Iâ€™m seeking to develop partnerships with Local Planning Authorities and other stakeholders to deliver district level licensing across about 150 LPA areas over the next couple of years. So Iâ€™m very grateful for the opportunity to talk to you, and many thanks to Sue and the team for inviting me.
Anyone remember this? Doesnâ€™t 2010 seem like a long time ago? But lets not forget this really important piece of work.
The recommendation, to halt the continuing decline of biodiversity was to create functioning ecological networks. More, Bigger, Better and Joined – this is an excellent mantra. Create new sites Connect and join up sites either through physical corridors, or through ‘stepping stones’ Reduce the pressures on wildlife by improving the wider environment To do this effectively takes bold steps. Its too easy just to carry on with what we have been doing for many years, which the report demonstrated was not halting biodiversity decline or restoring some of what we’d lost. So we need new ways of doing things. That’s quite a cultural challenge for us, moving away from what we know. Another challenge has been how we do this at a time when public finances are under pressure. Well, one solution is to explore using resources from other quarters, such as developers – the old polluter pays principle but taking it a big step further to in order to help create functioning ecological networks on a landscape scale. District Licensing is one way of doing that. The set up of the programme is funded by DCLG, but its implementation is
funded by developers. Itâ€™s one of Natural Englandâ€™s major reforms to move away from the old site based reactive casework which has limited benefit to the environment towards strategic planning and proactive intervention, working with partners at a landscape scale to seek net gain and have a much wider beneficial impact on the environment, working towards creating functioning ecological networks, in line with our Conservation 21 Strategy ambitions.
So, 90% of it isnâ€™t.
But virtually all our licensing activity is in the built environment, so currently isnâ€™t contributing to addressing the fortunes of protected species such as GCN as a whole in a strategic manner and at a landscape scale.
With mitigation on development sites, the amount of money spent on survey, trapping, translocation and exclusion fencing can outstrip that spent on habitat provision by 7:1. And its seasonally restricted, so this can cause significant delays, uncertainties, costs & risks for developers who already have planning permission. So reputational issues can arise which may do harm to the cause of nature conservation.
Putting aside that most GCN habitat is going to be in the 90% of the land surface outside the built environment, this paper published by the British Herpetological Society in April this year shows how ineffective, in the long term, mitigation on development sites has been. It found that of 11 published studies of GCN populations at development sites, none provided conclusive evidence that the mitigation carried out was effective in maintaining populations. This study looked at a sample of mitigation licence files and found that <50% contained reports of results and only 16 provided postdevelopment population assessments, one of which was extinct and 10 were small. The researchers also carried out standardised population assessments on 18 sites 6 years after mitigation completed and these showed an overall decline and extinctions at 4 sites. The study estimated that the annual cost of mitigation in England was ÂŁ20m â€“ 43m, but lack of information on status of populations and habitats made it difficult to assess whether this is cost effective for conservation or development
Some of the reasons for the lack of success of on-site mitigation included: Presence of non-viable populations pre-mitigation Inadequate mitigation interventions and site management Cumulative impacts of further developments Emergence of new threats post-mitigationâ€Śâ€Ś
eg introduction of fish & terrapins & other stuff, lack of management leading to seral succession, pollution, etc. Meanwhile, in the agricultural landscape which covers the other 90% of our land surface, very little money is available to address GCNs and their habitat and populations continue to decline
GCNs have declined dramatically over the last 50 years, despite all the protection under UK and European wildlife law, through loss of habitat. This is because our farmed landscape changed very rapidly from the bucolic traditional mixed farming prevalent before the war with its rich patterns of hedges, pastures, wetlands and farm ponds which were actively managed for livestock, through a massive scale of intensification over just a few decades, enabled by technological advances and government grants, resulting in the removal of much of their habitat and leaving what ponds were left to grow over with trees, fill with silt and suffer from poor water quality. The final 2 photos are of Grafham Down before and after agricultural intensification in 1979 to 1980.
Native European species threatened with extinction: 42% mammals 43% birds 45% butterflies 45% reptiles 30% amphibians UK species in decline Birds 54% Butterflies 72% Moths 67% Vascular plants 28% We are still bumping along the bottom of the curve.
So what we are often left with, illustrated by these photos in Norfolk, are overgrown field ponds in the middle of the arable, looking like this, instead of
â€Ślike this. So, to turn round the fortunes of GCNs and an awful lot of other biodiversity found in ponds, we want to create and restore more viable habitat through a strategic approach so that we can restore it in the best places, not just on development sites, and this is what district licensing aims to do, using funds provided by developers.
