19/00007/FULM Construction of new and improved flood defence works, compensatory habitat creation and other associated works (Clifton Ings Barrier Bank Project)
Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows OBJECT to the above application on the grounds that:
(a) It contravenes Government planning policy.
(b) The information provided by the applicant regarding the extent of impacts on Clifton Ings & Rawcliffe Meadows SSSI is fundamentally misleading and inadequate because it does not quantify permanent loss of SSSI grassland resulting from construction of a temporary haul road and reconstruction of the barrier bank slopes. Comprehensive revision of the Environmental Statement is essential to allow impacts to be properly understood before the application can be considered.
We have also written to the Secretary of State asking for this application to be called-in for Public Inquiry because, If permitted, this development would cause permanent damage to a Site of Special Scientific Interest which cannot be adequately mitigated or compensated for. As this would set a precedent of national significance, the application needs to be considered at Public Inquiry.
The following comments relate primarily to the Biodiversity chapter of the applicant’s Environmental Statement.
- Background: the history of the application site and Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows’ involvement
Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows (FoRM) was established by a group of local volunteers in 1990, at the instigation of the then National Rivers Authority and Greater York Countryside Project. The group was tasked with managing the land now known as Rawcliffe Meadows for nature conservation and public amenity. Over the past 28 years FoRM have undertaken diverse roles in managing the site, from litter-pickers and thistle-pullers to wildlife recorders, cattle handlers, pond diggers and fence menders. We have led numerous guided walks and hosted training events by the Floodplain Meadows Partnership, Freshwater Habitats Trust, EU agri-environment officials, Countryside Management Association and the University of York. We have benefited from the guidance and expertise of numerous regional and national experts. FoRM have accessed £97,183 to restore and manage the site, primarily through agri-environment funding; in all this time, the applicant has contributed almost nothing, despite being the land owner and having a statutory purpose to conserve the environment.
In 1990, the site had been heavily over-grazed for about 20 years and supported degraded flood-meadow grassland covered with tussocks of Tufted Hair-grass and beds of Creeping Thistle. The process of restoring the site has been slow, laborious and painstaking but culminated in its designation as part of Clifton Ings & Rawcliffe Meadows Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 2013.
During this time we estimate that around 26,000 hours of volunteer effort have been expended on the site. The proposed scheme will obliterate most of the results of this investment by the local community and the applicant has not offered a single penny as recompense or to put future management on a sustainable footing.
Agri-environment funding is FoRM’s only regular source of income and Natural England have confirmed that commencement of the proposed development would result in cessation of the current agreement. This will mean that FoRM will cease to operate because the applicant has made no arrangements to ensure continuity of funding.
- Significance and context of Meadow Foxtail – Great Burnet grassland at Rawcliffe Meadows
Meadow Foxtail – Great Burnet grassland, coded MG4 in the National Vegetation Classification (NVC), is one of 17 types of grassland vegetation associated with clay, loam or silt soils in Britain (these are referred to collectively as either neutral or mesotrophic grasslands). MG4 grassland is intimately associated with traditionally-managed floodplain hay meadows, over 90% of which have been lost from the Ouse corridor (Hammond, 2017). Due to the very restricted occurrence of this distinctive type of meadow, it is listed as a feature of European conservation interest in Annex I of the EU Habitats & Species Directive. The corresponding habitat of “Moist or wet mesotrophic to eutrophic hay meadow” is categorised by the EU as Endangered in a European context (Jansson et al, 2016). MG4 grassland is also a component of the broader ‘lowland meadows’ Habitat of Principal Importance listed under Section 41 of the Natural Environment & Rural Communities Act 2006.
Based on extensive surveys, the Floodplain Meadows Partnership (FMP) state that the area of MG4 grassland in the UK totals only 1171 ha. The City of York supports 92.4 ha of this (7.9%) with 299 ha (25.5%) occurring in York, North Yorkshire and the East Riding. This is, therefore, a habitat for which the City has very special responsibility. Grasslands similar to MG4 do occur in Continental Europe but differ in significant ways, presumably reflecting differing land management histories.
Due to a combination of environmental and historical factors, MG4 grassland is very largely confined to the lowland river valleys of eastern and central England. There is some evidence that floodplains were cropped for hay by the Romans in York and the great Anglo-Saxon scholar Alcuin referred to flower-rich grasslands along the Ouse in his poem The Bishops, Kings and Saints of York, written around 780 AD. Extensive meadows were established before the Norman Conquest and very specific land-use arrangements evolved under feudalism, whereby meadows were divided into numerous strips allotted to the households of each settlements but became open to common grazing following the harvest. This system ensured very consistent management over several centuries, which shaped the vegetation of the meadows.
In the medieval Vale of York, floodplain meadows were worth up to five times as much per acre as arable land because hay was such an essential commodity. The rent and tithes levied on these meadows enriched York Minster and other great religious institutions as well as funding early-modern social welfare institutions. The few surviving floodplain meadows in the City are therefore key elements of its cultural, as well as environmental heritage.
Rawcliffe Meadows differs from Clifton Ings in that most of it only became meadowland after the enclosure of common arable fields in the early 17th century. This still makes most of the grassland around 400 years old, a similar age to much of the ancient woodland in the Vale of York. The history of the area is known in some detail, the meadows often, it seems, being leased to inn-keepers who needed a supply of hay for their guests’ horses.
In addition to this heritage interest, which is overlooked in the Environmental Statement, MG4 grassland on the Ouse Ings has locally-distinctive characteristics. Unlike the Derwent Ings 11 km to the south-east of York and the floodplain meadows of central England, the Ouse Ings have a more northerly floristic motif due to their location within a river catchment draining the Yorkshire Dales. This includes Wood Anemone, Bistort and (now rarely) Intermediate Lady’s-mantle. The Ouse floodplain meadows therefore represent a biogeographically important subset of the national series.
- Insufficient information regarding impacts
The applicant’s Environmental Statement provides the evidence base upon which a planning decision must be made, It stands to reason then that the ES must provide full and detailed information on the extent of environmental impacts. We believe the ES is fundamentally flawed in this regard and must be comprehensively revised to give an honest and comprehensive account of the likely destruction of and damage to SSSI grassland.
In the Biodiversity chapter of the ES, the only figure given is 1.2 ha of permanent loss of SSSI grassland. Our understanding is that this figure relates purely to the land-take of the enlarged embankment. In addition, however, a significant area of SSSI grassland will be permanently damaged by the construction of a haul road on the ‘wet’ side of the barrier bank. As the length of the barrier bank within the SSSI is roughly 1,150 metres, an 8 metre wide haul road would occupy 0.92 ha, added to which might be turning circles and passing bays. Assuming this is topsoil-stripped and surfaced for the duration of the project, this must be accounted for as permanent loss of SSSI grassland, as stated very clearly by the applicant on page 75 of the ES:
“Soil compaction cannot be remediated. The ancient soils have developed over hundreds of years and cannot be readily replicated. As a result, temporary working areas are considered to cause permanent impacts on MG4 grassland”.[our emphasis]
Additional damage may be caused by vehicles over-running the haul road.
A further loss of SSSI grassland which has not been accounted for is the existing vegetation on the slopes of the barrier bank. The applicant describes the embankment as supporting MG4 grassland and places great emphasis on this on page 87. As MG4 grassland is a primary reason for SSSI designation, this must be counted as permanent loss. It is important that this is itemised accurately in terms of surface area, which will be greater than vertical projection mapped area. If, for example, each slope forms a triangle 12 metres wide at the base and 5 metres high, the slope would measure 13 metres, giving a surface area of 1.495 ha for each side of the embankment (13 x 1150 = 14950 m2).
