Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows Object to Environment Agency Planning Application 19/00009/FUL for Construction of an Access Road

19/00009/FUL Clifton Ings Flood Alleviation Barrier to the south of Shipton Road: Construction of a temporary access junction and track off the A19 in association with flood alleviation works

Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows OBJECT to the above application on the grounds that:

(a) The Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) submitted by the applicant omits or understates key impacts of the proposed development. We believe the EcIA is so flawed that the planning authority must require the applicant to provide a new, more comprehensive and objective assessment before the application can be determined.

(b) Where impacts on biodiversity have been identified in the EcIA, the proposed mitigation measures are insufficient to avoid significant net loss of biodiversity, thereby failing the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework.

Background

The application site is Rawcliffe Cornfield Nature Reserve. This was established in 2000 as mitigation for the development of the Rawcliffe Bar Park & Ride facility and Country Park, the aim being to provide some continuity of arable (i.e. annually cultivated) habitat within the local landscape in order to maintain populations of farmland birds and other wildlife. Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows were instrumental in the conception and establishment of the Cornfield Nature Reserve and have managed it since 2003 under successive agri-environment agreements, on behalf of the principal land owner, City of York Council.

In addition to drawing down agri-environment funding worth approximately £30,500, hundreds of hours of volunteer time have been invested in the Cornfield NR over the past 15 years. This has involved activities ranging from installing a Barn Owl nesting box to creating habitat for wild bees to assisting with agricultural operations to recording wildlife and administering agri-environment agreements. The applicant makes virtually no reference to this.

The Cornfield is an important source of hay and grazing for our farming partner, without whom we would be unable to manage the wider area of Rawcliffe Meadows: this has been given no consideration in either the Planning Statement or the EcIA submitted with this application. The reserve is also used by a local beekeeper, whose interests have not been considered either.

Agri-environment funding is FoRM’s only regular source of funding and Natural England have confirmed that the development would result in cessation of the current agreement, not just for the Cornfield Nature Reserve but for the whole of Rawcliffe Meadows. This will mean, in effect, that FoRM will cease to operate because the applicant has made no arrangements to ensure continuity of funding.  Nor has any compensation been offered to compensate for the 15 years of effort we have invested in the Cornfield, the results of which will largely be obliterated.

We would also stress that, despite FoRM having managed the Cornfield NR for the past 15 years, the applicant has made no attempt to negotiate with us regarding their plans; we have simply been presented with a fait accompli.

Inadequate and misleading information

Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows are deeply disappointed with the quality and content of the Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA), which is central to the determination of this application. Our concerns as to the quality, content and conclusions of the EcIA are as follows:

