Conservation Planner Autumn 2012 - Issue 37 - RSPB

Conservation Planner Autumn 2012 - Issue 37 - RSPB

a million

voices for





Peat bogs such as those at RSPB’s Forsinard Flows nature reserve (pictured) store large amounts of carbon. Safeguarding these

threatened habitats is vital if we are to prevent dangerous levels of climate change.

Planning for the future

During times of recession, attention understandably

focuses on kick-starting economic growth. In this respect,

some see house-building as a kind of emergency

defibrillator for moribund economies. It is certainly true

that development creates jobs and has an important role

to play in any sustainable, fluid economy. However, the

wrong type of development in the wrong place, can lead

to the degradation or loss of valuable natural environment.

This should be avoided, not just for nature’s sake, but

society’s too. A healthy natural environment encourages a

healthy society and one that is richer for its experiences

with nature. It also underpins a rich and prosperous

economy through the provision of ecosystem services.

That is why planning systems have to play the long game

and ensure that short-term economic growth doesn’t come

at the long-term expense of the natural environment and

the economy. Sustainable development must be the

purpose of the planning system, and development can only

ever be sustainable if it meets the needs of society in

generations to come.

For more information contact Brendan Costelloe at

IN THIS ISSUE The need for expertise! • Planning for seabirds • NI goes green

NPPF: a net gain for nature? • Planning for climate change: guidance and model

policies for LAs • Planning for a healthy environment • Talbot Heath rescued by SoS

Battle is on to save nightingale stronghold • Keeping the noise down at Belfast Lough

Plans for coal-fired power station scrapped • Are mineral plans providing for biodiversity?

The need for expertise!

Since the hoo-ha over the Government’s new planning

policy, there seems to be a new level of interest in how

the planning system can deliver for nature.

Now that the Government has put in place much of the

national framework, to general applause, the spotlight

turns to England’s 354 local planning authorities, who have

the day-to-day business of making plans and deciding

planning applications.

The new level of interest was evident in the final report of

the Independent Panel on Forestry (published 4 July), which

made a number of recommendations for planners, such as:

Planning policy and practice should encourage local

authorities to take professional forestry and aboricultural

management advice where planning applications affect

trees and woodlands.

On 4 July a group of MPs in the All Party Parliamentary

Group for Biodiversity published a report on Planning and

the Natural Environment that made a number of helpful

recommendations. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to

be an online version, but the group highlighted the need

for local authorities to have access to competent ecological

advice and expertise, and called for ”Biodiversity

Champions” in planning departments and among elected

members, to ensure nature policies are properly

implemented. Is there a theme emerging here?

The report suggests that culture and capacity (again!) were

the two main barriers to successful implementation. Even

where biodiversity was considered, it was rarely afforded

much weight in decision making, unless it affected sites or

species with legal protection. Access to ecological expertise

is another crucial factor. Where such expertise was available,

the study reported ”good” outcomes for biodiversity in

72% of applications, as opposed to just 33% in its absence.

The report also highlights the critical role of Natural England

as ecological experts. Although this is no substitute for

in-house expertise, local authorities rely heavily on

Natural England’s advice and guidance when dealing with

biodiversity issues. This must be at the forefront of Defra’s

thinking when it undertakes the forthcoming review of their

statutory agencies.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) provides

an excellent planning framework for the natural

environment, above and beyond what was there before.

But even with the best policy and guidance, you need

willing, skilled people to deliver for nature. That is why

we need a culture that values biodiversity within local

government, enough local authority ecologists, and a

statutory nature body that is fit for purpose.

For more information contact Brendan Costelloe at

Prior to this, the Policy Exchange (PEx) think-tank

concluded in its report Nurturing Nature (11 May) that we

are failing to value properly the services provided by a

robust and connected natural environment. PEx found that

only 37% of all local authorities had in-house ecologists,

very close to the figure of 35% from the Association of

Local Government Ecologists. Having an ecologist was

closely linked to whether a local authority had run a

biodiversity offsetting scheme.