Therefore loss of SSSI grassland needs to be clearly itemised as:
Grassland permanently lost to embankment building +
Grassland permanently damaged by construction of haul road +
Grassland on embankment slopes lost to reconstruction
On this basis, expected loss of SSSI grassland is far greater than the applicant admits, and is more likely to be somewhere in the region of 5 ha.
FoRM are of the view that the barrier bank does not in fact support well-defined MG4 grassland and loss of the grassland on the embankment slopes could be compensated for at a lesser ratio than the hay meadows. If, for example, a multiplier of x2 was agreed, the slopes could be reinstated using a suitable seed mixture and an equivalent area of new grassland could be created on Rawcliffe Ings. However, as the applicant’s view is that the embankment supports MG4, this would, logically, need to be compensated for on a 4-fold basis.
- ‘MG4 grassland can be re-created in ten years’: a mendacious claim unsupported by evidence
In order to comply with the requirements of the NPPF and ODPM Circular 06/2005, the applicant must be able to demonstrate that they can fully compensate for loss of and damage to SSSI grassland. The applicant’s SSSI Strategy purports to show how this will be done via a combination of turf translocation (1.2 ha) and seeding to create a compensation area totalling 4.8 ha. In Table 5.8 (page 99), the applicant asserts that there will be “No significant effect at a National Level, in the Long Term”. The credibility of this claim is central to the determination of the planning application.
FoRM believe the SSSI Strategy is simply not credible and is unsupported by evidence. Firstly, turf transplantation is not compensation, it is merely salvage and should not count towards the compensation area. The inherent unreliability and poor track record of turf translocation is discussed in detail below. Secondly, there is no evidence that grassland of comparable nature conservation value can be created within a timeframe which could be covered by planning conditions – this is a process which is likely to take several decades of careful management even under the most propitious of conditions. Thirdly, the applicant has presented no evidence that they have the skills, resources or commitment to manage the compensation habitat in future; nor do they have a viable alternative arrangement in place. Our experience over many years has been that the Environment Agency’s operations teams are perennially over-stretched and do not have the capacity to undertake conservation land management roles in addition to their existing duties.
Re-creating species-rich grassland of national conservation value cannot be conceived as an exercise in creating a passable substitute. It may be possible, with great diligence, to establish a sward which superficially resembles the target assemblage (in this case MG4) and would, statistically, pass as that assemblage. However, re-creation of comparable ecological value would depend on establishing a fully functioning community which works like – as well as looks like – MG4. Long-term functional success will depend not just on establishing an acceptable mixture of plants in the sward but on establishing a grassland “…reliant mainly on self-regulation through soil biological pathways of nutrient turnover” and characterised by a high fungal: bacterial biomass ratio (Bardgett & McAlister, 1999).
Achieving this would be a very extended process. To give a few examples, Gibson (in Jefferson et al, 1999) concluded that calcareous grasslands took “at least a century” to reach a stable state of succession and suggested a similar length of time would apply to species-rich neutral grasslands. Brown & Gibson (1994) concluded that assemblage of calcareous grassland comparable to ancient examples would take decades, with some plant species confined to grassland over 200 years old. Similarly, Fagan et al (2008) “…found that there was little overlap between restored and ancient grassland communities even after 60 years”, while Forey & Dutoit (2012) found significant differences in the vegetation, soils and seed banks of undisturbed limestone grasslands compared to examples which had been ploughed up in the 19th century. Redhead et al (2014) found that on ex-arable sites on chalk, it took up to 100 years “before community composition and traits begin to show a consistent similarity to ancient grassland”, though “substantial progress” could be achieved within 50 years. Hirst et al (2005) found that neutral grassland plant communities re-assembled over a shorter timescale than calcareous ones following disturbance; nonetheless, the time frame was between 30 and 40 years and even then subtle differences persisted.
In the Yorkshire Dales, restored meadows had not approached target botanical composition after 18 years, even under the most favourable combination of management treatments (Smith et al, 2008; Smith, 2010). In restored or re-created floodplain hay meadows, close floristic similarity to target communities is found predominantly in mature examples; Rothero & Tatarenko (2018) cite an example where restoration began in 1978, 38 years prior to assessment.
The reasons it takes so long for new or restored grasslands to acquire similar characteristics to ancient ones are complex and poorly understood. The soil environment is certainly critical, with old, species-rich grasslands supporting soil systems dominated by mycorrhizal fungi (Bardgett & McAlister, 1997). On sites with a history of more intensive agricultural use (such as Rawcliffe Ings), such systems are very slow to develop. Residual soil nutrients appear to be an impediment to colonisation of vascular plant roots by vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae, which are associated with high levels of species-richness (Peacock et al, 1999). Moreover, the biodiversity value of restored or re-created meadows is not restricted to the plant community but must also take account of the invertebrate community: Woodcock et al (2008) have shown that this tends to lag behind. Furthermore, experience shows that newly-created conservation grasslands can deteriorate over time, so initially successful results may not persist (Smith et al, 2010; Gilbert et al, 2003).
As ancient grassland cannot, by definition, be re-created, the applicant has resorted to hyperbole to pretend that their proposals will have no residual impact:
- In section 5.6.1 (page 94), the applicant claims that, provided there is a monitoring programme, “it is reasonable to assume that MG4 will be created”. This is a strikingly bold claim and takes no account of the fact that even if species-rich floodplain can be created, this will be a very long process and the compensation habitat cannot possibly be of comparable quality to the 400 year old grassland which will be destroyed.
- The applicant claims (in the same section) that there will be “No significant effect at a National Level in the Long Term (up to 10 years), when the new grassland establishes”. If this is true, the applicant is envisaging hitherto unparalleled success, contrary to all the research we have cited above. Moreover, this claim has national significance because if planning approval is granted on this basis, every grassland SSSI in the UK will be at risk from development: why protect ancient, species-rich grassland in situ if it can simply be re-created by transplanting turf and sowing seeds?
By any stretch of the imagination, the applicant’s claim to be able to destroy nationally-important grassland yet achieve “no significant effect” via mitigation is far-fetched. It is also directly contrary to evidence presented by English Nature (now Natural England) in relation to another grassland SSSI (see Jefferson et al, 1999).
As evidence, the applicant points to the apparent success of Copse Meadow, a 0.5 ha field converted from degraded agricultural grassland to species-rich meadow since 2008. They claim (page 87) that “This is an excellent example of what can be achieved within 10 years. Targets can be set for the restoration of Rawcliffe Ings based on the Copse Meadow success”. This is deeply ironic: although the field is owned by the applicant, they have provided no financial support for its management over the past ten years, refusing repeated requests from FoRM. Indeed, the applicant’s estates department prevented FoRM being able to claim agri-environment funding for managing Copse Meadow.
FoRM have overseen the process of re-creating species-rich grassland at Copse Meadow. While we are very proud of the results, this grassland is by no means of comparable nature conservation value to historic MG4 grassland and it would be perverse to suggest otherwise. In fact when FMP sampled the Copse Meadow in June 2016, analysis of quadrat data showed that the sward most closely resembled the Rough Meadow-grass subcommunity of Yorkshire Fog – Tufted Hair-grass pasture (NVC MG9a), a widespread type of grassland on permanently moist and periodically inundated soils. It was noted that elements of MG4 and MG8 grassland indicated development in a favourable direction. In 2017, transects of quadrats indicated that the taller grassland across the centre of the field resembled MG15 while the shorter, flushed sward on the slope was statistically closest to MG8 (species-rich wet grassland) but with similarities to MG4. However, the FMP survey in the same year recorded the middle of the field as MG4b with areas to the north and south intermediate between MG4 and MG6.
