It was clear from the wide range of evidence and views submitted in the course of the Review that in the large majority of cases the implementation of the Directives is working well, allowing both development of key infrastructure and ensuring that a high level of environmental protection is maintained.
So not gold plated after all?
A full copy of DEFRA's review can be downloaded here.
I’ve spoken to one of the local staff members who has been involved and who, now he has visited the site, frankly admits that this was a disastrous mistake, pure and simple, and that he’s absolutely mortified.Although the site in question isn’t an SSSI, it is in an HLS agreement that we’re responsible for overseeing.The HLS agreement is with a private individual, albeit on FC land, and is primarily for heathland restoration.As this particular area was only scrubbed up with 6-10 year old birch, and obviously would have still provided good habitat for reptiles, the Natural England brief for the works was not as detailed as it should have been.As is plain to see from the photos heavy machinery was used, which was the completely wrong method for an area like this (clearly heavy machinery should only be used where there is no reptile habitat whatsoever remaining), and at the worst possible time of year to boot.As soon as Natural England staff became aware of what was happening the work was stopped and less damaging methods were advised
A detailed and very encouraging response from Paul Edgar regarding the incident at Allerthorpe. Paul is Natural England's new Amphibian and Reptile Species Specialist and I believe he deserves a great deal of kudos for being so candid. I really hope that we are at the beginning of a new era, when the statutory conservation organisations and major land owning charities such as The National Trust, County Widlife Trusts, RSPB et. al. take significantly more interest in the conservation of reptiles and amphibians on land that they manage.
As many folks will know I have been associated with KRAG for many years. Along with Anne Riddell and Renata (Betty) Platenberg, I helped to relaunch the group back in 1996. Managing one's time is always a difficut prospect, particularly when you have a young family and run your own business.
With some regret I have therefore taken the decision to step down from the KRAG Committee. I alerted the rest of the committee to this decision a little while ago, but the time has now come to make the announcement public. Don't worry, it's an amicable parting and I wish the group well with its future endeavours.
New Email Addresses
From 2012 I will no longer be able to offer advice relating to reptile and amphibian matters on behalf of KRAG. Emails sent to me using one of the KRAG email addresses will either go unanswered or you will receive a response from somebody else. Any future correspondence must use one of my work addresses. To help the transition I have created two new email addresses that can be used for relevant enquiries:
The latter address should be used only for queries relating to database search requests and development of the recording database.
KRAG is becoming an effective campaining organisation, which is fantastic - but not something I can really get involved with. Matters that concern KRAG should therefore be sent to KRAG, not me. The KRAG website has a list of relevant email addresses for various folks.
So where does that leave herpetofauna recording in Kent and development of the recording database? Pretty much the same as before! My passion is recording and conservation of reptiles and amphibians and ensuring that their needs are taken into consideration during works that involve development and conservation. The only real change is that I will now be speaking about these matters on behalf of either myself (county recorder for reptiles and amphibians) or Calumma Ecological Services, rather than on behalf of a voluntary group. This transition has been underway for a little while now, but will be complete in January 2012 at the KRAG AGM.
Database Search Enquiries
I currently manage three sets of records. These include county collections for Kent and Lancashire, as well as the dataset that belongs to Calumma Ecological Services. The data all sits in the same pot, but is accessed through different portals that are appropriate to the relevant organisations. Some data is flagged as sensitive or confidential and not released as part of a database search enquiry report.
Calumma currently manages the Kent and Lancashire data for free, but this may change in the future for queries that involve a service fee to end users. Free searches will always be free.
Just because Calumma doesn't currently charge for managing data doesn't mean that other groups will provide record searches for free though. Details of applicable fees are available from KRAG, Kent and Medway Biological Records Centre and Lancashire Amphibian & Reptile Atlas Project. Note that any fees currently go directly to these other organisations - not to Calumma. Please also be aware that KRAG no longer offers a discount to users who are directed to the group from KMBRC.
Access to the Kent records by KMBRC is also free but subject to a data sharing agreement. Details of the data sharing agreement are determined by KRAG and KMBRC and do not involve Calumma. Of course KMBRC do charge users a service fee (as indicated above). Record searches via KMBRC or KRAG use exactly the same database and produce exactly the same results. So why go to KRAG?
Various other data providers have also contributed records to the system. These include records from conservation organisations as well as a small number of other ecological consultancies. KRAG has therefore developed a system by which commercial users can receive search reports for free. Corporate Members that contribute records to the system are entitled to free reports. Search reports (free or otherwise) include a summary detailing the species recorded within the area of interest, a risk assessment that highlights the liklihood of different species being present and files that allow species and pond records to be viewed in Google Earth. That's quite a lot of value. Why wouldn't you want to include your records in this system and receive free search reports?! All you need to do is sign up to the scheme and contribute your records. I understand that LARA is now considering a similar system.
