Dormouse decline

Britain's native dormouse has declined by more than a third since the year 2000 according to a new report by wildlife charity, the People's Trust for Endangered Species.

The State of Britain's Dormice report also shows that hazel dormice are extinct in 17 English counties. The researchers assessed more than 100,000 records gathered from across the UK over 25 years. The report says the dormouse is now vulnerable to extinction in Britain.

High Court judgement to impact developers in Devon

Developers working in Devon should be aware of a recent High Court judgement which followed a challenge by Abbotskerswell Parish Council (APC) to Teignbridge District Council, regarding the robustness of their Local Plan in respect of the Habitats Regulations. APC’s case was that the Local Plan recommended for adoption by the Inspector was in breach of the Habitats Regulations, in that it failed to properly protect the South Hams Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which is designated for its internationally important greater horseshoe bat population. The main thrust of the APC challenge was that insufficient bat baseline survey had been undertaken on the allocated sites included in the plan; in other words detailed surveys should have been undertaken prior to their inclusion in the plan (or exclusion), rather than at the pre-planning application stage, as is usually the case. Clearly this challenge, if upheld, would have had substantial implications for other local plans where European sites would be potentially be affected. The High Court dismissed the challenge on the grounds that work undertaken by Teignbridge DC during plan preparation was robust; in particular because they had commissioned consultants to carefully examine, in strategic terms, all the allocated sites. The consultants had come to the conclusion that where it was likely than effective mitigation would be possible, those sites should be included in the plan. Those sites that could not be effectively mitigated were excluded from the plan.

The key point from a developers perspective is that if a site falls within any of the 2010 Natural England consultation zones (‘Strategic Flyways’ and ‘Sustenance Zones’) there is likely to be greater scrutiny regarding greater horseshoe bats and a more robust requirement for developers to following the existing guidance ( A bespoke mitigation strategy for GHB may also now be required and this will if needed, be conditioned.

The NE guidance will be replaced at some point by an updated document which is being driven by the several local authorities across which the SAC bat consultation guidance applie

Guidance on LPA ‘Biodiversity Duty’

Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 places a duty on local authorities to have ‘due regard’ for biodiversity during the course of their operations. Until now there have been no guidelines on how this might be achieved and to this end Defra and Natural England have just jointly released the following guidance:
We have now reviewed this document and have to report that, unfortunately, it is lacking in any meaningful detail, to the point where it is of limited use to developers seeking guidance. Importantly it seems to be of no practical use at all to local authority planners attempting to determine what their duties in this important area might be. It is to be hoped that the volley of criticism from ecologists currently being experienced on LinkedIn and other forums has the effect of forcing Defra and NE into a rethink and that subsequently they review and reissue what should have been a milestone document!

Ecological Capacity in Local Planning Authorities

CIEEM recently reported that September 2014 saw the All Party Parliamentary Group on Biodiversity (APPGB) hold a meeting to consider the importance of ecological capacity in Local Planning Authorities (LPAs). This has been an important topic of discussion for us with our developer clients for a number of years now, but increasing budgetary pressure on local authorities has made it all the more pertinent; the review and ongoing public discussion is welcome.

CIEEM reported that key conclusions / recommendations from the meeting have been sent to relevant Ministers and Shadow Ministers asking for direct meetings on the subject and a summary of these key points are listed below:

Meeting conclusions:

· Planning authorities have statutory / policy obligations to conserve and enhance biodiversity;
· Many LPAs have neither the capacity nor the competence to undertake effective assessment of planning applications re biodiversity; this means they often fail to fulfil their statutory duties;
· Continued reduction in ecological capacity in LPAs may reflect short-term expediency, but this reduction reduces efficiency and slows the planning process. Moreover, by creating uncertainty, longer-term investment is probably reduced. In particular, a lack of pre-application advice significantly increases the risks of planning applications being delayed (e.g. when third parties raise objections on ecological grounds that should have been noted by a LPA ecologist);
· Developers generally support measures to expand ecological capacity and competence in LPAs, as they recognise the need to make planning more efficient but also to deliver better (appropriate, proportionate and cost effective) delelopment outcomes.
· The capacity / competence gap may be exacerbated if biodiversity offsetting becomes more widely adopted.
· The ‘mitigation hierarchy’ (of which biodiversity offsetting is the final part) provides a quantifiable, transparent mechanism for the assessment of environmental impacts of developments; however it needs a professional approach and rigorous application. The November 2013 Association of Local Government Ecologists report found that 74% of planners have only a basic understanding of this important process.


· There must be increased scrutiny of resourcing available to the Planning Inspectorate to ensure that LPAs understand and adhere to national / local biodiversity policies and statutory obligations;
· The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and DEFRA must explore models of shared ecological expertise between LPAs and promote these as best practice;
· There needs to be a requirement for all ecological work submitted with planning applications to be provided by a member of a professional body (e.g. CIEEM) thereby raising standards / increase competencies, and thus increasing confidence in information submitted to LPAs; work is currently patchy in quality.
· There needs to be a commitment from DCLG to promote adoption of BS42020 and information to LPAs must be in a standardised format to provide greater consistency / clarity to decision-makers;
· DCLG / DEFRA need to engage an independent body to ensure the required (audited) delivery of the ‘biodiversity duty’ of LPAs occurs.
· Government should mandate LPAs to deliver robustly on their biodiversity duties rather than treat the biodiversity as a luxury to be ignored because staffing its assessment is too expensive.

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