17 Dec 2012 The advantages of non-standard surveys: a Badger bait marking case study
Wildlife legislation and licensing requirements can often lead to a relatively standard suite of ecological surveys being undertaken to support planning applications. However, in some cases, non-standard surveys can be very helpful in increasing confidence in the conclusions of an assessment, informing mitigation strategies and securing licences. While such surveys inevitably result in additional up-front financial outlay, if well-conceived they can significantly reduce the potential for objection, thereby reducing the time taken to secure planning consent and limiting project risk. The initial cost is therefore often considerably outweighed by the saving in time and money resulting from an earlier or less complicated consent.
To inform and support a recent proposed residential development in Oxfordshire, BSG implemented a bait marking survey to determine the ranges of a number of badger clans. A short summary of the work, and how this helped to inform the planning application, is set out below.
Case Study: Residential Development in Oxfordshire
BSG Ecology is currently working on a large-scale residential development in Oxfordshire. Over the 4-5 years in which BSG has been involved with the scheme, the main sett of a badger clan has moved from the edge of the site to a relatively central location (possibly in response to flooding). The sett cannot be retained in its current location, as it is likely to become isolated by infrastructure (such as internal roads) vital to making the development functional.
Complicating factors ….
In order to compensate for the loss of a main sett, it is normal practice to construct an alternative sett linked to suitable foraging habitat. The habitat can be enhanced to provide a more optimum foraging resource, and / or the sett can be artificially fed to encourage badgers to use it. However, in many areas of the country badgers are currently present at high density, and the badger survey work undertaken to inform the planning application for this site also recorded further main setts to the north, west and east. It was not clear where the foraging territories of the badgers on site and those of the additional social groups extended to. Therefore, in order to maximise the chances of the correct social group occupying an artificial sett, and to inform the best position for it, the territories of all these groups needed to be understood.
The solution ….
In order to understand the foraging ranges of the local badger clans, bait was put out close to each of the main setts for a two week period. This bait comprised a mixture of peanuts, oats and golden syrup along with indigestible (but safe) coloured plastic pellets. This method relies on the fact that badgers use regular ‘latrine’ sites that demarcate territorial boundaries. The use of different coloured pellets to bait different main setts should therefore allow the territories of respective clans to be identified.
BSG brought in a recognised national badger expert; Dr Julian Brown, to help complete the survey work. The results of bait marking surveys, while theoretically straightforward, are often not clear cut in practice, and require detailed technical understanding of the social behaviour and ecology of badgers. The approach to the badger work was discussed and agreed with Natural England, and the results allowed us to work with our client to devise a range of mitigation options to inform the Masterplanning process and subsequent planning application.
How has bait marking helped …. ?
The project has not been determined to date. However, badgers will be one of the key (material) considerations of the planning process from an ecological perspective, and the result from the bait marking study will allow a far greater degree of certainty that the mitigation will work than would otherwise have been the case. The involvement of a national expert in interpreting the results adds further confidence to the interpretation, and has helped the client to agree the scope of mitigation work with Natural England. This in turn should enable the mitigation licence (required to close the main sett) to be secured without avoidable delays in the process. This has demonstrably reduced project risk. Whether it helps to speed up the planning process remains to be seen.
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