What this shows is that while Copse Meadow is progressing in a favourable direction and has good potential to support characteristic floodplain meadow plant communities in future, it is does not yet have a well-defined floristic character, expressing elements of up to five different NVC communities. This fundamentally undermines the applicant’s claim that the Copse Meadow shows that MG4 grassland can be created within ten years.
Indeed our own monitoring and photographic record shows that the vegetation of Copse Meadow continues to change significantly and sometimes dramatically from year to year and is still far from reaching a stable state. This succession is not necessarily a linear development towards MG4 grassland: a recent substantial increase in two nutrient-demanding grasses (Perennial Rye-grass and Yorkshire Fog) could be evidence of deterioration, for example.
Copse Meadow has clearly been a successful project given the baseline of heavily degraded, weed-infested agricultural grassland but it simply does not provide evidence that grassland of equivalent value to 400 year old meadow can be recreated within a decade. The sward is dominated by widespread and adaptable plants which grow readily from seed such as Meadow Buttercup, Red Clover and Ribwort while slow-growing rhizomatous perennials such as Great Burnet, Meadowsweet and Bistort show very little recruitment and are represented almost entirely by transplanted mature clumps which show negligible evidence even of vegetative expansion. It has been demonstrated that plants which grow quickly and dominate the sward early on have a very persistent ‘priority effect’ which includes changing soil chemistry to the detriment of slower-growing competitors (Fry et al, 2017; see also Kardol et al, 2006). To claim therefore that Copse Meadow is a good example of recently-created MG4 shows an ignorance of the phytosociology of floodplain meadows, which are dominated by expansive clonal populations of slow-growing but very long-lived rhizomatous forbs which rarely set seed under normal conditions.
- ‘MG4 grassland can develop on engineered soils’: a further spurious claim by the applicant
On page 87 of the ES, the applicant makes the striking claim that, “The Barrier Bank was originally construction [sic] in the 1980s. Since this period an MG4 grassland type has developed on the Barrier Bank…there is evidence that a species rich MG4 meadow can be created over a relatively short period (under the correct management) and even develop on engineered soils over longer periods”. Again the applicant exhibits amazing confidence in their ability to outpace and surpass all prior efforts of restoration ecologists.
In fact, Wallace et al (2009) mapped the barrier bank at Rawcliffe Meadows as supporting a combination of three NVC plant communities: MG7d (a fertile, grass-dominated type), MG1c (coarse tall grassland) and MG4. In 2015, based on extensive quadrat sampling, Hammond (2015) identified two communities: swards rich in Perennial Rye-grass which resembled both MG6b (a subcommunity of semi-improved permanent pastures) and a relatively species-rich version of MG7d; and swards which resemble a tall version of MG5a, a type of species-rich grassland associated with unimproved meadows or pastures on well-drained clay soils. The latter vegetation also had similarities to MG6 and MG4 but distinctive flood-meadow species were no more than occasional. There seem to be two different interpretations of a 2017 survey of the SSSI by the Floodplain Meadows Partnership. Wallace (2017) mapped the embankment as supporting MG15b, the Perennial rye-grass – Meadow Buttercup subcommunity of Meadow Foxtail – Rough Meadow-grass – Lady’s Smock grassland. This is a newly-described type of grassland which encompasses vegetation previously categorised as MG7d. However, a report submitted as part of the current planning application maps the barrier bank as intermediate between MG6 agricultural grassland and MG4 floodplain meadow. At the very least, these diverse interpretations show that the barrier bank does not support well-defined MG4 grassland!
These findings may seem contradictory but will be recognisable to anyone familiar with detailed assessment of grassland vegetation. The NVC describes a series of nodes on a spectrum of variation within each broad vegetation type: sometimes quadrat data will place stands very firmly within one particular community or subcommunity but quite often the vegetation resembles more than one type. In the 2015 data, for example, the similarity co-efficient for the more species-rich barrier bank grassland was 64.5 for MG5a, 62.3 for MG6 and 61.1 for MG4, so the differences in similarity were marginal – the sward did not correspond decisively to just one plant community. This hybrid character is entirely to be expected in relatively immature swards. It shows that the standard Water Authority engineer’s mix of Perennial Rye-grass, Timothy and Agricultural White Clover, sown when the embankment was built (Hammond, 1993), has become increasingly naturalised – but it is deeply misleading to suggest that the barrier bank supports high-quality MG4 grassland, or to infer that floodplain meadow vegetation can be rapidly re-created.
We must also point out that the quality of the barrier bank grassland is in large part due to 27 years of dedicated management by FoRM, including hundreds of hours of manual removal of invasive weeds and raking off of arisings left in situ by the EA. Prior to this, the vegetation was much more typical of weedy pasture. The applicant has provided no evidence of their capability of ensuring comparable long-term management.
- Efficacy of turf transplantation to salvage species-rich grassland: a discredited approach to mitigation
The applicant proposes to translocate turf from the SSSI to a nearby receptor site as a way of offsetting the impact of the scheme. However, the policy of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (a UK Government statutory advisor) is that “The statutory conservation agencies will continue to make the strongest possible case against translocating habitats from within SSSIs” (McLean, 2003). In fact, the purpose of JNCC policy (which is supported by all the country-based statutory nature conservation bodies) is to ensure that “SSSIs should not be subjected to translocation in whole or in part”. The objective of this policy is “protecting our designated sites (SSSIs) and ancient habitats, with their constituent assemblages or communities, in situ, free from the threat of translocation to accommodate development proposals“.
Based on an exhaustive review of evidence, the JNCC has concluded that “the available information shows that it is not possible to move assemblages of species together without substantial changes taking place in the structure of the habitats and in its species composition thus rendering the translocation unsuccessful with respect to sustaining the original flora and fauna”. Furthermore, “the intrinsic conservation value of translocated habitats is not sustained after the disruptions caused by their removal, transport and placement on a new site”. Therefore, translocating SSSI grassland, even if deemed successful, must represent a net loss of biodiversity at a national level; the applicant’s attempts to pretend otherwise conflict directly with JNCC policy. No amount of spin from the Environment Agency can alter this.
There are many reasons why translocation is a discredited strategy. Physical disturbance invariably causes changes in vegetation and soil structure; we are, after all, talking about very old, species-rich grassland not purpose-grown, single-species lawn turf. The receptor site is likely to be significantly different in terms of soil environment and hydrology and has a legacy of past management which is very different to the donor site (the applicant accepts, for example, that Rawcliffe Ings has been managed more intensively).
Much of the scientific evidence relating to habitat translocation was reviewed by Bullock et al (1997) and Jefferson et al (1999). At one site monitored in detail over nine years, an area of turf transplanted from a grassland SSSI showed fairly promising results initially but subsequently “diverged from the SSSI in a manner which represents deterioration”, with this trend accelerating over the course of the study. It was concluded that:
“the special interest of the unimproved neutral grasslands at Brocks Farm has been significantly damaged by all attempts at transplantation. The course of events over nine years after the previous transplantation attempts shows that such damage is likely to persist long beyond the normal timescale over which planning conditions are able to control events, and into an unpredictable future” (C.W.D. Gibson in Jefferson et al, 1999).
Should City of York Council be minded to permit this application, we would strongly urge an extended after-care period for any turf translocation, for a minimum of 100 years. This is based on the estimated length of time for species-rich grassland to achieve a ‘steady state’ following disturbance, as per English Nature Research Report 304 (C.W.D. Gibson in Jefferson et al, 1999). This time scale is not our opinion, it is that of English Nature (Natural England’s predecessor organisation) and has been cited by EN/NE at Public Inquiry.
