Nike Group is progressing with a planning application for a large-scale mixed use development on over 33ha of former pasture land to the west of Bracknell, Berkshire. Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) supports the principle of development on the site within their Core Strategy. An Amen Corner Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) has been prepared by BFC and this requires the identification of measures to avoid and mitigate the impact of residential development on the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA).
The Thames Basin Heaths SPA is a series of predominantly heathland sites in southern England. Collectively, these sites are designated in accordance with the EC Birds Directive due to their internationally important populations of ground nesting birds. These species are under existing pressure, particularly as a result of disturbance and nest predation resulting from recreational use of the heaths. Under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, plans or projects that could affect an SPA are subject to Appropriate Assessment to determine if significant adverse effects on the interest features are likely to occur. Natural England has produced guidance indicating that any residential development within 5km of the Thames Basin Heaths must be supported by adequate mitigation to alleviate further pressure on the SPA species from a potential increase in visitor numbers. If suitable mitigation cannot be provided, or if there is doubt as to whether the integrity of the SPA would be adversely affected, then planning consent cannot be granted.
The provision of a Suitable Area of Natural Green Space (SANGS) is an approach that can address this disturbance issue by creating alternative public green space. As Amen Corner falls within 5km of the SPA, the likely requirement for SANGS was identified by BFC at an early stage.
BSG Ecology’s role in the project
BSG Ecology has been significantly involved in the Amen Corner site for over 4 years. In 2008 we were commissioned to complete an extended Phase 1 habitat survey of the site in order to gather baseline ecological information and to provide recommendations for ecological assessment to inform the production of the Amen Corner SPD. The SPD sets out ecology requirements for future planning applications at this site: an application is to be supported by a thorough ecological assessment, including up-to-date habitat and species surveys. Further, the SPD also requests a management plan to protect Riggs Copse, an area of ancient semi-natural woodland within the site. This woodland carries the non-statutory designation of a Local Wildlife Site (LWS) due to its biodiversity interest. Riggs Copse is also identified within the SPD as on-site SANGS provision. Off-site SANGS can be provided within a nearby area of woodland known as Big Wood, currently owned by BFC.
Nike Group commissioned BSG Ecology to provide ecological services and advice to enable their progression of an outline planning application for the site. The first step was to develop a survey programme to gather the appropriate baseline ecological information for the site. This was discussed and agreed with BFC in order to ensure the SPD requirements could be met. BSG then completed the surveys and produced a series of detailed reports establishing the ecological interest of the site and containing suggestions for informing how this could be maintained within the masterplan for the site.
The outline masterplan for the site will inform our preparation of the ecology chapter for inclusion within the Environmental Statement supporting the planning application.
The provision of adequate SANGS at Amen Corner is a key element in the masterplanning process. BSG Ecology prepared a management plan for the woodland areas proposed as SANGS. This clearly sets out how Natural England’s requirements for SANGS will be delivered whilst maintaining and enhancing the biodiversity interest of the woodlands, in particular the LWS at Riggs Copse. Consultation included a site meeting between BSG Ecology, BFC and Nike Group representatives to agree the overall objectives of management for the SANGS. The plan has been produced to meet these objectives, including the creation of a series of new circular footpaths, information panels and well-placed access points, plus the reinstatement of active woodland management practices including coppicing and native regeneration. This plan aims to create a valuable new publicly accessible green space of increased wildlife interest, and to satisfy Natural England and BFC that the project can go ahead without adversely affecting the interest of the SPA.