In the same week, Defra quietly published a report on the

effectiveness of planning policy in protecting biodiversity,

Planning Policy and Biodiversity offsets: Report on phase II

Research: Effectiveness of the application of the current

town and country planning system. It’s a fascinating piece

of work that undertakes a robust audit of the end-to-end

decision-making process in a representative sample of

English planning authorities.

It shows what most of us long suspected – that the

appropriate policies were largely in place (at a national

level, at least), but that local authorities often failed in

their duty to implement them. Statistics always need

careful interpretation, but in 8% of major applications

studied, biodiversity was overlooked or insufficiently

addressed. Furthermore, it was the positive policies

relating to environmental enhancement that were most

frequently ignored.

Skilled ecologists will help to ensure that the NPPF

is properly implemented.

Andy Hay (

Planning for seabirds

The RSPB believes that by protecting marine biodiversity,

which underpins productivity, our seas can help Scotland

meet a broad range of economic needs; marine-related

industry contributes an estimated £2.2 billion to the

Scottish economy annually. RSPB Scotland’s top priority

for the implementation of the Marine (Scotland) Act (2010),

therefore, is the swift introduction of Scotland’s National

Marine Plan and subsequent Regional Marine Plans, and

the designation of Nature Conservation Marine Protected

Areas (MPAs). Spatial planning and MPAs are key to

ensuring that all marine industries are sited and operate

in ways which do not harm marine ecosystems. This is a

win-win solution for wildlife and industry, as it can reduce

conflict and red tape, speed up decision making, and cut

costs for businesses.

The Scottish Government, with Scottish Natural Heritage

and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, have been

continuing work on the Scottish MPA network, proposals

for which are due to be consulted on in the coming

months. While the RSPB clearly welcomes the creation of

this network (indeed, we spent many years campaigning

for it!), we remain extremely concerned that seabirds have

Andy Hay (


been almost completely excluded from consideration. The

RSPB is also concerned that some of the best sites for

other important species – from sandeels to some of our

most impressive marine species like basking sharks and

minke whales – may be left out of the network. In the

coming months we will be working hard to ensure the

network is truly comprehensive – for the sake of all marine

wildlife – to ensure better, more informed marine spatial

planning into the future. To that end, readers of

Conservation Planner can still sign our marine pledge, and

let decision makers know how important the marine

environment is to them:

For more information contact Kara Brydson at

Andy Hay (

Lower Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh

NI goes green

Green infrastructure has been written into planning policy

for the first time in Northern Ireland with the publication of

the Regional Development Strategy 2035 (RDS). The RDS is

the overarching strategic planning framework and government

departments must “have regard to the RDS”, while local

development plans will have to “take account” of its policies.

We are delighted the RDS contains a strong sustainable

development message, recognising that our society and

economies are completely dependent on the environment

which encompasses them and are therefore bound to its limits.

There are some notable matches with the RSPB’s response

to the consultation: inclusion of both mitigation and adaptation

for climate change; ecological networks and green infrastructure;

recognition that brownfield land can have biodiversity value;

emphasis on sustainable transport; encouraging reuse of

existing built infrastructure to avoid the need for new build and

new resources; and recognition that the environment is important

in rural areas to support sustainable economic activity.

Success will of course depend on implementation, especially

when new local development plans are established by councils.

That will be a fantastic opportunity to map areas for ecological

networks and green infrastructure, contributing hugely to the

RSPB’s Futurescapes vision of landscape-scale habitat restoration.

For more information contact Lynne Peoples at

NPPF: a net gain for nature?

As the dust settles on the National Planning Policy

Framework (NPPF) controversy, and planners around the

country are getting to grips with the detail of the NPPF,

what does it mean for nature?

Part of the controversy was due to the RSPB’s analysis,

backed by legal advice from Nathalie Lieven QC, that the

draft document, particularly the wording of the presumption

in favour of sustainable development, undermined

protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and

by implication other environmental policies.

The final NPPF appears to have dealt with this problem.

Firstly, sustainable development is defined in high-level

terms not only of the classic Brundtland definition, but

also of the more recent five guiding principles of the UK

Sustainable Development Strategy. These helpfully include

the concept of living within environmental limits, and

although this is not spelt out explicitly, the description of

the environmental role of planning, and the environmental

policies elsewhere in the NPPF, give planners plenty of

hooks to work this out in practice.