Relevant planning precedents
Habitat translocation is a popular proposition among developers because it is seen as a way around nature conservation constraints. However, Planning Inspectors have repeatedly refused appeals at Public Inquiry where translocation was proposed as sufficient mitigation to outweigh damage to SSSI grassland.
For example, an appeal by Maryport Developments Ltd in 1992 was refused in part based on the Inspector’s finding that conservation in situ outweighed the need for development. Translocation was concluded to offer at best a salvage option. In relation to loss of SSSI grassland, the Inspector found that “I do not believe that even a highly successful translocation, which may create a new habitat but most likely not be capable of recreating the SSSI, would avoid that harm.” The Inspector concluded that allowing development with translocation as mitigation “would seriously undermine the intent of national and local policy” on protecting the nature conservation value of SSSIs.
At a Public Inquiry in 1997, English Nature argued successfully against translocation of a grassland SSSI at Brocks Farm in Devon (Jefferson et al, 1999). EN contended that “the nature conservation value of translocated grassland is diminished in comparison with the value it would have had, had it not been translocated”; this must apply equally to Rawcliffe Meadows. In the Brocks Farm case the local planning authority had refused a planning application solely on the basis of damage to the SSSI and this decision was upheld both by the Planning Inspector and the Secretary of State for the Environment.
English Nature cited Brocks Farm as “a case study of a development proposal affecting a lowland grassland SSSI which may be useful as reference material for other staff in the Country Agencies, NGOs or Local Authorities involved in similar cases”. It should be noted that, in this case, the vegetation was MG5 Cynosurus cristatus – Centaurea nigra grassland, a community which is often considered relatively ‘re-creatable’ compared to MG4.
At an Appeal in South Cambridgeshire in 2016, the Planning Inspector agreed that there were well-established arguments against habitat translocation in the case of high-value grassland though he suggested these were less applicable to grassland “of purely local interest”.
Natural England’s position
We have not yet seen Natural England’s response to the detailed planning application but we have concerns about the consistency of NE’s position. For example, in 2013 Natural England stated the following in relation to proposed translocation of NVC MG5 grassland at Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill SSSI in Kent:
“In the event that areas of semi-natural grassland cannot be conserved in situ due to an overriding case for land use change such as a development then any offsite compensatory provision such as by turf translocation or re-creation by seeding or hay transfer will result in a habitat of lesser value.”
In this instance, Natural England re-iterated JNCC policy on translocation and explained:
“This is based on the premise that translocation of habitats (and indeed by implication, habitat creation by other means) cannot completely reproduce the essential environmental conditions (geology, soil conditions, hydrology, aspect and topography etc) and the ecological processes, which determine the composition of the original plant and animal communities. The available evidence from the last 20 years shows that the vegetation of translocated sites, even when undertaken using best practice methods, is different in its composition and relative abundance of species compared to the original in situ habitat”.
In the Lodge Hill case, NE accepted that there might be “cases of imperative need” which would over-ride the protection of SSSI features in situ but “The relative effectiveness of habitat compensation compared to conservation in situ depends on (a) Its reliability in establishing the key features of national importance, and (b) The relative likelihood that they can then be sustained over the long term on a new site compared to the existing site”.
- Inaccurate and misleading assessment of impacts on Rawcliffe Cornfield Nature Reserve
Use of the Cornfield Nature Reserve to construct an access road and depot would result in the loss, for the duration of the project, of arable and grassland habitat which has been established since 2000. Section 5.3.3 of the Biodiversity chapter of the ES gives a brief and very incomplete summary of the ecological interest of the Cornfield which is inadequate for the purpose of assessing accurately the impacts of the proposed development.
The Cornfield was established in 2000 to maintain an area of arable (annually-cultivated) habitat, managed for wildlife, as mitigation for the development of the Rawcliffe Bar Park & Ride site and Country Park. Around 40% of the 4.6 ha field is permanent grassland, including the recently-established 1.5 ha Cornfield Meadow, six-metre margins around the perimeter of the field and a baulk running north-south across the arable area. The remainder consists of spring-sown wildlife seed crops and cultivated fallows. These are rotated each year in blocks: the fallow is cultivated each spring then left to regenerate naturally while the crops comprise plants such as Triticale, Millet, Borage, Fodder Radish and Mustard. These attract insects in summer and provide abundant seeds throughout the year, especially in autumn and winter.
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 box to creating habitat for wild bees to assisting with agricultural operations to recording wildlife. Moreover, 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 the ES.
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, other than on a minor matter concerning the alignment of the proposed embankment; we have simply been presented with a fait accompli.
The original ambition of the Cornfield Nature Reserve was to maintain breeding populations of declining birds which used the arable farmland prior to the development of the Park & Ride site, such as Grey Partridge, Skylark and Corn Bunting. In practice the Cornfield proved to be too small and isolated, and too exposed to predators for this to succeed. However, it provides an important year-round foraging resource for birds of conservation concern nesting in surrounding habitats such as Stock Dove, Dunnock, Tree Sparrow and Reed Bunting. In autumn through to spring, the seed crops and weed-rich fallows attract large numbers of additional species such as Linnet, Yellowhammer and, in cold winters, Corn Bunting. Sometimes counts of these species are amongst the highest in the York area or, occasionally, in Yorkshire as a whole.
A single paragraph in section 5.3.3 refers to the value of the field as foraging habitat for farmland birds but no attempt has been made by the applicant to collate data, undertake their own counts or contextualise available information. This undermines the credibility of the applicant’s assessment of ecological significance.
In addition, low-input management of crops and fallows favours a diverse arable flora including several seriously-declining species. Regularly-occurring arable flowers include Corn Spurrey, Corn Mint and Corn Marigold with more sporadic records of Common Cudweed. All these are listed as species of conservation concern in the England Red List of vascular plants (Stroh et al, 2014). The applicant spuriously claims that “The field margin to eastern end of the field is managed specifically for arable plants” and also refers to the fact that they could not detect the species of concern in the field margins. This is nonsense: the species in question would never grow in the dense, tussocky grassland of the field margins nor has an area at the eastern end of the field ever been managed specifically for these plants. Such statements speak to a lack of basic fact-checking. A further erroneous claim is that scarce arable plants in the Cornfield have been introduced (section 5.4.1): the species in question are naturally-occurring (some additional species were sown in one location for a single season on an experimental basis).
The Cornfield also supports several regionally-scarce insects, one nationally Near Threatened species and suites of insects associated with particular ecological conditions. The applicant has made no reference to these facts.
The applicant has erroneously assessed the Cornfield as being of merely Local significance for biodiversity (final paragraph of section 5.3.3, page 66). This is simply not credible: the Cornfield Nature Reserve supports, at least intermittently, regionally-important numbers of declining farmland birds; it regularly supports numbers of declining farmland birds of District-wide importance; it supports an arable flora of at least District importance; and it supports invertebrate assemblages likely to be of District significance.
As well as under-stating the nature conservation value of the Cornfield, the applicant fails to offer a credible mitigation strategy. The claim is made in section 5.5.1 that the construction compound “has been designed to avoid sensitive features within the Cornfield” yet, as we have shown, the applicant has been unable to identify where key species such as scarce arable plants occur. The suggestion is made that edges of the field could be scarified to maintain the arable flora but our experience over the past 15 years has been that light cultivation merely encourages stoloniferous and rhizomatous perennial weeds such as Black Bent, Couch-grass, Field Horsetail, Rosebay and Creeping Thistle.
