Monday, 12 October 2015

You couldn’t make this up!

Fancy that! Suddenly, at the 11th hour, Aggregate Industries has found a European Protected Species it can call its own; how remarkable, how helpful, how timely!

AI couldn’t be bothered to look properly for great crested newts around Straitgate Farm: "the majority of ponds within 500m of the site boundary were not surveyed due to lack of access permission" 2.3.1; the pond fed directly by Straitgate in nearby Cadhay Wood, indicated as likely to contain GCNs by a senior SLR ecologist, wasn’t even looked at. DCC had to request that:
But it was nothing to do with access permission. AI has now changed its tune, saying that the majority of these ponds were in fact "non-existent or were dry hollows which were incapable of supporting breeding amphibians" 4.8. In which case, how can we rely on anything from the original report? Another pond, less than 500m away at Lowlands Farm, was also not identified or surveyed, despite again getting its water from Straitgate and showing up as clear as day on Google Earth.

But AI can find GCNs when it wants to, and now says that GCNs in one of its ponds at Rockbeare should stop the site being used as an alternative to Woodbury Common AONB SAC SPA SSSI.
A further significant constraint to the disposal of silt at Beggars Roost is the presence of Great Crested Newts (GCN) which has been identified during a survey of waterbodies at Rockbeare between April and June 2015. 8.17
AI must be getting worried if it's looking for new reasons to put 1.2 million HGV miles on our local roads, compromising the East Devon AONB and the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, a site of European importance to nature. Because this claim did not come out in AI's original application - the one that was several years in the planning. In fact, why was AI suddenly looking for GCNs at Rockbeare, in a location it never intended to use, other than to present another obstacle for the site to be used as an alternative?

The ecologists AI used for Rockbeare, not SLR this time but JG Ecological Surveys Ltd, 33 Cranford Avenue, Exmouth, seemed to know exactly why the company wanted to find GCNs:
If from an operational perspective a viable alternative exists for ancillary quarrying operations to continue without disturbing/destroying GCN habitats then obtaining a licence for destruction or modification of GCN habitat would seem vulnerable to legal challenge.
It is the opinion of JG Ecological Surveys Ltd that alternative opportunities to achieve the operational objectives for the company while avoiding disturbance to the local populations of GCN at Rockbeare Quarry should be sought.
Unfortunately for AI, however, the ecologists we have spoken to see no reason why a licence should not be granted to move the newts to other ponds at Rockbeare, or other suitable ponds nearby, in much the same way that AI hopes to secure a licence for Straitgate to move dormice, another European Protected Species, before destroying 2km of ancient hedgerow. What GCNs could do to AI's plans, however, is add delay and expense; if it adds delay, then that will have been of AI's own making for not doing the survey earlier. Natural England has "issued about 1,000 licences to disturb great crested newts so far in 2015, the vast majority of which were to move them for development purposes".

Nevertheless, as we have said before, if AI cares about GCNs at Rockbeare and is worried about relocating them, it can always use a silt press, negating the need to use the area in question, and providing material that could be used to restore Straitgate.

And given that GCNs have now been found in the area, [SLR originally said: "The desk study found no records of great crested newt within 2 km of the proposed development site. This lack of records is reflective of the general Devon area." 3.1], AI should go back and look at the ponds surrounding Straitgate Farm more carefully, including the one in Cadhay Wood and the one at Lowlands Farm, and do a proper survey - as requested by Natural England. Perhaps AI could use JG Ecological Services Ltd this time, if they are better at finding ponds and GCNs than SLR.