In particular, the NPPF clearly states that ”Pursuing

sustainable development involves seeking positive

improvements in the quality of the built, natural and

historic environment, as well as in people’s quality of life,

including ... moving from a net loss of biodiversity to

achieving net gains for nature” (paragraph 9).

Secondly, the presumption in favour of sustainable

development has been reworded, and more generally,

the NPPF is a much more balanced document. That

damaging phrase ”the default answer to development

proposals is ‘yes’” has gone, and although the NPPF

is still a pro-growth document, it is equally clear that

economic, social and environmental objectives should

be pursued in an integrated way; in preparing local plans,

planning authorities should seek opportunities to achieve

each of them, and net gains across all three, avoiding

significant adverse impacts and mitigating them where

such impacts are unavoidable (paragraph 152).

The planning system must now recognise the wider benefits

of ecosystem services, and there is a core planning

principle to “encourage multiple benefits from the use of

land in urban and rural areas, recognising that some open

land can perform many functions (such as for wildlife,

recreation, flood risk mitigation, carbon storage, or food


There is more emphasis on the importance of coherent

ecological networks, including not only designated sites but

wildlife corridors, stepping stones that connect them and

areas identified by local partnerships for habitat restoration

or creation.

In line with a more positive approach to planning

elsewhere in the NPPF, local authorities now need to plan

positively for the creation, protection, enhancement and

management of networks of biodiversity and green

infrastructure, and to plan for biodiversity at a landscapescale

across local authority boundaries. In that context it is

good to see reference to Nature Improvement Areas, where

a variety of partners including the RSPB are working

together with local authorities to do exactly that in 12 areas

across England.

The NPPF is a welcome step forward in delivering a net

gain for nature, which is vital if we are to deliver a healthy

environment for future generations. The real test of success

will be how well it is implemented in local plans and decisions.

Many local authorities are already doing good work, but the

challenge is for all local authorities to step up for nature,

never more necessary than in a time of financial austerity.

For more information contact Brendan Costelloe at

Equally important, if specific policies in the NPPF indicate

development should be restricted, key provisions of the

presumption do not apply. A footnote lists some examples

of such policies, covering European wildlife sites, SSSIs,

Green Belt and a range of other designations. European

sites are of course covered by the Habitats Regulations in

any case, but put this alongside more explicit policy

protecting SSSIs and the requirement for local planning

authorities to have criteria-based policies for wildlife and

geodiversity sites, and the level of protection for

biodiversity looks very similar to previous policy. But the

NPPF doesn’t just condense Planning Policy Statement 9 –

it moves beyond it by translating the objectives of last

year’s Natural Environment White Paper Securing the Value

of Nature into planning policy.

Greg Clark, former Planning Minister, helped to

steer through revisions to the National Planning

Policy Framework


Talbot Heath rescued by SoS

The Talbot Village Trust wanted to develop a site for 378

houses and other uses on farmland in Poole. The site is

immediately adjacent to Talbot Heath, a Ramsar Site and a

Special Protection Area for its bird populations, and a

Special Area of Conservation for its reptile populations and

heathland habitats. These designations show the site’s

international importance for wildlife, and are the highest

level of legal wildlife protection available in Britain.

We were very concerned about the Trust’s proposal and its

impacts on the wildlife of Talbot Heath. Even Poole Borough

Council’s own guidance states that it is not possible for an

appropriate assessment of a planning application to state

with any certainty that a development within 400 m of a

heath would not affect the site’s integrity.

Yet, in a highly surprising conclusion and despite welldocumented

evidence to the contrary, the developer’s

appropriate assessment found that with a range of

mitigation measures, such as a pet-proof fence, the

development could go ahead. Poole Borough Council then

resolved to grant planning consent for the proposal in June

2010, despite vigorous opposition.

