Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Minerals trade body says "conserve & enhance". AI won't even do a proper survey

We are talking about bats. And anyone living near Straitgate Farm will know just how many bats swoop around the area. Some people are lucky enough to have roosts in the structure of their homes, and can witness their acrobatics at dusk and the early morning.

Aggregate Industries’ consultants, SLR, performed preliminary bat surveys at Straitgate last year. A report will be published shortly. SLR's ecologist has confirmed that “a range of bat species were found during the surveys, with pipistrelles being by far the most abundant”, one of the 17 species of bat breeding in the UK. The other species will apparently be revealed when the reports are “finalised” in due course. What is known, however, is that neither the farm buildings nor the veteran oaks have undergone any detailed assessment, and nor will they. The oaks were "provisionally inspected” but it has been confirmed that no further "specialist survey" is deemed necessary.

This is surprising. Back in 2001, the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre ecological report, of Straitgate and surrounds, recognised that:
It is possible that bats are using part of the farm as roost sites, for example the veteran trees. Because Devon is a stronghold for several bat species and the farm provides suitable habitat for them, a specialist bat survey should be carried out
SLR’s ecologist even admits that "bats exiting trees are generally obscured by the canopy” and “roosts in trees are extremely difficult to find” without climbing up into them, which begs the question as to how consultants can be so sure that roosts are not present. When local knowledge, local sightings and favourable habitat all point to a strong bat presence, it seems a nonsense that a specialist survey is not performed as a matter of course. Greater horseshoe bats for example, a particularly rare species, have been found locally. They like Devon's dairy farms, being drawn to cow pats and hedgerows, as this short video shows:

In Britain, all bat species and their roosts are legally protected. Tearing down mature trees and digging out a quarry must count as one of the most invasive forms of development for wildlife.

How important is it for bats to be properly assessed? Look what happened in Lancashire where permission for a new housing development was "overturned by the High Court because planners did not properly investigate the impact on local bats”. "Among concerns was the potential impact of removing a roadside hedgerow on bats which use it for foraging and shelter”.

You would have thought that the impact on bats by the grubbing up of nearly two miles of ancient hedgerows might warrant a second look, but if AI wants to penny-pinch and not perform a full and proper specialist bat survey, that is of course the company’s prerogative and the company’s risk. It may of course be that AI does not want to look too hard, fearful of what might be found. Whatever the reason, the lack of a proper survey will just confirm to some that the minerals industry's 'love of nature’ that we hear so much about - today, coincidentally, it was indeed about bats, is nothing more than corporate “greenwash”.