The local authority voice was apologetic, ‘I’m sorry but once in the planning system, we have to insist on further ecology surveys – even if the application is to enlarge a pond for wildlife.’
My client, as passionate a naturalist as about doing the right paperwork, let out an exasperated sigh. He had already paid for the initial scoping ecology survey – a somewhat rudimentary affair that told him what he already knew about nearby badger ‘snuffle holes’ and latrines. The following phrase, twice repeated, finally caused him to exclaim ‘how did our countryside get any wildlife in the first place?’
‘It is recommended that a method statement which provides a precautionary approach that must be applied to minimise the potential for harm to birds, amphibians and reptiles should they be present’.
This was before he got to the bad news. His pond, a UK BAP priority habitat, varied between ‘excellent and below average’ for Great crested newts (GC newts), and so further surveys must be undertaken in line with ‘best practice effort’. Two people would be required for Health and Safety reasons and if GC newts were found, yet more surveys would be required to count them. (UK population estimated at 75,000).
My naturalist client didn’t have the funds for these and so threw in the towel. Result – net loss of potential habitat. Conservation organisations might have the money to negotiate the planning system for pond/ditch works or undertake fencing near water, but individuals may not.
I don’t just want to defend nature, but to enhance it. I want the Fitness Check of nature legislation to ensure fitness of wildlife, not just underpin a conservation industry that undertakes ‘industry standard’ surveys
So here’s my proposal to incentivise those wishing to provide more habitat for nature. Anyone undertaking works that require planning permission for this public good would have the costs of these surveys reimbursed from public funds once they had demonstrated a net gain in biodiversity.
Ambitious? Yes. Tough to police? Yes. Tough to measure? Yes. But as Sir John Lawton said at this event, doing nothing is even worse.