Saturday, 25 March 2017

How much compensatory planting has AI done? Google Earth tells us

Aggregate Industries would need to grub up hedgerows at Straitgate that are hundred of years old. Its consultants accept:
the presence of dormouse within the site, a species listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), means that all hedgerows within the site may be classified as ‘Important.’ 7.126 
It also claims:
Clearance and extraction of the fields over a 3-phase programme would eventually remove c. 1.75 km of hedgerow 7.195
It's a huge figure, but it's wrong. Because when you measure those hedgerows on Google Earth you find that 2050m would be removed - 1018m509m234m194m99m. AI's plans also show another 40m of hedgerow breaks. At a width of 3-4m that's about 0.7ha in total.

Meanwhile, at the Jurston Farm development in Somerset some 2398m of hedgerow, or 0.5ha, is due to be lost. Dormice have been found there too. Somerset County Council's Ecologist proposed an area of compensatory planting, such that six-and-a-half hectares of woodland have already been planted to provide new habitat for dormice; some 30,000 trees. In other words, 13 times the amount to be lost, which is understandable when immature planting is replacing established hedgerows.

How much has AI planted in mitigation? Last time, it eventually came clean in a Reg22 response that "tree planting in the south is a 20m wide strip totalling 1.2ha and comprising 3000 trees6.6. But those trees - or 85% of them, "30% oak, 25% silver birch, 15% hawthorn, 15% field maple" - were planted in the wrong place and were meant to be moved:
...the area is higher than 135m AOD and, following the recommendations of the Civil Aviation Authority and Exeter Airport Safeguarding Team, no new trees should be planted in this area. Therefore the tree species that were planted in this area are to be transplanted... 6.12
AI now wants to keep those trees in place, maintaining them "to a maximum of 4m to avoid future use of the habitat as a rookery", but the new application has revised the planting figure down to 1ha.
1 ha of new woodland habitat was advance-planted using native stock in January 2014, and c. 170 m of new hedgerow planted. A further 220 m of new hedgerow will be planted during Phase 1 of the proposed development... The new woodland and hedgerows will be primarily managed for dormice. 7.275
But that figure is wrong as well. Updated Google Earth pictures means we can work out exactly how much was planted, and the answer is 0.76ha, a shortfall of 2,400m2 on what AI claims.

AI would have to apply to Natural England for a licence in order to destroy this bat and dormouse habitat at Straitgate Farm, and demonstrate that it could meet three statutory tests. DCC would need to address these tests when deciding whether to grant planning permission. "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".

And how on earth could DCC be confident that Natural England would award a licence for work - when 0.76ha of currently worthless habitat has been planted in mitigation for the destruction of over 2000m of ancient hedgerows?

DCC spelt out the situation in its last Regulation 22 response:
Measures to mitigate adverse landscape and visual impacts are currently too general and unrelated to where adverse effects would be perceived. The purpose and likely effectiveness of advance planting is unclear. Mitigation measures for landscape are not integrated and consistent with ecological and other environmental mitigation.
Nothing appears to have changed since then - apart from Google Earth telling us the truth at last.

On the same basis as Jurston Farm, AI would need to have planted 9ha in mitigation.