Consultants who are members of IEEM and/or undertake licensed survey work should be submitting records to local ARGs and/or record centres anyway. I really hope that ARG UK are pushing for this.
Over the past year I have undertaken the following db search enquiries:
KMBRC - 243
KRAG - 168
LARA - 10
TOTAL - 421 Database Search Enquiries
Each user received the same quality of report whether they accessed the data from KMBRC, KRAG or LARA and whether or not they actually paid for the service.
Calumma has the capacity to manage data for other local ARGs or other organisations (including ecological consultancies). Charges would only ever apply when search fees are applied to end users. If you would like to discuss inclusion of your data in the Calumma system please get in touch.
The 13-mile Leigh Guided Busway will carry passengers from Leigh to Manchester via Tyldesley, Ellenbrook and Salford.
It includes a four-mile section on guided concrete ‘tracks’ along a disused railway that only specially-adapted buses will be able to use – allowing them to avoid busy traffic.
The remainder of the route follows the East Lancashire Road and will include measures such as dedicated bus lanes and bus priority junctions to help buses avoid delays. Workmen will start cutting back trees along the guided section – between Leigh and Ellenbrook, Salford – from January 2.
Ecological surveys have already been carried out and great crested newts relocated to a purpose-built pond nearby.
“It seems that the Chancellor is not content with the massive shake-up of the planning system that is already under way, and which initially failed to recognise Local Wildlife Sites1. Now sites and species of European importance face an uncertain future in England. When will the Government recognise that our natural resources are finite?” asked The Wildlife Trusts’ Chief Executive Stephanie Hilborne OBE.
The chairs and chief executives of the 47 Wildlife Trusts met last week and heard from the New Economics Foundation about the urgent need for a fundamentally different economic model that takes into account that our natural resources are being rapidly depleted. Only such a dramatic shift will secure a society that can thrive whilst addressing climate change and reversing the loss of biodiversity.
Stephanie Hilborne concluded: “Economic growth should not be achieved at the cost of our natural life support systems.”
Will there be a public backlash against Osborne's anti-wildlife rhetoric? Will conservation organisations be able to mobilise their members to voice their dissent? Remember the government's attempt to sell off the country's national forests? That didn't work out too well.
The government's recent attempt to streamline the planning system has raised the ire of many organisations, including the National Trust.
The draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published by the Coalition Government in July, threatened to put short-term economic gain ahead of all other considerations, including the impact on local communities and local green spaces.
Weakening the Habitat Regs is just one more step along the way.
Like The National Trust, the RSPB (that recently attacked Osborne's plans) has a fairly considerable membership. Could RSPB members cause a change of heart at Whitehall? Membership of the Tory party continues to fall.
"As parties get closer to the state and more professionalized, they find it easier to ignore their members while at the same time expecting them to take on extra regulatory burdens. Party leaders have little incentive to recruit and retain new members if the taxpayers pick up the costs of running the party organisation”
So not only does the current government want to weaken legislation that protects important species and habitats, but they are planning to do it knowing full well that the decision will not be popular. By trying to falsely tarnish wildlife legislation as an impediment to 'economic growth', the government aims to pull a slight of hand. But why do such decisions have to be popular when political parties no longer even need the support of their own members?
Of course we won't actually know what impacts the proposals are likely to have until the results of the review are published. However, I rather suspect that the government's report is half written and DEFRA has already been advised of the results of its own review - if you see what I mean.
If watering down the Habitat Regs results in a relatively small number of wealthy landowners becoming even more wealthy, I'm sure that will suit Osborne and his cronies just fine.
Mr Osborne was backed by Country Land and Business Association vice president Harry Cotterell, who told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today: "We have always had big, big problems with the Habitats Directive and the way it is being implemented in this country.
"We think it is being over implemented, and we think that this is a very very welcome attempt to possibly melt some of the gold plate on the directive.
"Finally we might see a time when human beings are treated with about the same importance as bats, newts and dormice."
Given Mr. Cotterell's recent comments on reform of the planning system, I guess a lack of respect for the Habitat Regs and the species it is intended to protect doesn't come as too much of a surprise.
Harry Cotterell, deputy president of the Countryside Land Association, said: “The planning system is currently failing to provide either the jobs or housing the countryside desperately needs for its survival. The draft NPPF provides a streamlined and less bureaucratic way of achieving economic and social success, while at the same time protecting the needs of the environment.”
I do suspect a 'statement' clarifying the government's commitment to protection of the environement has already been prepared and is just waiting for sufficient negative press publicity before it is released.
You might be able to grow the economy back but you can't grow wildlife back by printing more animals or habitats. Once it's gone - it's GONE!
Fiona Reynolds has published more comments concerning the draft National Planning Policy Framework on behalf of The National Trust.
But the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) simply won’t deliver the ambition. Instead, the NPPF attempts to use planning to drive short-term economic growth in ways that will undermine the longer-term development we need.
