Wednesday, 22 January 2014

All hedgerows are important - some at Straitgate are also protected

Aggregate Industries are planning to grub up almost two miles of ancient hedgerows at Straitgate.

In 2001, local people raised money for Devon Biodiversity Records Centre to perform An Ecological Assessment of Straitgate Farm and Cadhay Woods. Here’s what it said on hedgerows:
3.1.1 Hedgerows 
The Hedgerows Regulations of 1997 were introduced in order to protect important hedges from removal. They set out a list of criteria, principally the number of woody species present in a 30m length combined with the presence or absence of other features, which can define a hedge as being ‘important’. If a hedge is considered to be important, the local authority must refuse permission to remove it unless they decide that removal of the hedge is justified. 
The hedgerows at Straitgate are all present on the 1840 tithe map and are therefore potentially at least 160 years old. Hoopers rule states that each extra woody species present in a hedge represents 100 years of time, therefore a hedge with six species present may be 500 years old and so on. The older a hedge the greater its historical and ecological value. 
A total of six hedgerows [at Straitgate] comply with the criteria for defining an important hedge and these are shown on Map 2. In general, most of the hedges on the farm, including those not meeting these criteria, are of high wildlife value. Most of them are bushy and extremely thick, up to four metres wide in some cases, and many are dominated by holly, which provides good food supplies and shelter for many bird and mammal species in winter. Because the survey was carried out in December, it is possible that the number of species present has been underestimated and further survey in spring or summer could reveal more ‘important’ hedges.
That was 12 years ago. Now AI’s plans rip right through one area of ‘important’ hedgerows. But as the report makes clear, other stretches could also be ‘important’ and would be protected under The Hedgerows Regulations. To remove them, AI would need to overcome yet another hurdle, and justify this to DCC. These hedgerows are not just habitat for dormice, themselves endangered and therefore protected, but they also support a whole host of other species - including bats.

However much hedgerow is classed as ‘important’, losing two miles of ancient hedgerows would have a severe impact on local wildlife habitat. But hedgerows also perform a number of other important functions, not least of which is to slow surface water run-off, lessening the impact of flooding - an important issue for flood-prone Ottery St Mary, downstream of the four watercourses emanating from the Farm. This would be on top of the loss of three million tonnes of groundwater storage that the sand and gravel at Straitgate Farm provides.

After so much hedgerow has been lost in Britain - 200,000 miles worth in the last 30 years - can we afford to lose any more? If hedgerows are ‘important’ under The Hedgerows Regulations then that should mean something - and removal should only be in exceptional circumstances. Mining for common sand & gravel aggregates can never be classed as exceptional circumstances.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Exeter Airport’s response fails to consider the complete picture

It now transpires that the response Exeter Airport gave after meeting with Aggregate Industries and SLR "to discuss the issues of a potential increased bird strike risk from quarrying operations and how best, if possible, to mitigate against the risk", was based only upon the ephemeral pond indicated on SLR's concept plans, and not on the more extensive - and permanent - ponding and wetlands outlined in SLR's Hydrological Position Statement, July 2013, i.e.
The provision of water storage along the [eastern] boundaries of the site, to mitigate flooding and maintain groundwater flow, also offers the opportunity to create a priority wetland habitat and therefore enhance the ecology of the area.
In the meantime, and for any scheme that Exeter Airport might approve, it remains unclear who would assume, or would want to assume, responsibility for the management of birds and any bird strikes resulting from these ponds and wetlands once AI has gone - for the lifetime of the airport.

Exactly five years ago today, a plane taking off from New York lost both engines through birdstrike and ditched in the Hudson River, fortunately with no loss of life. The issue of birds is important.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Does Aggregate Industries think it’s all in the bag now?

Aggregate Industries was busy at Straitgate Farm again yesterday, this time setting out markers for tree and hedgerow planting.

Is AI assuming that planning permission will be a formality, that the site will be included in Devon’s Minerals Plan, and that the boundaries will stay the same as first assumed on its concept plans?