In Table 5.8 (page 101), it is suggested that “Feed for farmland birds will be provided prior to and during construction” but the applicant has offered no indication of where or how this would take place, or how they would feed species like Corn Bunting and Linnet which do not attend feeding stations. Providing winter feed is no simple matter (we have many years’ experience of this), requiring high standards of hygiene, regular rotation of feeding sites, careful location to avoid predators and measures to exclude Brown Rats and Grey Squirrels. The applicant does not appear to have considered any of this. The applicant claims (section 5.6.1 & Table 5.8) that, with mitigation, the proposed development would have “No significant effect” on the biodiversity interest of the Cornfield, even at a Local level. They assert this is a certain prediction (page 101). We have shown that this is a baseless and misleading evaluation.
In Table 5.8, the applicant states that “Negative impact on farmland and invertebrate and rare arable field margins is avoided, where possible”. Given the lack of basic data collation by the applicant, this is a bold claim indeed.
As FoRM were instrumental in setting-up the Cornfield Nature Reserve and have managed it under successive agri-environment agreements since 2003, it is frustrating that the applicant has made such a flawed assessment, based on almost no dialogue with ourselves. Moreover, if the applicant had been more collaborative, we could have worked-up a much more credible and effective mitigation strategy. Regrettably, this reflects the applicant’s reliance on consultants with no local knowledge. Had we been asked, FoRM would have advised:
- contracting a local farmer to provide an equivalent area of wildlife seed crops for the duration of the development
- a programme of seed-collecting of annual plants over a two or three year period (arable plants are inherently erratic in occurrence) for storage and propagation to multiply the seed supply; along with ex-situ propagation of short-lived perennial species
- active maintenance of key invertebrate habitats during the operational phase
- safeguarding the most likely areas of Necklace Ground-beetle habitat (which are not in the field margins)
- Impacts on Rawcliffe Meadows Site of Importance for Nature Conservation
In section 5.3.1 it is stated that the Rawcliffe Meadows Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) “now only consists of the Blue Beck Flood Basin”. This significant error is repeated in section 5.3.3. However, the SINC also covers the grassland between Blue Beck and the northern boundary of the Clifton Hospital campus, to the east of the barrier bank. As this area is potentially vulnerable to direct or indirect impacts of the proposed scheme, this is a worrying omission.
In section 5.3.3, it is stated that “The channel of Blue Beck separates the Flood Basin from a narrow strip of semi-improved grassland to the east. This grassland includes a limited range of flowering herbs.” This is a curious assertion since this grassland forms part of the SINC. It qualifies in its own right for SINC status using the North Yorkshire SINC Selection Guidelines (Table 1, based on FoRM field notes, 2018). This area is the only locus on the Clifton Washland as a whole for plants such as Pignut and Lady’s Bedstraw and insects such as the declining Chimney Sweeper moth.
|Botanical name||English name||Abundance|
|Anthoxanthum odoratum||Sweet Vernal-grass||F|
|Galium verum||Lady’s Bedstraw||L|
|Lathyrus pratensis||Meadow Vetchling||O|
|Rhinanthus minor||Yellow Rattle||L|
|Sanguisorba officinalis||Great Burnet||LA|
|Stellaria graminea||Lesser Stitchwort||O|
Table 1: neutral grassland indicator species present in SINC grassland south of the flood basin
The failure to recognise the grassland south of Blue Beck as protected by SINC designation reinforces the impression of a rushed and sloppy assessment.
There is no recognition in the ES that the proposed development will prevent grazing of the SINC for up to two years, and no mitigation is proposed. Contrary to the claim of “No significant effect” (Table 5.8, page 99), lack of management would predictably result in deterioration in ecological condition.
- Impacts on other SINCs
Table 5.6 refers to Overton Borrowpits SINC, 1.33 km to the north of Rawcliffe Meadows. For some unexplained reason, no details of this SINC are given, yet it is still asserted that “its qualifying features for designation will not be affected by the Project”. How is this known if the qualifying features are not identified?
In fact, Overton Borrowpits are known for their remarkably rich flora, including many species which are rare in the Vale of York. The Borrowpits are the most likely source of several plants which have colonised Rawcliffe Meadows, such as Common Spotted, Northern Marsh and Southern Marsh Orchids. Other species which are found at both sites but are rare elsewhere around York include Quaking Grass, Yellow Rattle and Pepper Saxifrage. The loss of any of these species from Rawcliffe Meadows would increase the physical and genetic isolation (and therefore potential viability) of the remnant populations at Overton Borrowpits.
Clifton Backies SINC/Local Nature Reserve also shares a number of locally-rare plant species with Rawcliffe Meadows, so the same comments apply. In both cases, risk of loss of locally-rare species at a meta-population level could be avoided if their locations at Rawcliffe Meadows had been mapped and safeguarded. Unfortunately this does not seem to have occurred.
- Failure to adequately assess sensitive adjoining habitats
In section 5.3.4 of the Biodiversity chapter of the ES, the applicant purports to assess habitats within and adjoining the proposed development.
Ponds on Rawcliffe Meadows have been assessed as being of merely Local importance. The applicant has failed to recognise that the pond complex in the Flood Basin is one the Freshwater Habitats Trust’s national Flagship Ponds sites: these are described by FHT as “….the very best pond sites in England and Wales; identified because they support populations of the some of the UK’s rarest species and because they represent some of the least impacted, most diverse pond habitats remaining in the country”. The flood basin has been identified as a Flagship Ponds site “because of its diverse community of plants, animals and invertebrates, including uncommon and interesting species such as UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) priority species Tubular Water-dropwort Oenanthe fistulosa, as well as Bladder Sedge Carex vesicaria, Pink Water-speedwell Weevil Gymnetron villosulum and Water Vole Arvicola amphibius”. The ponds support an exceptionally large and increasing population of Tubular Water-dropwort, a severely declining wetland plant which is listed as a Species of Principal Importance under Section 41 of the NERC Act. They also support exceptional aquatic invertebrate assemblages including one Near Threatened and four Nationally Scarce beetles as well as several species at or close to the northern edge of their British ranges.
While the flood basin ponds will not be directly impacted by the proposed development, they are clearly of Regional (not Local) importance. This is just one of numerous instances where the applicant has under-stated the conservation significance of features due to lack of diligence in their Environmental Impact Assessment. The flood basin ponds will be vulnerable to lack of grazing for the duration of works, as the flood basin will not be accessible to livestock. This risks adverse changes in vegetation structure, particularly as Tubular Water-dropwort relies on light grazing and trampling by cattle to limit encroachment by taller competing vegetation.
The misleading statement that ponds are of “Local or less than Local” importance is reiterated in Table 5.7. In the same Table it is stated that “No waterbodies fall within the Project footprint” but this ignores the close proximity of the proposed works to the large pond at the southern end of Rawcliffe Meadows: indeed it is likely that the development would impact on the biodiversity of this pond, e.g. on dispersing or foraging amphibians.
The assessment of hedgerows has been very formulaic and there has been no attempt to identify specific features of biodiversity value. Again this reflects the lack of any collaborative approach by the applicant. Entomological surveys commissioned by FoRM have identified specific features of hedgerows within the scheme footprint of particular importance to uncommon invertebrates.
- Misleading assessment of risks to Necklace Ground-beetle; failure to provide credible mitigation strategy
Necklace Ground-beetle is a large, predatory beetle which was formerly widespread in England but has declined so severely that it is now categorised as Endangered by Natural England (Telfer, 2016). 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 2000. This status must be taken into account by all public bodies in accordance with the duties placed upon them by Section 40 of the same Act.
We have set out our criticisms of the applicant’s approach to Necklace Ground-beetle in our response to Planning Application 19/00009/FUL. These comments were based on our knowledge of Necklace Ground-beetle in the vicinity and a comprehensive review of the British and Continental literature on the species. We will therefore repeat only the most salient points here.