  1. It is stated on page 10 of the EcIA that it identifies and assesses “all potential ecological receptors with respect to the site access works”. It manifestly fails to do so as it does not take account of key ecological receptors mentioned below.
  2. Section 2.2 refers to “Rawcliffe Local Nature Reserve”: Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) are a statutory designation with specific protections under planning policy and legislation. We are not aware of the location and boundaries of “Rawcliffe Local Nature Reserve” but the applicant must be privy to information we are not aware of. The location of the LNR needs to be explained and the Planning Authority must consider relevant impacts.
  3. Section 2.3 states that we have supplied invertebrate and bird data. This is misleading. Some of our data is publically available via the FoRM website but a great deal of unpublished data exists and the applicant has not accessed or appraised this. This should have been used to inform the EcIA but hasn’t been.
  4. Section 2.4 implies that the applicant has engaged in “various informal discussions” with FoRM but this is misleading for the reasons explained above.
  5. Section 2.5 states that “It is not anticipated that further survey effort is required to undertake the EcIA”. However, the EcIA has been submitted with negligible information regarding key features of the Cornfield Nature Reserve, especially its value for foraging birds and arable flora.
  6. Table 2.2 refers to a 2018 breeding bird survey but the report accompanying the planning application covers Rawcliffe Ings and not the Cornfield Nature Reserve.
  7. Table 2.2 makes no reference to surveys of plants or invertebrates although important data already exists.
  8. The final paragraph of section 2.5 (page 16) suggests that “the location of barn owl within the wider area is known and understood”, yet there is no reference to multiple observations of Barn Owls foraging over the Cornfield NR.
  9. Section 3.2 states that Clifton Ings & Rawcliffe Meadows SSSI “will not be impacted by the site access works” but these are enabling works for a scheme which will cause significant and irreversible damage to the SSSI. Furthermore, no consideration is given to the relationship between the Cornfield NR and the SSSI, as though there were no ecological interactions. This is manifestly fallacious since there are multiple, ecologically-significant interactions such as movement of pollinating insects between flowering crops in the Cornfield and wildflowers in the SSSI hay meadows. In a number of surveys and workshops held at Rawcliffe Meadows, local and national experts have emphasised the importance of seasonal continuity of nectar and pollen sources within the wider landscape because, although hay meadows are rich resources, the supply of flowers is limited to a period of around six weeks in early to mid summer. This is insufficient to sustain abundant, resilient and diverse pollinator populations, emphasising the importance of neighbouring habitats where suitable flowers are available earlier and later in the year. For example, bumblebees and other wild Aculeates are key pollinators of meadow flowers (Forup & Memmott, 2005) but the hay meadow habitat alone cannot sustain populations of these insects because of the restricted period of flowering. Pollinator populations are essential to ecosystem functioning (see, for example, the 2014 DEFRA National Pollinator Strategy) but this has simply not been considered.
  10. In the same section, impacts on the neighbouring Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) have been scoped-out, i.e. dismissed. The SINC comprises the non-SSSI parts of Rawcliffe Meadows, including the flood basin and neighbouring species-rich grassland to the east of the barrier bank. However, there is demonstrable ecological connectivity between the Cornfield NR and the SINC: again, pollinator resources are a potential issue but other factors include the role of Roe Deer (which depend on the Cornfield for shelter) in grazing the flood basin. Most obviously, a range of birds which nest in wetland, scrub and hedgerow habitats within the SINC also use the Cornfield for feeding. These include species of conservation concern such as Reed Bunting and Dunnock. The resilience of the local population of Reed Buntings, for example, almost certainly depends on the availability of optimal nesting habitat within the flood basin combined with abundant year-round seed sources in the Cornfield. Outside the breeding season, other birds of conservation concern such as Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Starling, Yellowhammer and, in some winters, Corn Bunting, commute constantly between scrub in the SINC (which offers shelter, congregating sites and roosting places) and seed-rich foraging habitat in the Cornfield.
  11. In the same section, it is stated that “The field margin in the eastern end of the Cornfield is managed by FoRM specifically for arable plants”. This is nonsense. Arable plants depend, by definition, on annual cultivation, they do not grow in perennial grass margins. FoRM have never managed an area at the eastern end of the field specifically for arable plants: we did, for one season, introduce some additional species to a small plot on the southern edge of the cropped area but this was a short-lived experiment. Scarce and declining arable plants are a major conservation feature of the Cornfield but they are spread throughout the arable and fallow areas. We should stress that the applicant has never discussed the management of the Cornfield for arable plants with us, hence such ill-informed statements. In a similar vein, in section 3.9.1 it is claimed that “Impacts on rare arable field margin plants is avoided [sic] wherever possible”. Again this is simply not credible as the applicant has shown no understanding of where these plants occur. It cannot therefore be concluded that there will be no significant impact.
