CS4: Nature Conservation

CS4: Nature Conservation

North Somerset contains outstanding wildlife habitats and species.  These include limestone grasslands, traditional orchards, wetlands, moors, rhynes, commons, hedgerows, ancient woodlands and the Severn Estuary. Key species include rare horseshoe bats, otters, wildfowl and wading birds, slow-worms and water voles.

The biodiversity of North Somerset will be maintained and enhanced by:

1) Seeking to meet local, regional and national Biodiversity Action Plan   targets and the regional biodiversity targets set out in the South West Regional Spatial Strategy, including those for maintenance, restoration and expansion of Priority Wildlife Habitats within North Somerset, and particularly in Strategic Nature Areas (SNAs), taking account of climate change and the need for habitats and species to adapt to it;

2) Seeking to ensure that new development is designed to maximise benefits to biodiversity, incorporating, safeguarding and enhancing natural habitats and features and adding to them where possible, particularly networks of habitats. A net loss of biodiversity interest should be avoided;

3) Seeking to protect and enhance important habitats, particularly designated sites, ancient woodlands and veteran trees;

4) Promoting the enhancement of existing and provision of new green infrastructure of value to wildlife, notably through implementation of the North Somerset Green Infrastructure Strategy;

5) Promoting tree planting and encouraging retention of trees, with a view to enhancing biodiversity, having regard to the Biodiversity and Trees Supplementary Planning Document.

This policy contributes towards meeting the objectives of Planning Policy Statement 9: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation.

Background

Biodiversity is concerned with the rich variety of plant and animal species and fungi, within their various habitats. National guidance promotes the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity as an integral part of sustainable development.

North Somerset has a particularly rich biodiversity and variety of habitats.

Species present include those which have undergone severe national declines, including many birds, bats, water voles, dormice, great crested newts and the brown hare. This rich variety of wildlife is a valuable resource that adds greatly to the identity of the area and quality of life.

Internationally important European Sites or Natura 2000 sites include the Severn Estuary SSSI, a Ramsar site, Special Protection Area (SPA) and proposed Special Area of Conservation (cSAC), an outstanding area for its migratory and over-wintering birds. The other SACs are the North Somerset and Mendip Bats which supports rare greater and lesser horseshoe bats, the Mendip Limestone Grasslands and the Avon Gorge Woodlands.

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Natura 2000 sites are statutorily protected under the Habitats Regulations, while the draft RSS draws attention to the fact that the Severn Estuary is particularly vulnerable and requires special protection. Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) is required to investigate whether projects or plans, alone or in combination, are likely to have a significant effect on Natura 2000 sites.

North Somerset also includes 39 SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) of national importance, and two National Nature Reserves (part of the Gordano Valley and Leigh Woods).

205 sites in North Somerset have been designated as Wildlife Sites in the adopted Replacement Local Plan, important local areas for biodiversity, and there are 12 designated Local Nature Reserves such as at Uphill. It is important that habitats rich in species are not confined to reserves but that networks of such habitats exist throughout an area to allow dispersal and interbreeding between different populations.

The North Somerset Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) 2005 highlights the value of a wide variety of wildlife habitats, including UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority habitats. They include for example, coastal habitats, such as mudflats, sand dunes, saltmarsh, and maritime cliffs and slopes, and inland lakes. Other examples are the extensive network of watercourses, comprising rivers, streams, rhynes and ditches. These habitats support many types of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, invertebrates and plants.

Extensive woodland areas, of many different types, occur, such as ancient and more recent semi-natural woodland, wet woodland, veteran trees, and parkland. However semi-natural habitats (not subject to intensive agricultural practices so retaining a high diversity of species) comprise only 8% of the land area of North Somerset.

UK priority grassland habitats occur, including lowland calcareous grassland, lowland meadows and lowland dry acid grassland.

The traditional hedgerows, stone walls and the extensive network of rural road verges, with scrub and grassland habitats, function as wildlife corridors, as well as refuges for wildflowers, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and birds. Hedgerows, areas of livestock grazing and features such as ponds, wetlands, scrub and woodland edges are all important to bats.

Old orchards and urban public and private open spaces, such as parks and urban gardens, are also important for biodiversity. Commons are also a valued resource, often comprising semi improved grassland which can be important for wildlife and recreation.

Trees are very important for wildlife, providing food and shelter, nesting and roosting sites for birds and bats and habitats for invertebrates.

The draft RSS identifies South West biodiversity targets for maintenance, restoration and expansion of priority wildlife habitats in the region, based on priority habitats identified in the United Kingdom BAP. The RSS includes a South West Nature Map showing Strategic Nature Areas where most major biodiversity concentrations are found and where the biodiversity targets might best be met. In North Somerset those areas include coastal habitats, coastal floodplain grazing marsh and woodland.

The Core Strategy approach

The policy reflects the importance of meeting regional biodiversity targets, consistent with the RSS. It also reflects PPS9 in emphasising the need to design development to maximise benefits to biodiversity, incorporating and enhancing natural habitats and features, particularly networks. It stresses that development should not result in net loss of biodiversity interest.

The policy aims to indicate the need to protect and enhance biodiversity in broad terms, although more detailed guidance will be set out in the Development Management DPD.

The policy reflects the importance of strategies very relevant to biodiversity, including the emerging Green Infrastructure Strategy. Green infrastructure includes linear green space which can provide valuable wildlife corridors.

The policy reflects the importance of trees for biodiversity, and refers to the Biodiversity and Trees SPD, which includes guidance for developers on planning for biodiversity; e.g. screening for the presence of biodiversity, undertaking tree and ecological surveys and planning to protect, retain and manage existing trees, habitats and species.

How and where the policy will be delivered

Policy CS4 recognises the importance of locations supporting priority habitats, such as Strategic Nature Areas identified in the RSS, and also networks of habitats, designated or not, ancient woodlands and veteran trees. The policy seeks to protect and enhance biodiversity as a whole but particularly at those valuable locations, and locations where development occurs.

Development proposals will be carefully assessed to ensure protection and enhancement of biodiversity, including retention and incorporation of important features, using conditions and or planning obligations to mitigate any potentially adverse impacts.

The council will have close regard to its duty under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act, to have regard to the purpose of conserving biodiversity in exercising its functions, so far as is consistent with the proper exercising of those functions. This includes the need to consider habitats and species of principal importance in England as set out in section 41 of the NERC Act.

Planning applications will need to be accompanied by ecological surveys which incorporate a biodiversity impact assessment, describing the biodiversity interest of the site, and the nature and extent of any impact of the proposed development. They should outline any mitigation measures and the steps to be taken to retain, incorporate, protect, enhance and where appropriate manage the biodiversity interest, as part of the proposals.

Use of guidance for developers such as the SPD on Biodiversity and Trees, and the emerging Green Infrastructure Strategy for North Somerset will be particularly useful.

The council and developers will liaise and work closely with the various advisory bodies and interest groups on biodiversity, including for example Natural England, the Avon Biodiversity Partnership, Avon Wildlife Trust, the Bristol Regional Environmental Records Centre (BRERC), North Somerset Parish Wildlife Wardens, etc.

Alternative options and contingency planning

There are no reasonable options to the policy approach put forward. For instance an approach that does not adequately take account of the need to conserve, enhance and restore the diversity of wildlife would not be in line with national and international legislation and government policy, and would not be sustainable.

Monitoring and review

As a general approach, it would be prudent to monitor whether the principle that there should be no net loss of native habitat and species as a result of development is upheld. Use of Local Area Agreement measures for biodiversity, and also national indicators, such as implementation of active conservation management of local sites, would also be appropriate.