Following lobbying by the RSPB and others, the proposal

was “called in” by the Secretary of State, and was debated

Planning for climate

change: guidance and

model policies for LAs

Planning has a key role to

play in both mitigating the

impacts of climate change

and helping society adapt

to its effects. The RSPB was

therefore keen to support

the production of the first

sector-led environmental

planning guidance since

the NPPF took effect in

March 2012. Planning for

Climate Change: guidance

and model policies for

local authorities was

launched in Parliament at

the end of April by the

Planning and Climate

Change Coalition, which

represents more than 35

cross-sector organisations

and is led by the Town and

Country Planning

Association and Friends of

the Earth. It is aimed at

local authorities, Local

Enterprise Partnerships,

Local Nature Partnerships

and private sector

practitioners and provides

detailed guidance to

support plan-making and

development management

in relation to renewable

energy deployment,

greenhouse gas emissions

and climate change

adaptation. The guidance

can be found at www.tcpa.


For more information

contact Annabel Lambert

at annabel.lambert@rspb.

at a public inquiry held in July 2011. The RSPB and Natural

England gave evidence over the importance of Talbot Heath

for wildlife and the risks associated with the Trust’s

proposal. We showed that the mitigation measures offered

by the Trust would not prevent harm to the heathlands and

indeed in some cases could actually increase damage on

the site.

In February 2012, we welcomed the Secretary of State’s

decision to refuse permission because, among other

reasons, the proposed mitigation measures could not be

relied on to avoid damage to the sensitive heathlands and

their wildlife.

For more information contact Renny Henderson at

Dorset heathland – important habitat

for many rare wildlife species

Planning for a healthy


Planning for a healthy

environment: good practice

for green infrastructure and

biodiversity provides

guidance for practitioners to

ensure nature is taken into

account when shaping local

areas. The planning system

in England has a central

role to play in the protection

and restoration of the

natural environment.

Ensuring green

infrastructure is protected,

restored, created and

managed through the

strategic planning process,

and specific planning

decisions, is at the heart of

this guidance. Led by The

Wildlife Trusts and Town and

Country Planning

Association, the guide has

been prepared with input

Andy Hay (

from statutory and nonstatutory

organisations with

expertise in planning green

infrastructure and

biodiversity, including the

RSPB. Endorsed by more

than 30 organisations, the

guide summarises the latest

policy drivers; distils the

best approaches and good

practice; and points to

sources of further detailed


The guidance can be found



For more information

contact Brendan Costelloe

at brendan.costelloe

John Bridges (

Nightingales in Kent are threatened by development proposals

Battle is on to save

nightingale stronghold

The RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust and

Buglife are fighting proposals for the

development of up to 5,000 homes at

Lodge Hill, on the edge of Chattenden

Woods SSSI in North Kent.

The stakes are high. Preliminary

results from this year’s national

nightingale survey carried out by

the British Trust for Ornithology have

revealed that the Hoo Peninsula in

north Kent is a national stronghold

for the songster, with around 150

territories, almost double the number

found during the last national survey

in 1999. With 84 singing males, the

Lodge Hill area looks like one of the

most important in the country for this

declining species.

However, this news comes just when

their very existence is threatened by

a plan by Medway Council to build up

to 5,000 houses on the site.

The RSPB is firmly of the view that

this site is not the right place for such

a development. As well as direct loss

of habitat, the proposed development

would mean increased recreational

disturbance and cat predation within

any remaining habitat, jeopardising

any birds that may cling on. There is

much uncertainty surrounding the

nature, delivery and likely success of

the currently proposed habitat

compensation measures.

We objected to an outline planning

application for the development, and

called for the Lodge Hill Strategic

Allocation to be removed from the

Medway Core Strategy.

Chris Corrigan, RSPB South East

Regional Director said: “We find it

astonishing that a site that is so

important for a rapidly declining

species is earmarked for development.

This is precisely the kind of magical

place for wildlife that the Council

should be protecting for the nation.”

The RSPB formally asked Natural

England to consider extending or

re-notifying Chattenden Woods as

part of NE’s SSSI review programme

to take account of this nationally

important population, which Natural

England has agreed to do.

While we recognise the need for

Medway to identify land for new

houses in the District, we firmly

believe that more environmentally

sustainable locations are available

and more in keeping with the

requirements of the National

Planning Policy Framework (see

page 4 of this issue).

