The above document has been submitted by the developer (the Environment Agency) as an addendum to their Environmental Statement (ES) for the Barrier Bank planning application. It contradicts some of the assertions made in the ES but it is unclear which take precedence. As the ES is the primary evidence upon which a decision will be made, Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows believe the ES needs to be consistent with appended documents and as such the applicant should be required to publish an updated ES to avoid ambiguity.
The level of damage to Clifton Ings & Rawcliffe Meadows SSSI must be the primary consideration of the Planning Authority in determining the application. Table 1 of the SSSI Mitigation Strategy needs to be incorporated into a revised and republished Environmental Statement since it fundamentally alters the assessment of impacts.
It is stated that “the restored access route will be spread with green hay to promote re-establishment of target grassland species” (page 6). However, no methodology is explained, e.g. measures to reverse compaction, management of re-establishing vegetation. The applicant seeks merely to reinstate the access route in situ and does not propose any additional mitigation or compensation. Given the requirements of the NPPF (e.g. Paragraph 175), ODPM Circular 06/2005, Government’s “biodiversity net gain” commitment and the fact that the applicant categorises the haul route as constituting permanent damage to the SSSI, this cannot be considered compliant with planning policy.
The Environment Agency has a long history of damaging the nature conservation interest of the grassland at Rawcliffe Meadows and simply walking away. For example, the best SSSI grassland north of the pond was used as a storage area for previous bank repair works with nothing done to relieve soil compaction; as a result, the affected area has suffered a significant deterioration in condition and is now rush-infested. Given the duration of impacts (>10 years according to the applicant), how would the Planning Authority ensure that the applicant is capable of addressing long-term impacts? The Planning Authority needs to consider its limited resources available for monitoring and enforcement, and the likely political constraints on taking enforcement action against a statutory agency.
Installation of drains and lack of consideration of cumulative impacts
The applicant claims that up to seven subsurface drains can be installed with no requirement for mitigation. It is very unlikely that works of this extent and scale can be undertaken without permanent and significant impacts on the SSSI grassland. Nothing has been said about impacts on medieval ridge-and-furrow, which is a non-statutory archaeological feature.
Account must also be taken of cumulative impacts. Considering the already narrow and linear layout of Rawcliffe Meadows, there will be cumulative impacts from: embankment reconstruction on a much-enlarged footprint; permanent damage on the access route and working areas; drain installation; proliferation of noxious weeds (docks, ragwort, thistles) on disturbed ground. In combination, these impacts will undoubtedly result in marked deterioration of the site as a whole and could render future restoration of traditional agricultural management unviable. The existing SSSI grassland will be reduced to a narrow vestigial strip along most of Rawcliffe Meadows and FoRM have no faith in the applicant’s interest in or capability of ensuring its future. For nearly 30 years, our experience has been that the Agency promises the earth, causes damage then walks away, all assurances forgotten or left unfulfilled.
Sustrans route diversion
FoRM welcome the proposal to permanently re-route the cycle path onto the well-worn strip running parallel to the Ings Dyke on the Clifton Ings side. We agree that this would have minimal impact on the integrity of Clifton Ings. However, the Planning Authority needs to see evidence that appropriate legal agreements are in place prior to determination. Clifton Ings was never legally enclosed so, as we understand it, there is no freehold ownership. Land tenure comprises ownership of the hay crop divided into numerous parcels held by various parties together with un-extinguished common rights pertaining historically to numerous properties in Clifton and elsewhere. The ownership of the underlying soil is unclear and was formerly vested in the tenant-in-chief of the manor of Clifton. It is likely that the situation is legally complex and a simple statement of intent by the applicant does not suffice to demonstrate their ability to deliver this proposal.
Proposed mitigation measures
As we demonstrated in detail in our previous submission, habitat translocation is a discredited method of mitigating loss of nationally-important grassland; it is, at best, a salvage operation. We have pointed out that Natural England has, on other grassland SSSIs, opposed translocation as a credible mitigation strategy.