In Table 5.1, the applicant states that they consulted entomologist Andrew Grayson regarding Necklace Ground-beetle. Mr Grayson has not contacted FoRM to ascertain the information we hold relating to this species. A strange assertion is made that further surveys were not undertaken because they “would only re-confirm its presence or, more likely, not record this species”. We have made repeated records from pitfall trap transects in one location over two years, so there is evidently an established, resident population. Therefore it is simply wrong to claim that this species is unlikely to be recorded again. Equally, it is unlikely that Necklace Ground-beetle, a flightless insect, occurs only in a habitat which was created in 2008. Logically, the sensible approach would have been to undertake pitfall trapping surveys for this species in suitable habitat (species-rich grassland) to determine its distribution across the site.
In section 5.4.1, it is stated that Necklace Ground-beetle is presumed to be present in the field margins around the Cornfield. This is based on the supposition that “This beetle is frequently associated with cultivated land and field margins”. However, FoRM’s pitfall-trapping studies have failed to detect any Carabus species in the Cornfield margins. There is strong evidence that this species’ core habitat is herb-rich meadows, which have been the source of most British records recently (e.g. Sutton, 2018) and this association has been demonstrated in large-scale analysis of Carabid data in Continental Europe (Blumenthal, 1981). Our records show 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.
On page 96, it is suggested that Necklace Ground-beetle is a long-lived and far-ranging insect. We presume the applicant is implying that Necklace Ground-beetle would rapidly recolonise lost habitat once it is reinstated. However, Carabus species vary enormously in their dispersal capabilities. 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 only slowly. The claim that Carabus species live “up to 2-3 years, in some species up to 10 years” has never been documented in Britain for C. monilis and is of tenuous relevance.
- Lack of assessment of invertebrates other than Necklace Ground-beetle and Tansy Beetle
Section 5.2.5 sets out the scope of field surveys undertaken by the applicant’s consultants. It is stated that,
“For the purposes of this EcIA it has been assumed that species identified in records from the NEYEDC data (e.g. invertebrates) are present within the site. It was not deemed appropriate to do further surveys for these species (or species that are difficult to confirm as present) as such surveys would likely record absence”.
This is a problematic assertion on several levels, and it ignores Natural England’s advice (in response to the Scoping Opinion consultation) that invertebrate surveys were required as part of the EIA process. The applicant has only accessed a fraction of the available data and has made the bizarre claim that surveys, if undertaken, “would likely record absence” – why? A sensible approach would have been to identify which species were at risk from the scheme and target surveys accordingly. A knowledgeable consultant would be able to screen out likely ‘tourist’ species (ones likely to occur on site only casually) and ones unlikely to be impacted by the scheme. But without survey data, how can mitigation and compensation be targeted effectively? Given that the applicant acknowledges (e.g. in Table 5.7) that Rawcliffe Meadows supports invertebrate communities of National importance, this approach is particularly difficult to understand. These are fairly elementary considerations and it is disappointing that they have to be raised at this late stage.
Not only has the applicant failed to undertake invertebrate surveys, they have also failed to collate available data, leading to a series of bold but baseless assertions. The applicant claims, for example, that:
“The Desk Study returned records of invertebrates within the Site boundary and the wider Study Area that are listed as ‘Nationally Scarce’ and ‘Priority Species’ in England. None of these records are returned within the development footprint. Records of notable invertebrates returned within the Site were all associated with aquatic environments…”
Given that the applicant hasn’t accessed FoRM’s data, it is not surprising their understanding is so flawed.
Had they bothered to collate existing data properly, the applicant would have found the following breakdown of the 35 invertebrate species of conservation from Rawcliffe Meadows, by conservation status (Table 2) and habitat (Table 3).
|Endangered||Nationally Rare||Near Threatened||Nationally Scarce||Species of Principal Importance|
Table 2: invertebrates of conservation concern recorded at Rawcliffe Meadows, by GB conservation status
|Habitat||Wet grassland, fen litter & water margins||Aquatic||Meadow & pasture||Trees & hedgerows||Miscellaneous|
|No. of species||15||9||5||3||3|
Table 3: invertebrates of conservation concern recorded at Rawcliffe Meadows, by habitat association
Therefore several of the invertebrates of conservation concern found at Rawcliffe Meadows are associated with grassland and hedgerow habitats, and could therefore be potentially at risk from the proposed scheme. This includes one species categorised as Endangered and listed as a NERC Act Species of Principal Importance. Contrary to the baseless assertion in Table 5.7, some records are directly within the footprint of the scheme, e.g. of the Nationally Scarce grassland click-beetle Oedostethus quadripustulatus. The statement that “…it is not anticipated that habitats supporting notable invertebrate communities will by impact by the Project” is therefore simply false.
- Additional flaws in the Biodiversity chapter of the Environmental Statement
The applicant’s Environmental Statement provides the evidence base upon which City of York Council must determine the planning application. Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows contend that the ecology chapter of the ES is too flawed to be acceptable and needs to be comprehensively re-written before the application can be determined.
Failure to access important ecological data
It is claimed in section 5.2.3 (page 46) that FoRM have supplied invertebrate and bird data. In fact whilst the applicant has had sight of the 2015 breeding bird survey we commissioned, they have not accessed the large amount of ecological data we hold which is not in the public domain. As many specialists and experts have visited the site over the 28 years we have managed it, and as have a large archive of wildlife survey reports, we are mystified as to why this is the case. In fact, the applicant’s consultants have never made an effort to discuss the large volume of information that is available. They also claim to have discussed the flora and fauna of the Cornfield Nature Reserve with us but in fact we have had very little contact with them on this subject, hence the frequent repetition of inaccurate and misleading statements throughout the chapter. Nor have they referred to readily-available publications such as those by Hammond (1995 & 2017).
Status and conservation of Tansy Beetle
The status of Tansy Beetle is given in Table 5.6 as “critically endangered”; this is repeated in section 5.3.2 but is incorrect. In the Natural England review of the Chrysomelidae (Hubble, 2014), Tansy Beetle is categorised as “endangered”. While this does not make a material difference to the impact of the scheme, it speaks to a lack of rigour on the applicant’s part.
In section 5.5.1, the applicant states that “Adult tansy beetles are active around the tops of tansy plants from April until June. The young are then active on the tansy plants from mid-July until September”. This is rubbish and yet again reflects a lack of diligence. The life-cycle of Tansy Beetles on the Ouse corridor has been described many times in scientific publications which are readily accessible. The over-wintering generation emerges in spring (March onwards, depending on temperature) and adults are active into mid-summer with a new generation emerging from pupation August onwards. In practice, there is considerable overlap between generations and adults are present continuously from March to October with a dip in numbers during July. Given that the applicant proposes to protect Tansy Beetles by searching for adults during active periods, it would help their credibility if they had actually researched the biology of this species.
Impacts on Great Crested Newt
The assessment of impact on Great Crested Newts fails to consider the potential value of the permanent grassland habitats which cover around 40% of the Cornfield Nature Reserve, immediately to the north of the known breeding ponds in the flood basin.
The applicant proposes in section 5.5.1 to create artificial hibernacula to “establish a robust and larger GCN population” in the flood basin. There is no evidence that the population is constrained by lack of hibernation habitat, which is unlikely to be the case where there is already plentiful scrub above the flood line.
Impacts on Common Toad
Common Toad is listed as a Species of Principal Importance for the conservation of biodiversity under Section 41 of the NERC Act. A breeding population occurs in the large pond at the southern end of Rawcliffe Meadows but this is not mentioned in the ecology chapter of the ES. This pond is very close to the proposed embankment works so the Common Toad population must be considered at risk.