The national importance of the

nightingale population on the Hoo

Peninsula presents a wonderful

opportunity to promote not only the

understanding, conservation and

enjoyment of a famously symbolic

bird that occupies a unique place in

our culture, but also the very special

qualities of the area. We look forward

to working with Medway Council and

other partners to achieve these ends.

For up-to-date information, please


or contact Dave Burges at

Keeping the

noise down at

Belfast Lough

Andy Hay (

In 2011, consultants working for Belfast Harbour

Commissioners (BHC) approached the RSPB for advice

and comments regarding their appropriate assessment

(AA) for development of a site for the storage and kittingup

of turbines for offshore wind farms, adjacent to the

RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve. The reserve is part of Belfast

Lough Special Protection Area, Area of Special Scientific

Interest and a Ramsar site.

The development required intermittent episodes of heavy

piling in to unknown substrate depths, potentially lasting

up to six months. The main concern for the reserve was

therefore the potential disturbance from noise levels during

heavy piling (for which little existing data are available) and

from general human activity on the adjacent sites. Our final

response to the AA thus maintained a precautionary

approach with key requests to help ensure protection of the

reserve. These included the formation of an Ecological

Steering Group (ESG), an Ornithological Monitoring Plan

(OMP) and an Environmental Management Plan (EMP).

The ESG met monthly during the initial stages of the

project (six months) and now meet once every few months.

The OMP targeted various times of the day and tide to

include heavy piling, while noise monitors managed by the

Noise disturbance to waders such as

oystercatchers has been monitored

BHC were placed within the reserve and along the reserve

boundary. Work could be immediately stopped if observed

disturbance levels in the reserve and associated to the

works rose to a significant level.

To date there have been no significant disturbances recorded

and only one instance of short-term disturbance (birds

returned after five minutes). The heavy piling stage was

completed earlier in the year and the OMP also halted. The

operational phase is due to start October 2012 when DONG

energy will become a member of the ESG. Although the OMP

has been halted, the ESG and communications network

ensures the monitoring can be called in again if required.

A summary report consolidating surveys and summarising

findings is planned for after the site becomes operational.

ESG members: Corvus Consulting, Doran Consulting,

Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), Northstone,

Allen & Mellon, Belfast Harbour Commissioners (BHC).

For more information contact Lynne Peoples at

Plans for coal-fired power station scrapped

Peel Energy, the company behind

proposals for a coal-fired power station

in Ayrshire, announced in July that it

had withdrawn the controversial

application. The decision was warmly

welcomed by the RSPB, who had been

coordinating efforts to oppose the


The proposal was one of the most

unpopular applications in Scottish

planning history, with over 20,000

people objecting to the plans. If given

the green light, the coal plant would

have completely destroyed nearly

30 ha of a Site of Special Scientific

Interest (SSSI), an important feeding

ground and habitat for wintering birds.

Even with a small proportion of the

plant being fitted with carbon capture

and storage technology (CCS), it would

also have resulted in massive

additional greenhouse gas emissions,

undermining Scotland’s efforts to

become a world leader on climate

change, and contributing to the

significant threat posed by a changing

climate to people and wildlife around

the world.

Aedán Smith, Head of Planning and

Development for RSPB Scotland said:

“This is absolutely fantastic news. This

unnecessary and hugely unpopular

proposal would have completely

destroyed part of a nationally

important wildlife site and seriously

undermined Scotland’s ambitions to be

a world leader on climate change.

“We are pleased that Peel have finally

recognised the absurdity of these plans

and made a sound decision that will

save everybody the further time and

expense of fighting them. Hopefully,

we can now focus on delivering the

cuts in greenhouse gas emissions we

urgently require instead of arguing

about this outdated project.

“We would be happy to work with Peel

and others to ensure that Scotland’s

energy needs can be met through

developing energy sustainably and in

the right places, and the important

wildlife of the Hunterston site can be

safeguarded in future.”

Find out more about Hunterston on

our casework page:

For more information contact Aedán

Smith at

David Kjaer (

Lydd Quarry – site of mineral extraction. Many counties are now incorporating a new approach to their mineral plans

Are mineral plans providing

for biodiversity?

Nature After Minerals (NAM) has spent the last two years

busily promoting recommendations in a report by David

Tyldesley Associates in 2010: A Review of MDFs in respect of

BAP targets through MDF policy. So, is biodiversity playing

more of a key role in emerging policies? In short, the answer

appears to be “yes”.