... I asked a professor of law – an expert on smart growth – what the secret of making that happen was. She told me it depended on two factors. First, there are some issues – biodiversity, water management, energy, food, housing density, affordability – that neither the market nor communities alone can solve. National direction or pan-local co-ordination are needed. Second, a strong local plans that genuinely reflect the will of the community and involve them in a debate about the kind of places they want to live in.
... the overall message was clear, and designed to appeal to the right wing of the Tory party. It was that environmental aims should always come second to economic concerns, and if they are in conflict, business interests will win.
The Habitats Regulations, which were brought in by a Conservative Government in 1994 in order to implement the European Habitats Directive, ensure major developments do not destroy our most important wildlife sites.
The chancellor bemoaned the burden of 'endless social and environmental goals' on industry and described the Habitats Regulations as a 'ridiculous cost on British business', claiming that they amounted to 'gold plating' on European legislation. Defra is now set to carry out a review of the regulations.
He also failed to rule out the development of an airport in the Thames Estuary saying the Government would look at all options for a new airport hub, except a third runway at Heathrow.
The SE Regional Meeting organised by KRAG has proved to be a tremendous success. In light of grave concerns regarding the conservation plight of the adder, Dr. Chris Gleed-Owen has prepared a press release on behalf of the group. It appears that news of the conference has started to filter into the National Press.
From the press release:
Experts have declared that Britain’s only venomous snake, the adder, is in urgent need of conservation action. With adder numbers declining in many areas, conservationists paint a bleak picture for its future unless help is forthcoming.
Attendees voted unanimously to adopt a motion that:
‘The adder is in more urgent need of new conservation efforts than any other reptile or amphibian species in Britain.’
Despite its widespread distribution across the whole of Britain, adder numbers are thought to be declining rapidly in many areas. The species is already extinct from whole counties such as Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. The adder conference held on Saturday 19 November 2011 saw speakers come from across Britain, as well as France and Switzerland, to give their interpretations of the situation facing adders in their area.
‘It was a great success, and amazing to see so many people who care about saving adders. Hopefully now help is at hand,’ - Gail Austen-Price, KRAG Chairman.
One of the biggest threats facing adders today is accidental damage or destruction of their winter hibernation sites. Adders often hibernate communally in mammal burrows or under tree roots, and if such a place is damaged, a whole population can be wiped out.
Despite nature conservation being implemented on thousands of protected sites across Britain, it is often these sites where adders suffer the most. Well-meaning activities such as scrub clearance can have unforeseen consequences that are devastating for hibernating adders. The ARG UK adder conference set a milestone by announcing that the adder’s plight is reaching a critical point, and now is the time for government bodies and conservation organisations to take action. ARG UK now plans to set up a website for a flagship survey project called Make the Adder Count, where volunteers monitor adder numbers at their local sites. ARG UK also wants to set up a register of hibernation sites, to alert local authorities and other countryside managers of these crucial locations. Conservationists admit that adders suffer from a poor public image, and the next step is to produce a battle plan to raise awareness and appreciation.
'The adder is an enigmatic snake, steeped in history and folklore from the druids to Shakespeare and Arthurian legend. It would be tragic to see it disappear, but it suffers from a public image problem that makes it difficult for many people to love,’ - Dr Chris Gleed-Owen.
In Kent, a project set up by Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group in 2004 has been monitoring local adder populations. Despite significant effor to raise awareness within the county, adders remain vulnerable to disturbance and persecution. KRAG's 'Adders in Decline' Project may have been initiated 7 years ago, but its work has barely begun...
If you share our concerns about the plight of what is surely one Britain's most exciting wild animals please get in touch. KRAG needs active volunteers who are prepared to help record the location of adders, talk to landowners and help convince conservation organisations that the adder is a species woth conserving.
As principal ecologist for Calumma Ecological Services, I am able to put my interest in reptiles and amphibians to good effect. Like most folks that work with wildlife, my activities extend beyond just 'the job' and I am also involved with several local conservation groups. Being the county recorder for reptiles and amphibians in Kent certainly helps me to fill in those spare moments when I'm not busy with the kids!
Calumma Ecological Services is a Kent based ecological consultancy that specialises in protected species surveys and habitat assessments.
Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group
For more information about Kent's reptiles and amphibians visit the Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group's website.
Submit a Record Have you seen a frog in your garden pond? Better yet an adder while out walking?! If you would like to let KRAG know about an amphibian or reptile observation, please complete the online recording card.
Recording Diary KRAG organises a full programme of events throughout the year. For more details about forthcoming attractions, visit the KRAG web site.
Old Blog Posts Still Available Archived posts in the old blog are still available - and will be for ever if I don't work out how to import them into this new site!
Amphibian and Reptile Group of South Lancashire
For more information about the reptiles and amphibians found in Lancashire, visit the ARGSL website.