BSG Ecology was commissioned by Barratt Homes to provide ecological support in relation to its 130 home Meadow View residential development in Swindon, Wiltshire. Planning conditions included the production and subsequent implementation of a habitat management plan. One of the functions of this plan was to provide habitat to accommodate great crested newts that would need to be translocated (under licence) when the site was cleared. BSG partitioned the site using fencing in order to allow areas with low newt potential to be cleared and freed up for development, benefiting our client’s programme. Furthermore a licence amendment made provisions for a substantial hibernacula, constructed from surplus materials, which benefitted both the newts and the client due to the additional high quality habitat it provided and reduced removal costs for materials. Monitoring has demonstrated an increase in numbers of all amphibian species, indicating that the development has achieved local biodiversity gain for great crested newt as well as delivering against local housing needs.
The site was a former military depot, known as Cowans Camp; the main ecological issue was a medium-sized population of great crested newts associated with two concrete-lined water storage tanks (for use by emergency services in case of fire). A population of grass snake was also present on site.
The water tanks and all of the buildings needed to be removed to allow the site to be redeveloped. The main challenge of the brief was therefore to design, agree and deliver a mitigation strategy that would successfully enable the capture and exclusion of newts from a formerly developed site. Complications included locating and avoiding services, installing amphibian fencing over hard standing and trapping amphibians within a built environment. Meanwhile a relatively inflexible project construction timeline had to be achieved.
BSG worked closely with the client team to ensure they understood potential uncertainties with regard to the programme, such as delays in the determination of the mitigation licence by Natural England, or unexpectedly high capture rates of amphibians, and could put in place contingency plans. In the event, however, the design specification (which included the creation of three ponds and six hibernacula set in grassland and scrub and linked to amenity green space) and mitigation schedule was rapidly agreed with nature conservation stakeholders, and a European Protected Species licence secured to translocate the newts. The fencing layout was designed to allow those parts of the site that could be trapped out quickly and straightforwardly to be released to development much sooner than other parts, such as the water storage tanks and their immediate vicinity (where most of the amphibians that were translocated were found). Mid-way through the construction period, it became clear that a surplus volume of inert materials (mostly brick rubble, concrete, brash piles and some soil) would need to be removed from site; at considerable cost. BSG secured a licence amendment to make provisions for a substantial hibernacula constructed of these materials. BSG provided on site ecological support throughout the translocation and habitat creation works, which were completed to time and budget.
Five years of monitoring has demonstrated that the site now supports a high population of great crested newt, with a peak count of over 100 individuals noted during monitoring. The habitat creation has also realised wider biodiversity benefit, providing excellent habitat for grass-snake, invertebrates and breeding scrubland birds.
‘Throughout the project BSG has had to respond quickly to changes in the way that the development has been constructed, such as adjustments to access roads, use of stockpiles and alterations to the work schedule. As such a number of licence modifications have been sought from Natural England. We have had full confidence in BSG’s ability to secure these modifications and keep the development programme on track without any significant additional costs or delays. We are delighted to have been able to create a residential development that brings biodiversity benefits that can be enjoyed by residents both new and old in this local community.’
David Millin, Barratt Homes