Where once there may have been a cursory mention

deep within the background text to restoration policies,

biodiversity is being placed high up on the agenda, with

biodiversity delivery integrated within the plan Vision. This

makes it clear to the developer that biodiversity has to be

a key consideration in any planning application, and gives

a strong steer towards a nature conservation end-use.

Nottinghamshire County Council’s Issues and Options

minerals plan is a good example of this, while Somerset CC

have linked their biodiversity policies to local and national

biodiversity action plan targets.

A mineral plan also needs to be strong in its requirement for a

primary end-use and the Oxfordshire draft Minerals & Waste

core strategy document provides a good case example. The

plan requires that each restoration scheme will now have a

coherent land-use strategy with a particular primary end use,

which will provide a simpler long-term management

proposition and maximise the nature conservation value of

the habitats provided.

Priority habitats take time to mature, yet mineral planning

permissions are usually issued with a statutory five-year

aftercare requirement. However, Oxfordshire County Council

are taking a lead with a visionary approach, which means that

operators and landowners will be required to provide for a

25-year period of aftercare and management (20 years beyond

the five-year statutory requirement). This will give restored

habitats a much greater chance of success.

These positive messages in emerging mineral plans from a

number of authorities demonstrate how, through a successful

collaborative approach, county councils, NAM, and other

nature conservation organisations are maximising the benefits

for biodiversity from mineral restoration.

For more information contact John Mills at

As a charity, the RSPB depends on the goodwill and financial support of its members and people like you.

Please visit or call 01767 680551 to find out how to join.

UK Headquarters

The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire

SG19 2DL Tel: 01767 680551

Fax: 01767 692365

Northern Ireland Headquarters

Belvoir Park Forest, Belfast BT8 7QT

Tel: 028 9049 1547 Fax: 028 9049 1547

Scotland Headquarters

2 Lochside View, Edinburgh Park,

Edinburgh, EH12 9DH Tel: 0131 317 4100

Wales Headquarters

Sutherland House, Castlebridge,

Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff CF11 9AB

Tel: 029 2035 3000 Fax: 029 2035 3017

North Wales Office

Uned 14, Llys Castan, Ffordd Y Parc,

Parc Menai, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 4FD

Tel: 01248 672850 Fax: 01248 676767

Midlands Regional Office

46 The Green, South Bar, Banbury,

Oxfordshire OX16 9AB Tel: 01295 253330

Fax: 01295 265734

Eastern England Regional Office

Stalham House, 65 Thorpe Road,

Norwich NR1 1UD Tel: 01603 661662

Fax: 01603 660088

Northern England Regional Offices

1 Sirius House, Amethyst Road, Newcastle

Business Park, Newcastle upon Tyne

NE4 7YL Tel: 0191 256 8200

Fax: 0191 212 0622

Westleigh Mews, Wakefield Road,

Denby Dale, Huddersfield HD8 8QD

Tel: 01484 861148 Fax: 01484 862018

South East England Regional Office

1st Floor, Pavilion View, 19 New Road

Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1UF

Tel: 01273 775333 Fax: 01767 685535

South West England Regional Office

1st Floor, Keble House, Southernhay

Gardens, Exeter, Devon EX1 1NT

Tel: 01392 432691 Fax: 01392 453750

East Scotland Regional Office

10 Albyn Terrace, Aberdeen AB10 1YP

Tel: 01224 624824 Fax: 01224 626234

North Scotland Regional Office

Etive House, Beechwood Park,

Inverness IV2 3BW Tel: 01463 715000

Fax: 01463 715315

South and West Scotland Regional Office

10 Park Quadrant, Glasgow G3 6BS

Tel: 0141 331 0993 Fax: 0141 331 9080

The RSPB speaks out for birds and

wildlife, tackling the problems that

threaten our environment. Nature is

amazing – help us keep it that way.

We belong to BirdLife International,

the global partnership of bird

conservation organisations.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

(RSPB) is a registered charity: England and

Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654.

Cover photo: RSPB Forsinard Flows by

Eleanor Bentall (


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