Wernick Buildings proposed to relocate its manufacturing base to Kenfig Industrial Estate, near Port Talbot, and submitted plans to extend an access road along the eastern side of the existing Orion building. An ecology survey report previously produced by a third party to accompany the planning application suggested that the development site was unlikely to support breeding amphibians, but that great crested newt and common reptiles may be found on the site and may use rubble piles present for hibernating. In addition, a desk study of local records completed by a third party revealed that great crested newt breed in a pond located approximately 500m to the south-west of the site in the Kenfig Dunes Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
A recommendation for targeted survey of reptiles and great crested newt was made by the local planning authority in response to the conclusions of the ecology report.
BSG Ecology reviewed the requirement for further survey work and conducted a site visit and study of maps and aerial imagery to assess the habitats on the site and in the wider landscape.
The site was considered to provide some suitable habitat for terrestrial newts and reptiles, although this was limited in extent and quality. The majority of habitat was rank grassland with a fairly open sward and a thin soil base on hardcore. The thin vegetation cover and lack of tussock-forming grasses was considered to offer little hibernation potential for reptiles of amphibians. However, habitat features were identified by a line of scrub along one edge of the grassland area and a small rubble pile.
Terrestrial surveys (pitfall trapping) for great crested newts are not recommended in the guidance produced by Natural England¹ (and adopted by Natural Resources Wales) unless there is a genuine reason to do so. Such surveys are difficult to conduct thoroughly, take considerable time, and are likely to affect the welfare of great crested newts and other species. In addition, determination of population size class (as required for licensing purposes should mitigation be required) by sampling in terrestrial habitat distant from a pond is fraught with practical and interpretative difficulties, and is therefore not recommended.
Following a review of aerial imagery and ground truthing, one pond was identified approximately 120 m to the south of the development site boundary. This pond is adjacent to the River Kenfig and appeared to hold flood water from the river. Anecdotal evidence from the landowner suggested that the pond is seasonal in nature. However, ponds that dry out most years can still support populations of newts.
Our approach was to directly survey the nearby pond for the presence of great crested newt according to methods provided in the great crested newt mitigation guidelines¹ as a proportionate alternative to full terrestrial survey of the site itself. The pond survey aimed to identify the presence or likely absence of a local population, and the likelihood that terrestrial newts use the development site. The reasoning behind this was that if no newts were found during survey of the pond then the proposed on-site works would be unlikely to result in an offence under the Conservation of Habitats & Species Regulations (2010) or the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).
Reptile survey following standard terrestrial survey methods² was carried out on the development site in tandem with the great crested newt survey of the pond. This terrestrial survey also allowed for additional checks of great crested newt within the site, as a supplement to the pond survey.
The surveys were completed in spring 2014. No great crested newts were found on site or in the nearby pond, and so no mitigation measures for this species were required. A small population of reptiles was found to be present on the site. However, due to the restricted footprint of the proposed development, and the connection of the site to high quality habitats for reptiles to disperse to, it was considered satisfactory to provide a method statement for the work and limit reptile exclusion to basic vegetation management and refuge removal.
BSG Ecology adopted a pragmatic approach to establish the status of great crested newt on the development site using good practice guidance whilst considering the client’s time and cost interests. Consultation with the LPA prior to carrying out the survey work ensured that the method was accepted, and provided confidence to the client that the method was robust and acceptable to the council. Planning consent for the development was obtained in summer 2014, shortly after the completion of the surveys and provision of the survey report.
¹ English Nature (2001) The Great crested newt Mitigation Guidelines Peterborough, English Nature
² Gent, T and Gibson, S (2003) Herpetofauna Workers’ Manual. JNCC, Peterborough