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.