Even if translocation was accepted as a viable strategy, it will require an exhaustive, painstaking and long-term commitment to ensuring optimal management of the receptor site. The applicant proposes simply to ensure an annual cycle of hay cutting and aftermath grazing of the receptor site. This is likely to be woefully inadequate given the known and empirically-evidenced problems with translocated grassland. Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows have no interest in being involved with management of translocated habitat so the onus will therefore fall on the Environment Agency’s local Operations team, who are not conservation land managers.
The applicant states that “The additional area required to compensate for habitat loss will be delivered by other restoration methods such as green hay, seed spreading, plug planting”. They offer non-committal references to using “various techniques” to introduce additional plant propagules along with the extremely vague statement that “It is recommended that a mixture of techniques would be desirable across all fields identified if this were feasible”. Further wording like “this option should be considered” and “guidance suggests” do not constitute a strategy. At the very least, the Planning Authority must surely require the applicant to present a portfolio of evidence demonstrating that they have applied these techniques elsewhere to achieve a quality of compensatory habitat creation commensurate with offsetting damage to a nationally-important and irreplaceable habitat.
Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows have attempted to engage with the applicant on restoration techniques based on our nearly 30 years experience but the applicant has chosen to ignore this advice. On page 87 of the ES, the applicant refers to our Copse Meadow restoration as “…an excellent example of what can be achieved within 10 years” and “Targets can be set for the restoration of Rawcliffe Ings based on the Copse Meadow success”. We dispute their interpretation – it will take decades for the Copse Meadow to acquire the characteristics of mature MG4 grassland – but at least this was a commitment to follow empirical best practice. The relative success of Copse Meadow has been based on nutrient reduction by topsoil scraping and painstaking, labour-intensive management that the applicant can never hope to achieve. Having over-run their budget, they are now reneging on this position and offering instead a low-cost, minimalist approach which cannot possibly achieve adequate compensation relative to the impact of the proposed development.
We have pointed out the extensive literature showing that hay/seed spreading onto roughly-prepared existing grassland achieves, at best, modest improvements in species diversity over long time periods even under the most optimal circumstances. It is evident from the literature that scattering seed and planting plugs into the existing, heavily degraded and agriculturally-improved grassland on Rawcliffe Ings will not achieve anything remotely like SSSI quality grassland.
We dispute that “The work done to date by the FMP shows all possible mitigation zones (A-E) show very good potential in terms of soil fertility, for restoration”. In fact, the very limited data produced by FMP demonstrates that soil P levels are towards the upper end of the parameters for meadow restoration. Given the fact of annual flooding by nutrient-enriched water, there is little possibility for re-creating species-rich floodplain meadow on Rawcliffe Ings without substantial measures to reduce soil nutrient loads.
Because the applicant’s insufficient budget, they are refusing to undertake topsoil scraping, which in our experience would be essential to create favourable conditions for creation of species-rich grassland. Instead they cite Natural England guidance for agri-environment schemes to claim that “receptor site preparation to achieve a short sward and 50% bare ground should be sufficient” (page 12). This guidance (Natural England Technical Information Notes TIN063 and TIN064) has nothing to do with SSSI compensation and is intended for farmers aiming to achieve modest botanical diversification of existing grassland: a worthy objective in the context for which the guidance is intended but certainly inadequate to re-create grassland of sufficient quality to compensate for the destruction of over 2 hectares of nationally-important, 400 year old SSSI grassland.
FoRM have written to the Secretary of State for the Environment regarding the developer’s drastic back-tracking on their previous commitments as we believe this strengthens the case for the application to be subject to Public Inquiry.
Assessment of duration of impacts
In Table 5.8 (page 99) of the ecology chapter of the ES, the applicant asserts that there will be “No significant effect [on MG4 grassland] at a National Level, in the Long Term”. Now, in the new SSSI Mitigation Strategy, they accept that restoration of floodplain meadow requires “long time periods”, which are specified as “10+ years”. It is impossible for both statements to be correct: the truth is the claims made in the ES are hyperbolic and mendacious. Again, this stresses the need for a revised, and hopefully more honest and evidence-based, Environmental Statement.