Friday, 31 May 2013

There are orchids in those woods and a whole lot more...

An ecology expert from SLR Consultants undertook an initial walkover survey of local woodland this week, to gauge what future ecological work would be required in relation to Aggregate Industries' preparations for a planning application to quarry Straitgate Farm. His route took him into ancient woodlands, past swathes of bluebells, small woodland ponds, badger sets and purple orchids.

Bat surveys have already started at Straitgate, and some people will have seen the 'tubes' that have been put up to detect dormice activity. From our own experience there are many bats, and the ecology expert would be surprised if there were not dormice in the area too. There are also a number of small woodland ponds in the locality with ideal conditions for great crested newts, and in time these sites will be surveyed for their presence. All these species are protected and would need to be moved or 'persuaded' to move out of harm's way before any quarrying could commence.

What particularly interested the ecology expert on his walkover were parts of Cadhay Bog. This area is a wetland habitat reliant on water from the Straitgate aquifer. The boggy ground, the plant species and the topography all indicate that Cadhay Bog is not just ancient woodland - i.e. continuously wooded since at least 1600 AD - but very ancient or 'primary' ancient woodland. In other words it may have been woodland for up to 10,000 years - a remnant of the prehistoric woodland or 'wildwood' that colonised Britain after the last Ice Age.

Such areas of woodland are rare. The Woodland Trust says that "only two per cent of Britain remains as ancient woodland today" and the percentage that has uninterrupted physical continuity with the wildwood obviously much less.

Such habitats are protected, and the NPPF says "planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and the loss of aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland, unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss".

AI may have difficulty in persuading the Environment Agency, Natural England and others that it can quarry Straitgate, and remove unsaturated and saturated parts of the aquifer, without changing the water regime supplying the wetland habitat of this ancient woodland. To do so could cause irreparable harm, and will no doubt be a focus for AI's hydrogeology consultants in the weeks and months ahead.