant improvements in H&S standards.

For our 2018 ecological surveys, additional investment from Vattenfall has allowed NWS to apply new H&S observation systems and First Aid training, achieving a 100% First Aid certification rate for all field staff.

Chris Smith of NWS said ‘NWS is delighted to have received this additional commitment from Vattenfall for our surveyors in the field’.

Nicky in full transect PPE

  

2018 great crested newt eDNA “closes” 30 June

Some of our clients were not aware that you can carry out surveys for the presence of great crested newts using “environmental DNA” until the end of June. This may prevent you having a delay in the planning application for your development until spring 2019 – the next survey window – and is worth considering.

Confirming newts are absent at a development site confirms that a development does not have a significant impact.  Waiting until 2019 for “traditional” surveys may simply confirm absence, but a year later.

Presence from an eDNA survey may be sufficient for planning consent and/or obtaining a licence. This may therefore resolve your planning application in 2018 rather than mid-2019.

The survey technique is not always suitable. Whether to use it needs to consider your particular development and situation. We can advise you whether the technique meets for your needs based on our knowledge of regulations and our years of experience.

We can also assess the impact of your development on newts and say what to do next if they are present, guiding your through any necessary licencing process later and finding solutions for compensatory habitat on or off-site.

If you do want to proceed though, there is a limited window left to make the last Great Crested Newts “last survey date” on 30 June. As such we suggest that you contact us immediately.  We can book a laboratory analysis slot for you now.

If you have more questions about great crested newts, read through our in-depth article or ring us to find out more about survey and assessment options.

 

 

 

Natural England struggle with Discretionary Advice Service and licencing

Brown long-eared bat

Staff shortages at Natural England

European Protected Species Licences ( EPSL) applications to Natural England for bats and great crested newts often peak in the late summer (June-October). This leads to longer response times compared to the 30-working days target.

Since autumn 2017, we have been aware that Natural England have had significant staff shortages for processing licences and been unable to meet this 30-days response target for some time.  Their recent May newsletter admits that: “At present around the country, we [ Natural England] have some Area Teams who are performing well beyond 30 working days (with some upwards of 60 working days)”

Impacts on developers

Working to a reliable response time of 30-days, it is relatively easy for developers to allow for a commencement date in their build-programme.

An unreliable response date can cause last-minute cancellations by needing to either stand-down contractors or cancel and rebook completely. With present national shortages of specialist contractors, there are long lead-in times, and an unpredicted change in response dates for licencing has complex impacts on project.

A key present focus for developers is being able to reliably and accurately programme resourcing; any deviation can cause developers significant financial and time-associated costs. 

Diversion of resources to licencing

As the 2018 seasonal peak approaches, Natural England have decided to divert resources from other areas into meeting their licencing target. 

Natural England have said, based on slippage in meeting the target, they are therefore diverting “all available staff resources” into meeting the demand for new licence applications. There is no firm commitment to meeting their 30 working day target. The expectation is that the diversion of resources will continue for up to 6 months.

Impacts on Discretionary Advice Service

The Discretionary Advice Service ( DAS) is a commercial service from Natural England. Norfolk Wildlife Services often uses it for early discussion about developments, reducing delays and costs for clients.  For Natural England, the service is an early opportunity to provide comments on species mitigation plans. This allows improvements before any application for a licence is made.  Front-loading advice nearly always reduces involvement from statutory agency later on. It also here allows recovery of costs as well.

Similarly “Pre-submission screening” service” checks a licence application before it is made reducing corrections later on in process.

In order to divert resources into licencing, Natural England states Discretionary Advice Service will be reduced, both slowing advice on their existing commissions and leading to them turning down new commissions : “non-statutory PSS and DAS advice to applicants over the coming months and in many instances …will have to be declined. ”

The only exceptions are stated as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) and contractual arrangements “already …in place for larger, long term developments”.

Final comments

Natural England have difficult decisions on utilisation of its limited resources. It will not have taken lightly a decision to effectively moth-ball the Discretionary Advice Service.

Paradoxically Natural England have recently published results on a consultation on charging for wildlife licence applications, stating that they intend to charge for licences in order to “provide a much improved licensing service that delivers the majority of our licence decisions within 30 working days (or an otherwise agreed date)“.

Unfortunately given that the paid-for DAS (and PSS) were similarly meant to provide both certainty to developers and extra resources to Natural England, this sudden diversion of resources does not bode well for “a much improved licensing service”.  It seems unlikely that additional income from charging for licences will resolve a fundamental capacity issue. 

The diversion of staff resources by Natural England from front-loaded “DAS” advice to meeting turnaround for licences appears to be diverting resources from one “priority” task to another.  

Fundamentally Natural England appears to have insufficient staff to deliver even statutory needs and urgently needs more resources.