  1. Again in section 3.4, the arable area is dismissed as being of merely local importance on the basis that arable is a commonplace habitat. This completely ignores the fact that the Cornfield Nature Reserve was established specifically because FoRM were able to demonstrate the importance of an arable component within the landscape mosaic of the Clifton Washland. An important rationale, which still holds true, was that a long list of birds of conservation concern present in the wider Washland depend to some extent on the availability of seed-rich cultivated land. Stock Doves, for example, nest in old hedgerow and parkland trees but depend on both hay meadows and arable stubbles for their diet of seeds. Reed Buntings nest around ponds and ditches on the Ings but require weedy arable to sustain them in winter; indeed overwinter survival is the key driver of population trends in this species (Peach et al, 1999). Similar requirements apply to Tree Sparrow, Dunnock, Yellowhammer and other species. Furthermore, the Cornfield has been managed for nature conservation purposes for the past 18 years so it’s dishonest nonsense to suggest its wildlife value is on a par with other arable fields. There has been no insecticide use, crops are sown without harmful seed treatments and herbicide use is limited to targeted control of invasive perennial weeds. This is a totally different regime to almost every other arable field in the Vale of York! As evidence of this, the Cornfield regularly supports exceptional numbers of declining farmland birds, especially in the winter months but also, in some years, during the late summer/autumn moult period. It also supports a rich suite of declining arable plants which would be found in very few arable fields in the wider countryside of the Vale of York. Demonstrably then, the arable habitat within the application site is of at least District – not merely Local – importance.
  1. There is no basis to scope out impacts on Common Toads. There is a regular breeding population in the flood basin, which we have observed annually for more than 20 years, and Common Toads have been encountered on several occasions within the Cornfield Nature Reserve.
  2. We note that Badgers have been scoped out of the assessment. We are aware that the Environment Agency has misinterpreted a Fox earth as a Badger sett but has also overlooked a Badger sett which was only occupied briefly. Whilst we don’t think Badgers are resident in the Cornfield, the EcIA has ignored the fact that Cornfield provides the only area in the surrounding landscape which is not heavily disturbed by people and dogs.
  3. The section on breeding birds on page 25 does not refer to the species recorded in the Cornfield hedgerows in the 2015 and 2018 surveys – why?
  4. While there is a brief and inadequate assessment of breeding birds, there is no assessment of impacts on birds outside the breeding season. Given that the importance of the Cornfield Nature Reserve in this respect is well-documented[1], we find this inexplicable. Numbers of wintering birds using the Cornfield fluctuate and the species assemblage varies, both inter- and intra- annually. This depends on weather, local and wider population fluctuations and crop productivity. For example, when oilseed rape is sown, this tends to attract very large numbers of Linnets while gatherings of Corn Buntings are most frequent in snowy weather. Nonetheless, when counts from the Cornfield are compared to the relevant data from the York Ornithological Club and Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union bird reports, it is evident that the Cornfield NR often supports some of the highest counts of certain species in the York area and, occasionally, in the whole of Yorkshire. Consequently, the EcIA should have assessed impacts on wintering birds, which are of at least District and sometimes Regional importance.
  5. It is claimed that “The Project is not anticipated to impact or effect roe deer and so this species is scoped out of further assessment”. This statement is laughable. Roe Deer were present regularly in the Cornfield in 2012-17 and raised young in the Nature Reserve in at least two years. There is nowhere else in the surrounding landscape sufficiently free from dog disturbance for them to do so. The Cornfield Roe Deer range widely, onto the Ings, the flood basin, Country Park and allotments –the Allotments Association have erected a deer fence against the Cornfield boundary to keep them out – but the Cornfield provides the secure cover they need to breed as well as a critical refuge and source of forage. Local people derive great enjoyment from seeing Roe Deer regularly, with numerous photographs posted on social media, for example. The development will almost certainly result in the loss of resident Roe Deer in Rawcliffe Parish, at least temporarily, and recolonization is far from guaranteed since it took many years for a breeding population to establish.