Using some of the funding we have obtained from DCLG we can commission eDNA and HSI sample surveys in each local authority area to provide information on distribution of GCNs and suitable habitat across the whole LPA area. We look at available data from LRCs, local herpetological groups and experts, other NGOs, licence returns and past planning applications where surveys have been carried out. Then, information is collected from local authorities on development allocations and predictions of windfall development. All this information is used in a model to define risk zones where development is more or less likely to affect GCNs. So the coloured zones here are early draft model outputs showing risk zones which indicate where development would be discouraged (red) and then a declining risk on which is based a declining tariff system for developers in these zones.
The model also indicates opportunity areas where GCN habitat is best created or restored to provide strategic net gain across the whole local authority area â€“ so the colours here are again an early model output indicating opportunity areas for habitat enhancement and creation. From this a district wide GCN conservation strategy is developed which looks at the impact of local plan development allocations and windfall development, provides advice to the planning authority on avoidance, mitigation and compensation requirements at a district level and indicates areas for habitat improvement to provide net gain. So this strategy can influence future reviews of development allocations, steering development away from the highest risk areas, and there is the opportunity to integrate it with existing green infrastructure strategies and use the income stream the scheme provides to fund environmental improvements in an integrated way. The model uses two sets of data, the first is a random sample of ponds using eDNA samples and HSI surveys (eDNA is accurate in predicting presence and absence), this ensures the model is not biased when predicting presence and absence and habitat suitability. The second consists of existing sets of presence/absence and population data from Local Amphibian and Reptile
Groups, Local Record centres and any other reliable sources. This then allows us to build an accurate distribution model. There has been the comment made that this modelling approach doesnâ€™t take into account population counts that we get from development proposals under the current licensing system. and we could miss some of the best sites. Putting to one side the issue that these counts largely come from the 10% of built land, and not the other 90% of agricultural land, Iâ€™d say this:
1) We working at a landscape scale, population counts become less useful due to the margins of error, which is why our work on developing Favourable Conversation Status metrics at this scale determine populations by the number of ponds; 2) The strategy is based on both the model and expert opinion. Where we have good evidence of population counts, we can feed these into the model and the strategy. We really want to everyone to input their knowledge into this part of the strategy; 3) We are also carrying out connectivity mapping. This shows, for instance, barriers to movement but also connectivity with the largest areas of terrestrial habitat, which are likely to be the most useful to GCNs; 4) The strategy aims to encourage development away from important GCN sites, something that we struggle to do at the moment; 5) And strategies which work at a landscape scale take advantage of abundance-occupancy relationship theory, which states that as a species increases its occupancy, through the provision of suitable habitat, it disproportionately increases its abundance. So at the landscape scale, a net gain in distribution is likely to lead to a bigger net gain in population number. Both Joly et al. (2001) and Griffiths et al. (2010) show this to be true for GCN.
The methodology is in line with those in this landmark 2011 Natural England report which was widely welcomed by NGOs and leading amphibian expertsâ€Ś.
And used pond density and other habitat measures to assess populations
And its in line with the way that we are defining favourable conservation status for GCNs which again looks at the number of available ponds with HSI scores greater than 0.7
Once that strategy is agreed a district licence can be give to the local authority which allows it to authorise developer operations which might affect GCN at the same time as granting planning permission. The accompanying Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) requires the local authority to develop GCN conservation measures at a scale sufficient to address the impact of all development in the districtâ€™s development plan, to provide net gain and to put a monitoring scheme in place. It recoups the costs of habitat compensation and of running the scheme through a tariff on development, and we review the licence on a two yearly basis.
In the programme this year we have three pilots looking at different ways of delivering District Licensing which are due to be open for business by April 2018: Warwickshire County Council â€“ covering 7 LPAs â€“ developing its own strategy as part of a wider protected species strategy, our own Kent pilot covering 6 of the 13 districts, which is developing a kent wide strategy to look at how we can take advantage of integrating the strategy with the work of countryside management partnerships, existing green infrastructure plans, work being done on flood management by the EA, on forestry by the FC, and on a range of other interventions such as Countryside Stewardship to see how integrated approaches can be used to produce net gain at a landscape scale, and can then be tailored to individual district licenses to operate at a local plan level. And finally there is the South Midlands pilot run by a consortium called NatureSpace of the Environment Bank, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Freshwater Habitats Trust and NatureMetrics, which is developing its own strategies and using partnerships to generate investment in environmental benefit using devices such as not-for-profit Community Benefits Company (a Special Purpose Vehicle) to manage the income from developers and the expenditure on habitat improvements. We will review the options to deliver DLL in the light of these pilots, announcing a decision in January once its been agreed with our Board Innovation Group.
