Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Straitgate’s dormice

For people who haven’t read Aggregate Industries' recent Request for a Scoping Opinion, this is what it has to say about Straitgate’s population of dormice - a European Protected Species:
Some 200 dormouse ‘nest tubes’ were deployed at 10-20m intervals across many hedgerows on the site and in further suitable habitat to the east of the application boundary in order to sample potential dormouse habitat. Nest tubes were installed in May and June and two interim checks were made during July and early September 2013. The final check and retrieval of tubes was made in October and November 2013. On 3rd July 2013 the survey found no evidence of dormouse. On 5th September 2013 five dormouse nests were found, one of which contained an adult dormouse. On 1 October and 4th November 25 dormouse nests were found, two of which contained an adult dormouse, and three nests which contained two dormice: one adult and one sub-adult. This evidence indicates that dormice are highly likely to be present in all suitable habitat within the site and local area. Therefore all shrub habitat (including hedgerows and woodland) within the site has been classified as dormouse habitat for the purposes of the European Protected Species Licence application.
One of the UK’s most endangered mammals, dormice are now protected by law. Continuing destruction and fragmentation of hedgerow and woodland habitats have taken dormice numbers down to around 45,000 across the UK. Aggregate Industries would have to apply to Natural England for a licence in order to proceed, and demonstrate that it can meet three statutory tests:
the project is for the purpose of preserving public health or public safety or other reasons of overriding public interest, and there is no satisfactory alternative, and the action will not be detrimental to the population of the species

DCC would also need to address these three tests when deciding whether to grant planning permission, and "if it is clear or perhaps very likely that the requirements of the Directive cannot be met… then the authority should act upon that, and refuse permission".

Looking at the three tests more closely: Firstly, mineral extraction can count as an ‘imperative reason of overriding public interest’, but let’s remember that a) this is commonly available sand and gravel we are talking about, not some nationally or internationally important mineral that occurs only in limited areas of the UK, and b) the amount of resource available (to justify the harm) is now much reduced. Secondly, on the question of no satisfactory alternative, plainly there are alternative sites, and also alternative materials. Again, "the greater the impact of the proposal on the species, the more evidence Natural England would expect to see from the applicant in order to be able to satisfy itself that there is no satisfactory alternative to the one being proposed". On the third test, it’s difficult to see how ripping out so much hedgerow, some up to 4m wide, could be anything but detrimental to the population of the species, whatever number of saplings are planted in mitigation. We’re not talking about the loss of a few metres for a gateway… we are talking about the loss of almost two miles of ancient hedgerow.

Have dormice and protected species made any difference to planning decisions in the past? Absolutely. Here are just a few - here, here, here, here and here.