  6. The applicant has inferred that because they have commissioned a data search, they are in a position to scope out consideration of invertebrates other than Necklace Ground-beetle (page 27). However, FoRM have a great deal of additional invertebrate data, and the applicant’s consultants must be well aware that data searches only reveal a subset of existing records. In fact, our surveys of the Cornfield, undertaken by professional entomologists, have produced records of one nationally Near Threatened species and several which are rare in Yorkshire, along with suites of species which are valuable indicators of habitat quality. This type of information is valuable in informing mitigation and compensation measures but the applicant has unfortunately chosen to ignore it.
  7. Section 3.7.1 reiterates the supposed ‘Local’ level of significance of the Cornfield Nature Reserve. We have shown above that it must be considered to be of at least District and in some respects of Regional importance for arable plants and wintering birds.
  8. The discussion of potential impacts on Great Crested Newts states that the works affect areas of poor quality terrestrial habitat for this species. This assertion ignores the presence of extensive areas of tussocky grass margins and the 0.3 ha grass baulk crossing the field. The latter provides a favourable area of foraging habitat and a potential dispersal corridor within 100 metres of the flood basin. As we understand it, the baulk will be destroyed.
  9. The discussion of effects on Barn Owl refers only to the possibility of disturbing this specially-protected species should the nestbox in the Cornfield be occupied. It makes no mention of the value of the Cornfield for foraging Barn Owls, of which we have received many reports. Nor is there any consideration of the increased risk from traffic collisions – although often thought of as a nocturnal bird, Barn Owls regularly hunt during the day and this appears to be an increasing behaviour pattern (Martin, 2013).
  10. The assessment of effects on breeding birds only considers the removal of a short section of hedge adjoining Shipton Road. It does not consider increased disturbance, noise and risk of traffic collisions on birds nesting in the rest of the Cornfield boundaries.
  11. No assessment of impact of non-breeding birds is provided. Consequently there is no mention of effects on foraging birds in the summary of impacts. We believe that even with an effective mitigation strategy, there will be a significant adverse impact at a district level since bird feeders cannot possibly substitute for the loss of 1.5 ha of wildlife seed crops and 1 ha of weed-rich fallow.
  12. With regards to Hedgehogs, we have frequently encountered them on the grass baulk which runs North-South across the Cornfield. This is almost certainly a valuable foraging and commuting feature for Hedgehogs, which will be removed. This has not been considered. In the summary of impacts, the applicant asserts that “Negative impacts on hedgehog populations will be avoided” but this cannot be considered credible when habitats such as the baulk will be destroyed.
  13. In section 3.7.2 it is asserted that “No negative impacts are anticipated during the operation of the Site Access”. This ignores: potential traffic hazards to wildlife; intensive disturbance of the only significant area within the local landscape which does not have public access; noise; and lighting of the depot area including “potentially 24 hours floodlighting, 7 days a week” (EcIA page 7) .
  14. In the section on mitigation, it is asserted that the development will avoid sensitive features including “field margins with rare arable plants”: the arable plants of conservation concern do not occur in the field margins, and repeating this false assertion over and again does not make it any more credible. The plants of conservation concern are annuals or short-lived perennials which require regular soil disturbance – they cannot survive amongst, and have never occurred in, the dense, tussocky grassland of the field margins. Since the applicant has made no effort to map the location of plants of conservation concern within the Cornfield, how can they possibly assert that they are safeguarding these species?
  15. It is suggested that scarification of the area between the arable crop and field margins will be used to maintain annual plants of cultivated ground. There is no definition of which areas the applicant is referring to and no indication that the applicant is aware of the many site-specific management issues on the Cornfield NR. FoRM have managed the Cornfield for 15 years but neither the applicant nor their consultants have ever discussed management issues with us. We therefore have no confidence that this is a credible strategy to maintain populations of threatened arable plants.
  16. The applicant has given no indication of how they will manage the grass margins, the eastern grass headland area or the Cornfield Meadow. Given that 44% of the Cornfield Nature Reserve comprises permanent grassland, this is a most curious and egregious omission.
  17. The applicant asserts that they will provide bird seed to compensate for the loss of existing resources. They have offered no indication of how or where they will do this. Since birds like Linnet and Corn Bunting do not come to bird feeders, the applicant will need to show that they have sufficient suitable areas free from disturbance by people and dogs. They will also need to show an understanding of the relationship between feeding areas, congregation areas and shelter habitats within and adjoining the Cornfield. Until this information has been provided, the applicant cannot claim to have a credible strategy for mitigating loss of foraging opportunities for farmland birds.
  18. On page 32 it is claimed that “All vegetation clearance is expected to take place outside the bird breeding season (March – August inclusive)”. This is at odds with the schedule of works set out in the Planning Statement for the application.

