BSG Ecology provided ecological support to a planning application for the re-development of this large brownfield site in Derbyshire for minerals extraction purposes.
The site comprises a 26ha parcel of land made up of disused former foundry tips, industrial plant, and a partially restored former deep mine tip, overlain by up to 7 metres of made-up ground. The majority of works on-site ceased over 20 years ago, since which time the site has developed a mixture of grassland and open mosaic habitats, supporting a diverse mix of botanical and invertebrate communities. The River Rother bisects the site. Beneath the river there is mineral material suitable for extraction.
The proposals involve the processing of the existing tips for secondary aggregates and the excavation of coal, and also requires the diversion of 140m of river, culminating in the restoration of the site for industrial use.
BSG Ecology’s Role in the Project
BSG Ecology was appointed at an early stage in the planning process. The need for detailed ecological survey work was identified in order to provide robust ecological baseline information to accompany the planning application. This need was identified particularly given the range of habitats that had developed on site since the cessation of earlier works.
Baseline survey work revealed that, without mitigation, a range of adverse impacts would result on key ecological receptors, including county-level impacts on the invertebrate assemblage, one of the grassland communities and prickly sedge, a Category 5 plant species in Derbyshire¹. In the absence of mitigation or compensation, district and local-level impacts were also anticipated on three open vegetation communities, four further types of grasslands, the river, pond, and otter.
The uneven and unstable terrain of parts of the site, and the nature of the proposed works, meant that retention of the majority of key ecological receptors in-situ was not viable. The long-term storage of topsoil in order to replace habitats following the restoration of the site was not an option, as the majority of the seeds for the species recorded at the site have a longevity of less than five years, and a high proportion less than one year (Ecoflora, 2012). As such it was considered that the habitats at the site would not successfully re-establish following a period of storage. Off-site ecological compensatory options were therefore explored in order to increase the acceptability of the development in planning policy terms. Suitable receptor sites were identified where compensation in the form of habitat translocation, creation and/or habitat management could be put in place to maintain or improve these areas for the benefit of invertebrates. The client was committed to secure and deliver long-term management. Early consultation was undertaken with Natural England (NE), Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (DWT) and Derbyshire County Council (DCC) and was ongoing throughout the development design process.
Despite the proposed on- and off-site avoidance, mitigation and compensation measures, residual impacts remained at a local level for invertebrates, two open mosaic vegetation communities and three grassland communities. NE and DWT objected to the scheme, on the basis of insufficient areas of habitat provision and the resulting anticipated significant residual effects. Their objections were echoed by DCC, necessitating an addendum to the EcIA.
BSG Ecology worked closely with our client to identify suitable alternative off-site receptor sites in the local area with the aim of reducing the residual impacts. Three receptor sites were identified and subsequently surveyed to confirm their suitability to function as receptor sites. Through close consultation with the project team, in particular the landscape architects, the receptor site layouts were designed, taking into account their baseline ecological value. Method Statements were prepared to describe the habitat translocation and/or creation works required to establish the habitats, and the subsequent on-going management requirements of the relevant habitats and species that will be subject to habitat translocation and/or creation and management. As a result of the revised proposals, anticipated residual impacts were reduced to neutral for invertebrates, open mosaic habitats and grasslands, with anticipated positive residual impacts on the river, otter, bats and water vole.
Further consultation was then undertaken with DWT and DCC following the scheme revisions and to demonstrate certainty in the ability to deliver the compensatory measures. DCC considered that the revisions and client commitments to secure the desired outcomes were sufficient and, consequently, an addendum to the EcIA was submitted to DCC in January 2013, confirming the revised proposals.
DCC has resolved to approve the application with conditions and accompanied by a Section 106 obligation. No objection has been received from DWT or NE either in principle or in respect of detail. In summary, the proposed mitigation, compensation and enhancement measures for the development will take place across four sites: retained and / or enhanced areas of the development site and three off-site receptor sites, all set within 1.2km of the development site. Whilst the proposals do not allow the retention of the mosaic of habitats in one single unit, the combination of on and off-site measures are considered to accord with the provisions of the NPPF to “minimise impacts on biodiversity and provide net gains in biodiversity where possible” with the aim to “establish coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures”² through the long-term positive management of these sites, which will seek to safeguard existing interests and maintain these habitat types into the long-term.
The ecological solution will result in the creation of a series of habitats which will contribute to the nature conservation value within the locality. The management of these sites will be secured by legal agreement and the legacy of the development will therefore be the creation of a number of sites that will be positively managed for biodiversity.
¹ Category 5 plant species are Locally Scarce or Locally Declining plants and are known from 4 to 10 sites (from 1969 onwards) in the county.
² Department for Communities and Local Government (2012). National Planning Policy Framework
Top Photograph: Open mosaic habitat on previously developed land, supporting a diverse mix of botanical and invertebrate communities
Bottom Photograph: Surveying for otter and water vole on the river Rother