London’s important wildlife sites are recognised by the Greater London Authority and Borough councils as Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs). There are over 1,400 SINCs in Greater London, covering nearly 20% of the capital.
There are three tiers of sites, (1) Sites of Metropolitan Importance, (2) Grade I or Grade II Sites of Borough Importance, and (3) Sites of Local Importance.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council (hereafter RBKC) completed a borough-wide habitat survey in 2002. In 2014, RBKC appointed BSG Ecology to undertake a comprehensive update.
The surveyed sites included 25 SINCs and 12 additional open spaces (six of which were targeted as a result of gap analysis¹ completed by BSG).
Primary Objectives of Project
BSG Ecology delivered a strategic overview report of the survey programme and individual reports for each site. The objectives were to:
(i) establish an updated ecological baseline for the Borough;
(ii) assess the extent and condition of wildlife habitats in the Borough and report changes in the extent, boundaries and quality of these in comparison to the 2002 survey where applicable;
(iii) identify new sites that would qualify for non-statutory wildlife site designation using objective criteria set by the London Wildlife Sites Board and recommend any changes to the grading of sites already designated; and,
(iv) identify areas of habitat/features within SINCs or undesignated sites of biodiversity interest that have the potential for enhancement.
It is intended that the reports will provide an evidence base to inform new Local Plan policy preparation, planning decisions and management plans in relation to the protection of RBKC’s non-statutory site based biodiversity interests. In addition, the results will be used to update the information used in the Borough’s Ecologically Sensitive Areas: the GIS alert layer used in the planning process.
To inform the work, the relevant biodiversity records centre, Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL), provided SINC citations and maps, habitat areas, records of London Invasive Species and protected species points and polygons.
Following access being agreed, surveys were throughout May-October 2014 in accordance with standard JNCC guidelines for Phase 1 Habitat Survey (JNCC, 2010). This involved a site walkover during which all habitats present were mapped, and notes were made on the dominant flora. The approach used in the open space and habitat survey for Greater London² was adopted, using habitat classifications appropriate for London to ensure consistency in the comparison of results between years and between boroughs.
The successful completion of the work enabled RBKC to take an objective review of the SINC system. Having reviewed the quality of habitats and current land management practices within each site, the designation of six sites were proposed to be upgraded, one site was proposed to be downgraded due to a reduction in habitat quality; and one site proposed to be de-notified.
Management recommendations to increase the biodiversity value of each site retained, included:
- Management prescriptions for existing habitats, such as woodland and scrub, grassland and wildflower meadows and the control of invasive species;
- Creation of new habitats, such as community orchards, hedgerows and ponds;
- Creating new opportunities for wildlife, such as installing bird and bat boxes, creating loggeries for invertebrates and hibernacula for reptiles and amphibians;
- Engaging local communities with areas of public open space; and
- Building upon the GiGL database with targeted species surveys to inform future planning applications.
¹ Gap analysis aimed to capture smaller habitat parcels, newly created sites and collections of greenspace that may form important wildlife corridors or links between existing spaces