Impacts on Necklace Ground-beetle

As the applicant makes a series of spurious claims in relation to Necklace Ground-beetle, we will consider these in detail. This large predatory beetle is categorised as Endangered in Great Britain by Natural England. It is also listed as a Species of Principal Importance for the conservation of biodiversity under Section 41 of the Natural Environment & Rural Communities Act 2006.

Reference is made to a 2013 record of Necklace Ground-beetle from Copse Meadow, which directly adjoins the application site. In fact there has been a long series of pitfall-trap captures of Necklace Ground-beetle and also negative results from the Cornfield margins. The applicant has not discussed our records with us and makes a long serious of assertions and assumptions based on minimal knowledge. Given the conservation status of this species and the specific obligations incumbent on public bodies towards S41 species, we are puzzled as to why the applicant has not discussed this with us.

The applicant quotes one literature source stating that Necklace Ground-beetle occurs in a wide range of habitats. However, there is strong evidence that its core habitat is herb-rich meadows, which are the source of most recent British records (e.g. Sutton, 2018) and this has long been asserted in large-scale analysis of Carabid populations in Continental Europe (Blumenthal, 1981). Our data shows that the local population is closely associated with relatively short and open species-rich turf and does not occur in dense, tussocky field margins. The applicant is thus talking about safeguarding the wrong areas and has not identified the much more likely area of occurrence within the Cornfield. The applicant has, therefore, offered no credible mitigation strategy in relation to this Endangered species.

It is asserted that “further surveys [for Necklace Ground-beetle] would only re-confirm its presence, or more likely, not record the species”. This is patent nonsense since our data from structured pitfall trapping surveys give a clear indication that there is a well-established population associated with specific vegetation and habitat structure. Had the applicant sought to discuss this with us, we could have offered meaningful advice on mitigation measures. We would also have emphasised the need to ascertain its distribution within the Cornfield.

The statements regarding no significant effect on Necklace Ground-ground are unsubstantiated. The applicant makes a series of non-sequitur assertions on this topic on page 34, some of which are of little relevance and appear to have been included as ‘padding’. It is claimed that Carabus species live “up to 2-3 years, in some species up to 10 years” but this has never been documented in Britain for C. monilis[2]  and is of tenuous relevance.

It is also claimed that Carabus species are wide-ranging, covering kilometres in their life times. We presume the applicant is implying that Necklace Ground-beetle would rapidly recolonise lost habitat once it is reinstated. However, the dispersal capability of different Carabus species varies enormously. In fact, Turin & den Boor (1988) placed C. monilis in the third of four categories in relation to dispersal capability, the first category being strongly dispersive, the fourth being very poorly dispersive. They related the limited mobility of C. monilis to its ongoing and sustained decline in the Netherlands. The fact that it is flightless is also indicative of a relatively sedentary dispersal strategy; den Boor (1969) showed that, in agricultural landscapes, flightless ground beetles tend to be very poor dispersers. It therefore seems likely that this species would recover lost ground slowly, if at all.

Objections relating to planning policy and guidance

Lack of consultation

Although FoRM have attended a mitigation workshop relating to the Clifton Barrier Bank project as a whole, the applicant has not attempted any meaningful negotiation with FoRM regarding the current application, despite us having managed the site for the past 15 years.  In this respect the Council needs to be mindful of Paragraph 40 of the NPPF which states that local planning authorities should “…encourage any applicants who are not already required to do so by law to engage with the local community and, where relevant, with statutory and non-statutory consultees, before submitting their applications”. We do not consider that presentation of the scheme as a fait accompli constitutes meaningful engagement.

Conflict with NPPF policies

Paragraph 170d of the NPPF (July 2018) states that planning decisions should minimise impacts on and provide net gains for biodiversity. The proposals will result in significant short to medium term adverse impacts on key features of the Cornfield Nature Reserve including declining arable plants and foraging birds. There is significant risk that these impacts will become permanent. As we have shown, there is no credible strategy to mitigate these risks, and no evidence that the applicant is offering any net gain for biodiversity.

Paragraph 175 of the NPPF states that if significant harm to biodiversity cannot be avoided, adequately mitigated “or, as a last resort compensated for” then planning permission should be refused. We have shown that the proposed mitigation for scarce arable plants, foraging birds and Necklace Ground-beetle is not credible while there are likely to be residual adverse impacts on other wildlife such as Hedgehog, Great Crested Newt and Barn Owl.

Government planning practice guidance

Government planning practice guidance (www.gov.uk/guidance/natural-environment) makes it clear that “Information on biodiversity impacts and opportunities should inform all stages of development”. It also advises that pre-application discussion should inform the scope of ecological surveys.