Impacts on Badger
The statements regarding Badger fail to recognise that the Cornfield Nature Reserve is the only sizeable area within the local landscape where people and dogs are excluded. Therefore, if Badgers are present, the Cornfield is likely to be critical to the species’ survival in the vicinity. It is claimed that “Given the availability of retained foraging habitat outside the Project footprint, no impacts on badgers are anticipated”: this is clearly an over-simplification.
Impacts on breeding birds
The assessment of impacts on breeding birds is based purely on Red List species and ignores Species of Principal Importance (SPI) listed under Section 41 of the NERC Act 2006. This is cherry-picking parameters to downplay the impact of the proposed development: in the case of birds, Red/Amber/Green listing has no statutory implications but Section 41 listing does.
Bird Species of Principal Importance which breed regularly on the site include Dunnock, Bullfinch, Tree Sparrow and Reed Bunting with occasional records of Song Thrush, Linnet and Yellowhammer. All the regularly breeding SPIs are likely to be impacted by the proposed development either directly (through removal of nesting habitat) or indirectly (through disturbance). Based on the 2018 survey maps, the scheme would remove habitat or risk disturbance of at least six pairs of Dunnock, a small colony of Tree Sparrows (also a Red List species) and possibly one pair of Bullfinch.
It is stated that “tree sparrows may have nested in the boundary wall of the former Clifton Hospital, however the thin hedge at this location was categorised as relatively poor habitat for nesting birds”. Given the inevitable disturbance at this location, which forms the narrowest ‘pinch point’ between Ings Dyke and the hospital boundary, this statement is nonsensical. Unless the nesting season is avoided, there would be an impact on Tree Sparrows and no mitigation is proposed. As this was the only location Tree Sparrow was suspected to be nesting in 2018, there is an obvious need for targeted mitigation measures.
The conclusion that “The site is likely to support a small number of common garden bird species. Breeding bird populations supported by the Site are considered to be of Local importance” is manifestly at odds with the data. Rawcliffe Meadows alone supports around 26 regular breeding species with 30 having nested in the past five years. These include several localised and uncommon species which are rare elsewhere in the suburbs of York.
In Section 5.4.1, the applicant concludes that, even without mitigation, the proposed scheme would only result in a negative effect at a “less than Local Level”. This is a perverse conclusion given the potential to disturb the only remaining Tree Sparrow breeding colony on site, the removal of nesting habitat used by several pairs of SPI birds and the removal of year-round foraging habitat for several birds of conservation concern. The applicant’s assessment of the level and significance of impacts does not conform to the CIEEM methodology they purport to follow.
The proposal in section 5.5.1 is to offset short- and medium- term loss of hedgerow habitat by providing nest boxes in the Ings Dyke. This is dubious because most of the birds nesting in the Clifton Hospital boundary hedge are not hole nesters due to the lack of mature trees. At best, nest boxes will provide additional habitat for common hole-nesters such as Blue and Great Tits which are already abundant on the site. Half-fronted boxes would inevitably be raided by the abundant Grey Squirrels so would be of no value.
The applicant also makes the fallacious statement that “Barn owls are common and widespread in the district”. While Barn Owls are relatively frequent in the Lower Derwent Valley (arguably a national stronghold for the species), they are by no means “common and widespread” over the Vale of York as a whole. While this claim is of no great consequence in relation to decision-making, it reflects the applicant’s use of exaggeration throughout the ES.
No consideration is given to the impact of removing foraging habitat in the Cornfield Nature Reserve on Barn Owls, which have frequently been reported quartering the field. Obvious mitigation measures such as providing Barn Owl nest boxes on City of York Council owned farmland on the opposite side of the Ouse have not been considered.
Impacts on Roe Deer
While the applicant acknowledges that Roe Deer are present on Rawcliffe Meadows, it is claimed that “The Project is not anticipated to impact or effect roe deer”. This statement is laughable. Roe Deer were present regularly in the Cornfield in 2012 to 2017 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 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.
Lack of assessment of tree removal
In section 5.4.1, the applicant refers to the removal of 7.5 to 10% of Blue Beck Copse. They have not made any mention of the potential to impact on White-letter Hairstreak butterfly, a Red List (Endangered) species and Species of Principal Importance. Several elm trees have been planted in Blue Beck Copse specifically to encourage this butterfly, which is known from the site. All public bodies have a statutory (NERC Act) responsibility to consider the impacts of their actions on biodiversity, so this is yet another example of lack of diligence on the applicant’s part.
Misleading assessment of impact of hedgerow removal
In Table 5.8 (page 101), the applicant claims that hedgerow removal will have no significant effect in the long term. They have not referred at any point to impacts on invertebrates but several uncommon and/or specialised species are associated with specific hedgerow features, including the old ‘outgrown’ Hawthorn which dominates the Clifton Hospital boundary hedge. The claim of no significant effect is therefore fallacious. In addition, because the applicant has not properly assessed invertebrate data, how will they design replacement planting to optimise benefits for biodiversity?
Lack of mitigation strategy for pernicious grassland weeds
Although the applicant makes various references to invasive non-native weeds, there is no mention of the problems associated with native grassland weeds such as docks, ragwort and thistles. Rawcliffe Meadows is not a country park or nature reserve: it is working farmland and its continuing maintenance depends on its capacity to produce an agriculturally viable hay crop and aftermath grazing.
Over the past 28 years, perhaps the greatest challenge in managing the site has been to keep invasive weeds at a level where they do not jeopardise the quality and viability of the hay crop. Any more than a trace amount of ragwort makes the hay poisonous to livestock, thistles make it unpalatable and docks spread their seeds wherever the hay is spread as fodder. Over and again our experience as site managers has been that the Environment Agency causes ground disturbance and walks away, leaving a legacy of invasive weeds for years to come.
It must be understood that infestations of invasive grassland weeds are not a transient problem. Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows are still dealing with the legacy of lax management prior to 1990, and dock seeds remain viable in the soil for up to 70 years. Moreover, invasive weeds are particularly difficult to treat in species-rich SSSI grassland, requiring laborious hand-weeding or painstaking spot-treatment of individual plants with herbicide.
In Table 5.8 (page 102), the applicant states with certainty that there will be “no significant effect” from invasive plants. This is manifestly untrue since extensive soil disturbance will inevitable create favourable conditions for noxious grassland weeds, which are likely to cause problems for decades to come.
If the Council is minded to approve this application, it is imperative that an invasive weed management plan is agreed which commits the applicant to a diligent and comprehensive programme of controlling Curled Dock, Broad-leaved Dock, Spear Thistle, Creeping Thistle, Welted Thistle and Common Ragwort (as well as invasive non-native species) for a minimum of 20 years.
Evasive statements regarding relocation of the Sustrans cycle track
We would support the permanent re-location of the cyclepath along the trodden path on the Clifton Ings side of Ings Dyke. However, this needs to be resolved prior to determination as other arrangements would have different impacts on the SSSI.
- Summary of objections on planning policy grounds
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 proposed scheme contravenes this policy because
- It will result in permanent, irreversible loss of and damage to nationally-important SSSI grassland which cannot be adequately mitigated or compensated for.
- There will be adverse impacts on the Cornfield Nature Reserve which are of regional or at least district-wide significance. While these impacts may initially be temporary, there is significant risk that they will become permanent. As we have shown, there is no credible strategy to mitigate these risks.
- There is no evidence that the applicant is offering meaningful net gain for biodiversity (compensation ≠ net gain).
Although the applicant has not had the courtesy to acknowledge this, the ‘multiplier’ they have used for the area of compensatory habitat is based on calculations undertaken by FoRM using the original DEFRA biodiversity offsetting metric. We used these calculations to illustrate the scale of mitigation which would be appropriate for a non-statutory site.
