Destruction of Local Wildlife Sites

By clairefowler

ELF notes with concern the increasing number of Local Wildlife Sites (LWS), non-statutory sites designated at the local authority level, that are being lost to development. Whilst they contain some of the nation’s most precious wildlife they have little protection as ELF can testify. Many LWS are in private ownership and without the goodwill of the landowner to protect the sites, protection is limited.

A recent ELF case concerned a local wildlife site, privately owned, no public access, a very important site none the less, designated for the nationally rare knapweed fly. When the enquirer contacted ELF the total destruction of the site had nearly taken place. The local planning authority (LPA) stated they were powerless to act as there was nothing in the landowner’s actions, clearing vegetation, even bulldozing the site, that would be regarded as “development” and trigger the planning process enabling the LPA to intervene. The owner was left to destroy a valuable wildlife site. ELF looked at the Environmental Damage Regulations but concluded that they would not apply. Our advice was limited but we felt there was a strong case to be made that in response to any subsequent planning application, the ELF enquirer should be arguing that in judging the impact of proposals on the natural environment, the biodiversity value of the site should be judged from its position before site clearance took place. The new proposals on Net Biodiversity Gain in the Environment Bill make explicit provision for circumstances like this where a site owner clears a site in advance of applying for planning. Having that all important measurable baseline from which to measure the original nature value rather than the value post-destruction is all important. This was displayed in another recent case.

This matter concerned a City Local Wildlife Site in Cambridge; it had been degraded over a decade and more. Evidence from the community showed mechanical clearing and annual herbicide spraying at the site. It was subject to a recent planning application for the development of two large warehouses on the site. The Environment Survey supporting this application was baselined after the 2013/14 destruction, and was performed over multiple years between 2015 and 2021. It made no mention of the repeated herbicide application, and just observed that the site has been degraded since 2005. Fortunately, a Cambridge City LWS review from 2005 existed and there is a record of the site as it was before the repeated action taken by the landowner degrading the site. We intended to write to the LPA setting out our concerns and drawing their attention to the requirement that the 2005 survey be used as the baseline survey upon which to relate biodiversity net gain, rather than, as submitted, more recent surveys where the site has been significantly and deliberately downgraded. However, with ELF’s support and such has been the strength of local opposition that for now the application has been withdrawn.