We believe the applicant has manifestly failed to adhere to this guidance on both counts. Much of the EcIA is based on assertions and assumptions with very little actual survey data presented. Even where the applicant has commissioned surveys (e.g. the 2018 breeding bird survey), the data is not used. Furthermore, the applicant has never engaged in meaningful discussions with FoRM about the scope of ecological surveys relating to the Cornfield, despite the fact that FoRM members have spent 18 years recording the wildlife of the application site.

Government planning practice guidance also states that where a development is liable to impact adversely on biodiversity, the planning authority must consider whether there is sufficient information to apply the ‘mitigation hierarchy’ effectively. It asks, for example, “is the significance of effects clear?” We argue that the applicant has repeatedly mis-represented the significance of biodiversity impacts likely to arise from this development, either because they have not collated adequate information or because they seem keen to downplay the level of impact.

The applicant has also failed to explain how they have applied the mitigation hierarchy to this development. Knowing that the site is of significant nature conservation value, the Local Planning Authority is obliged to consider whether alternative locations have been adequately assessed (Avoidance), whether the mitigation measures proposed will suffice to minimise adverse impacts on biodiversity (Mitigation) and whether adequate compensation is being offered to offset remaining harm (Compensation).

References

Arndt, E. (1989). Beitrage zur Insektenfauna der DDR: Gattung Carabus Linné (Coleoptera: Carabidae). Beiträge fur Entomologie Berlin, 39 (1): 63-103.

Assmann, T. (2003). Biology and ecology. Pp 287-305 in Turin, H., Penev, L. & Casale, A. (2003). The genus Carabus in Europe – a synthesis. Pensoft Publishers: Sofia & Moscow.

Buglife (2010). Species management sheet: Necklace Ground-beetle (Carabus monilis). Buglife: Peterborough.

Blumenthal, C.L. (1981). Einheimische Carabus-Arten als Bioindikatoren. Jahresbericht der naturwissenschaftligen Verein Wuppertal 34: 70-77.

Casale, A. & Kryzhanovski, O.L. (2003). Keys to the adults. Pp 73-124 in Turin et al (2003).

Den Boor, P.J. (1970). On the significance of dispersal power for populations of carabid beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae). Oecologica, 4: 1-28.

Forup, M.L. & Memmott, J. (2005). The restoration of plant–pollinator interactions in hay meadow. Restoration Ecology, 13 (2): 265–274.

Hůrka, K. (1973). Fortpflanzung und Entwicklung der mitteleuropaischen Carabus und Procerus-Arten. Studie ČSAV, 9: 1 – 80.

Martin, J. (2013). The daylight activity of Barn Owls. British Birds, July 2013.

Peach, W.J., Siriwardena, G.M. & Gregory, R.D. (1999). Long-term changes in over-winter survival rates explain the decline of reed buntings Emberiza schoeniclus in Britain. Journal of Applied Ecology, 36: 798-811.

Sutton, P.G., (2018). Carabus monilis Fabricius (Carabidae) recorded from a flood plain meadow in Bedfordshire with comments on its status. The Coleopterist 27(3):127-128 · December 2018

Turin, H. & den Boor, P.J. (1988). Changes in the distribution of Carabid beetles in the Netherlands since 1880. II: Isolation of habitats and long-term time trends in the occurrence of Carabid species with different powers of dispersal (Coleoptera, Carabidae). Biological Conservation, 44: 179-200.

Submitted on 1st February 2019 by M.J.Phythian on behalf of the Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows 

 

[1] e.g. on the FoRM website and in our detailed Annual Reports, which are in the public domain

[2] There appears to be a single substantive reference to post-breeding C. monilis adults overwintering with the larval cohort to reproduce a second time the following summer (Hůrka, 1973). The information from this Czech paper has been repeated by other authors (Arndt, 1989; Casale & Kryzhanovski, 2003) but always based on the same source. There is, therefore, extremely little published information on the longevity and age structure of C. monilis populations. According to Buglife (2010), “The Necklace ground beetle is believed to have an annual life cycle in Britian, but some adults may live for two years as they do in mainland Europe”; there is certainly no evidence that C. monilis has the kind of life-span suggested by the applicant.

 

About greatemancipator

Researcher and practioner in matters relating to egovernment, government ICT and their approach to the citizen.
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