FoRM have pointed out to the applicant that DEFRA has published a draft revised metric which would result in a higher ratio of compensation for habitat loss with an added 10% to ensure net gain: we calculate that the multiplier should be 6.81 (rather than 4) based on the updated metric (see Appendix 1 to this submission). Using the excuse that the updated method has yet to be formally adopted, the applicant has refused to use it, despite being part of DEFRA.
Paragraph 175 (a) of the NPPF reiterates the long-established ‘mitigation hierarchy’ (avoid >mitigate >compensate) and paragraph 175 (b) states that,
“development on land within or outside a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and
which is likely to have an adverse effect on it… should not normally be permitted. The only exception is where the benefits of the development in the location
proposed clearly outweigh both its likely impact on the features of the site that
make it of special scientific interest, and any broader impacts on the national
network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest”
In this instance there would be irreparable damage to a site of national importance which cannot be fully compensated for. The applicant has not demonstrated that the proposed scheme is of national importance. Neither have they shown that equivalent flood alleviation benefits could not be delivered by other means. The applicant’s principal arguments seem to be that other options such as re-aligning the barrier bank further to the east would be more costly but this in itself is not a primary consideration in terms of Government planning policy.
Paragraph 175 (c) of the NPPF states that
“development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats… should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists”
“Wholly exceptional reasons” are defined as including infrastructure projects such as “nationally significant infrastructure projects, orders under the Transport and Works Act and hybrid bills” (NPPF footnote 58). Historic grassland (in this case around 400 years old) must, by any definition, be considered irreplaceable and the proposed works are not of national significance. Equivalent flood alleviation benefits could be achieved by other means or by modification of the proposals to minimise impacts on irreplaceable habitat.
Government planning practice guidance
Government planning practice guidance (www.gov.uk/guidance/natural-environment) 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. Just as importantly, they have not been transparent about the extent of impacts on SSSI interests other than direct land-take. As a result, FoRM believe that the Environmental Statement is so flawed that it cannot provide a meaningful basis for determination of the application. As a minimum, City of York Council needs to reject the ES and require substantial revisions prior to re-consideration.
The applicant claims that they have demonstrated no other alternative by following their own internal assessment procedures. These may (or may not) demonstrate that the proposed scheme is the best option for the Environment Agency but that is not the same as demonstrating no alternative. Put another way, if the applicant assumed sine qua non that they must not cause significant damage to the SSSI, they would surely find another way of achieving equivalent flood defence benefits.
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Natural England’s draft Updated Biodiversity Metric applied to the Clifton Ings Barrier Bank scheme
The Biodiversity Net Gain Consultation Proposals (DEFRA, December 2018) sets out the principle of “compensating for biodiversity loss where it cannot be avoided or mitigated” and “delivering measurable, verifiable net gains for nature”: “Based on a standardised approach, biodiversity net gain delivers measurable improvements by comparing habitat losses and gains and steering mitigation and compensation accordingly”.
The proposed offsetting system is not intended to replace or dilute the ‘mitigation hierarchy’ set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF): “No existing planning protection for the environment will be weakened and the principle of avoiding harm first…will continue to ensure that preventing damage to nature will always be prioritised, wherever possible”.
The NPPF (as revised in July 2018) already enshrines the principles of ‘no net loss’ and ‘net gain where possible’: Paragraph 170 states that planning policies and decisions should minimise impacts on and provide net gains for biodiversity, for example, and Para 118 states that the planning system should take opportunities to secure net environmental gains.
The original draft ‘Defra metric’ was used to calculate how much compensatory habitat might need to be created for each unit lost as a result of the Clifton Ings Barrier Bank scheme. Natural England are currently updating the Defra metric “in collaboration with the Environment Agency and a wide range of external stakeholders”. The draft version of this ‘Defra Metric 2.0’ has been used to re-calculate this ratio; more detailed guidance is expected early in 2019. The new metric is more sensitive to habitat condition and distinctiveness and takes better account of ecological connectivity.
An important element of the DEFRA proposals is the recommendation that a 10% gain in biodiversity units would be required “in order to provide a high degree of certainty that overall gains will be achieved”, i.e. they are advising compensation based on the Defra 2.0 metric plus 10%.
Where developers seek to pay for off-site compensation via a tariff, DEFRA suggests that this “might be set between £9,000 and £15,000 per biodiversity unit”.
Calculation of Biodiversity Unit value for grassland at Rawcliffe Meadows
|Distinctiveness||Very High||8||“Priority habitats as defined in Section 41 of the NERC Act that are highly threatened, internationally scarce and require conservation action”|
|Habitat connectivity||High connectivity||1.15|
Strategic significance is taken as Medium because there is no habitat creation strategy for the City of York. The same quality scores are used for the compensation habitat as it’s assumed the aim is to re-create habitat of comparable quality and value rather than ‘trading down’ to lower quality.
|Time to target condition||20 years ||0.490|
|Difficulty of creation & restoration||High||0.33|
|Spatial risk||Compensation inside LPA or NCA, or deemed to be sufficiently local to site of biodiversity loss||1|
Difficulty of creating MG4 grassland must be classed as High: recent analysis of 194 floodplain meadow restoration sites in England and Wales shows that only 9.4 % of the area restored was achieving good results.
Lost habitat value: AxBxCxDxE = no of biodiversity units required for offsetting
|A||Size of parcel (ha)||1|
Newly-created habitat value: FxGxHxIxJxKxLxM
|F||Size of parcel (ha)||1|
|G||Distinctiveness||8||We’re assuming the goal is to re-create MG4 grassland|
|H||Condition||2.5||We’re assuming the goal is to create compensation habitat of at least comparable condition to what is lost|
|L||Time to target condition||0.49|
Loss/compensation ratio is therefore 25.3/4.09 = 6.19; +10% = 6.81.
 Transcript in Appendix 3 of Jefferson et al (1999)
 Based on comparison with York Ornithological Club annual reports and Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union bird reports.
 North Yorkshire SINC Panel (2003); these Guidelines have been used to identify Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation in the City of York as well as North Yorkshire. The grassland qualifies under Guideline Gr4 (neutral grasslands in the Vale of York): it supports at least 8/8 qualifying species as per Table 1 and at 0.6 ha exceeds the minimum size threshold of 0.5 ha.
 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 (e.g. 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.
 One additional species, the long-headed fly Thrypticus atomus, has not yet been assessed as it had not been published as a British species at the time Drake (2018) reviewed this family. Categories are as per the most recent review published by Natural England or the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, i.e. Fox et al (2010) for butterflies, Foster (2010) for water beetles, Telfer (2016) for ground beetles; Hubble (2014) for leaf beetles, Hyman & Parsons (1992 & 1994) for rove beetles, feather-wing beetles and weevils; Lane & Mann (2016) for dung beetles and allies; Alexander et al (2014) for the darkling beetles and their allies; Falk et al (2016) for Acalypterate flies; Falk & Pont (2017) for Calypterate flies; Drake (2017) for the larger Brachycera; Drake (2018) for the long-headed flies; and Falk & Crossley (2005) for the dance-flies and allies.
 These species were categorised as RDB3: Rare in the now superseded British Red Data Book system.
 This includes species previously listed under the equivalent but superseded category of ‘Nationally Notable’, where these belong to groups which have yet to be re-assessed (e.g. weevils, rove beetles).
 All three NERC Act Species of Principal Importance are also listed as Endangered
 See Appendix; 20 years is a liberal estimate and depends on optimal creation/establishment technique and subsequent management; 30 years would be a more precautionary figure.