In February, a 20m wide tree belt will be planted on the south-western side of the farm, and hedgerows will be planted along the proposed eastern extraction boundary, 5 plants per metre. Such planting will of course take many years to mature into anything worthwhile.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Exeter Airport’s answer to the threat of birdstrike from any quarrying at Straitgate

Those responsible for airport safeguarding at Exeter Airport have now met with Aggregate Industries; this is an email we have received:
I have now had a meeting with Aggregate industries, SLR consulting and a company specializing in airport bird control and wildlife management regarding pre submission for the Straitgate quarry site. 
The purpose of the meeting was primarily to discuss the issues of a potential increased bird strike risk from quarrying operations and how best, if possible, to mitigate against the risk. The various stages of the quarrying operation were discussed at length and the risks to aviation from each stage were highlighted. The various methods of risk reduction and elimination were then discussed. 
It was agreed that prior to any planning application Aggregate Industries and SLR will produce a Wildlife Control Management Plan similar to what is currently in use at Exeter Airport, in consultation with a specialist bird control and wildlife Management Company and the Airport. 
Providing that the plan is robust, the wildlife and site are managed in an acceptable way, and the risk to aviation is no more that it is currently from the farmland, woodland and wetlands around the area then Exeter Airport will have no objections.
So Exeter Airport has moved from from saying “To ensure aviation safety it is suggested that no ponds or body of water be allowed as part of this development” to saying that with conditions it would permit this. This will disappoint many who fear that water-based restoration would create an additional risk of birdstrike to overflying aircraft.

Is it enough to buy a bird management plan and hope for the best? Many have argued that it is not. But that appears to be what is being proposed, for AI’s plan of creating "a priority wetland habitat” under an international flightpath, 6 km from the runway where planes land some 90 seconds later.

If birds are attracted to these wetlands, how would they be dispersed? Could we look forward to the sound of bird scarers or pyrotechnics at Straitgate Farm, as well as the sound of quarrying? Or would birds be culled, as commonly happens elsewhere?

Whatever action is proposed, let’s hope any plan is “robust” because it’s not as if Exeter Airport is free from bird strikes, or that the threat is not growing: 5 strikes were recorded in 2002; 22 were recorded in the first 9 months of 2012.

Who will assume responsibility for bird management once AI has moved on, for the lifetime of the airport? That’s a question Exeter Airport has yet to answer. 

Meanwhile, SLR will now be performing a series of bird surveys over the next 3 months.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

"Mineral extraction and quarrying can create a bird hazard..."

"...because, although these processes do not in themselves attract birds, the sites are commonly used for landfill or the creation of wetland" warns the Town & Country Planning (Safeguarded Aerodromes, Technical Sites and Military Explosives Storage Areas) Direction 2002.

And create a wetland is exactly what Aggregate Industries says it will do at Straitgate Farm:
The provision of water storage along the [eastern] boundaries of the site, to mitigate flooding and maintain groundwater flow, also offers the opportunity to create a priority wetland habitat and therefore enhance the ecology of the area.
Should Exeter Airport or its passengers be at all concerned about a quarry directly under its landing path and the risk of bird strikes? Here are a few tweets which might give an answer:

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

“Gravel extraction application rejected by Three Rivers” reads the headline

Here’s a story that appeared over the Christmas period. It's about what happened in Hertfordshire when the Environment Agency objected to a sand and gravel quarry:
...the Environment Agency said: "We believe that the proposed development would pose an unacceptable risk to groundwater quality and potable water supplies, and we recommend that planning permission should be refused on this basis."
District councillors unanimously agreed that the application to amend these conditions of extraction... should be rejected by Hertfordshire County Council. 
The officer's report made clear "In determining applications for mineral extraction, the NPPF confirms that local planning authorities should ensure that any permitted operations do not have unacceptable adverse impacts on... the flow and quantity of surface and groundwater”.

So why, when the Environment Agency has already made its views on Straitgate Farm so clear - even imposing SPZs to protect peoples' water supplies, is the site still in the frame?

What is different between this and Straitgate is that at least the applicant above "concedes that the seven year supply is already exceeded in Hertfordshire and recognises that, in these circumstances, there is a policy presumption against the granting of new planning permissions”. Let's remember that, at the end of 2012, Devon still had 16 years' worth of permitted sand and gravel reserves.