For this year then, the national roll out, outside of these pilots, includes the two Unitaries in Cheshire and the other districts in Kent.
The funding from DCLG to do this is available over a three year period starting this FY, so we have a lot to do to develop strategies across the number of districts which we would like to. Our target of 150 takes into account past licensing casework activity, so the busiest areas like Cheshire come first, many Essex authorities feature; Chelmsford and Basildon come highest up the list; and four Norfolk & Suffolk authorities feature. We are currently engaging with about 50 authorities with a view to rolling this out in future years, so there is plenty more to do. One of the biggest challenges for us working at this scale is procurement; potentially in the order of 9000 eDNA and HSI surveys and then all the lab analysis of the eDNA samples. This is on a scale which is unprecedented so lots of government procurement rules apply. And the window for doing these surveys in time for next yearâ€™s schemes to be open for business by April 2019 is narrow â€“ it has to be next spring. Its worth mentioning that prior to the appraisal of this yearâ€™s pilots the Environment Bank-led Nature Space consortium is also contacting authorities they would like to work with as they also need to gear up their procurement and staffing so that they can role out to more authorities next year. So some authorities may be approached by both of us.
We have developed a statement which explains our position on this, which I won’t go into here but I can provide you with copies if you’re interested. We have committed to Govt that we will set up DL in 150 districts. My view, to slightly pre-empt the formal option appraisal of the pilots is this: • We do not expect to be the implementing body, NE will retain its regulatory role • Thus we expect to get DLs ready to open for business and recruit an implementation partner • Our Plan A has always been that this would be LPAs where they are willing, as there is benefit o
One stop shop
Up streaming of advice avoid high risk GCN sites
Income stream for local authority services
Integration of habitat improvement with other green infrastructure
It is possible that other bodies, eg private/NGO, could work with
LPAs as implementation partners, eg delivering habitat or administering the whole scheme, or potentially take on the licence fully • We have expected to do the set up in the majority of the 150 LPAs ourselves but have explored alternative set up models in Warks and the SMids, which we thought could be possible in some locations • Naturespace/EB has recently expressed much wider ambition, written out to 150 LPAs and expressed a different offer. • We are not sure how widely their model will be viable, but that they have expressed a broad commercial ambition raises a need to consider how we enable the market to provide DL as a service • We are actively considering this in relation to roll out options and will provide further info asap • It is still important for us to know which LAs are interested, so we welcome discussions and encourage individual LPAs to take up our offer of a meeting
Craig Thomas, our Habitat Delivery Strategist in the DL Programme, is working hard on sorting out the best and most effective methods to create and restore GCN habitat on a landscape scale, so he is looking at partnership approaches such as this one in Norfolk & seeing how we could replicate that in Cheshire, and is looking at an online trading platform to develop what he calls a â€œreverse pond auctionâ€? which he plans to trial in Kent, which basically is used to get land managers to make bids to provide us with new or restored ponds, using an online auction system which Wessex Water has used for nitrate control measures in the Poole Harbour catchment.
For my final slide I’ll depart from my rule of not having slides where you have to read some text, to leave you with a summary of some of the benefits of district licensing, but while you’re absorbing that I’ll pick on one aspect which is to paraphrase Para 117 of the NPPF: Local authorities should minimise impacts on biodiversity and geodiversity, plan for biodiversity at a landscape-scale; identify and map components of the local ecological networks, including wildlife corridors and stepping stones that connect them and areas identified by local partnerships for habitat restoration or creation; promote restoration and re-creation of priority habitats, ecological networks and the protection and recovery of priority species populations, and identify suitable indicators for monitoring biodiversity in the plan. I suggest that DL starts to do much of this for atleast this species, and it’s a start of something which I hope will be much bigger in the future. Anyway that’s all from me for now until the Q&A session so I’ll say thanks for listening, thanks to Sue and colleagues for inviting me and I’ll now hand over to Julia Baker to talk about net gain, which is a good segue, its almost as if someone has planned out a logical approach to themes in this conference.
Published on Jan 10, 2018