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Warwicks CC Ecology objection
Warwickshire County Council Ecology Department are recommending refusal of the application. You can read their full and detailed response below.
Tel: 01926 418028
Our Ref: 2009
Your Ref: 12/2009
Location: Land at Cestersover Farm, Lutterworth Road, Churchover Rugby Warwickshire CV23 0QP
Proposal: A wind farm comprising 4 no. wind turbines of up to 126.5m tip height. The proposed development also includes a single, permanent free-standing meteorological mast (80m), a temporary communications mast (10m), a sub-station compound containing a control building, electricity transformers, underground cabling, drainage improvements, channel crossings associated with a series of on-site tracks and turning heads, two site entrances with site access upgrades, 2 no. temporary construction compound, assist crane hard standings, and two temporary guyed meteorological/power performance masts (80m), with each wind turbine having a micro-siting tolerance of up to 50m – R12/2009
Thank you for your consultation. We have viewed the plans, searched the Warwickshire Biological Records Centre (WBRC) and Habitat Biodiversity Audit (HBA) and read through and considered the relevant ES chapters, figures and technical appendices prepared by RES UK and Ireland in November 2013. We have the following comments:
Ecological Description and Nature Conservation Value of the Site:
There are no internationally designated sites within 10km of the application site. There are three nationally important sites, Misterton Marshes, Stanford Park and Cave's Inn Pits SSSI, the nearest of these is Cave’s Inn Pits which is in Leicestershire approx. 2.5km south east of the application site (not 3.7km as stated in the ES chapter). There are a number of non-statutory sites of nature conservation interest with 2km of the location of the application site including four within Leicestershire. Of these, 2 Ecosites (which are also potential Local Wildlife Sites) are partly located within the application site, Churchover Meadows and The River Swift. Three Warwickshire sites are located adjacent to the application site; A5 Road Verge, Black Spinney and Ryehill Spinney (within Churchover Meadows pLWS) and two Leicestershire sites; Lodge Mill Spinney and Stream South of Lodge Mill Spinney (and also the River Swift). (N.B our comments regarding this application only relate to sites within Warwickshire.) The site also forms part of the Strategic Green Infrastructure Network referred to in RBC Core Strategy policy CS14 indicated on the Green Infrastructure Proposals Map.
The HBA indicates that the site largely comprises improved and semi-improved grassland, with some arable land, with fields separated by hedgerows with trees and several ditches/small watercourses, as well as River Swift running through the site and small areas of woodland.
The Warwickshire Biological Records Centre has no records of protected species within the application site boundary itself, however holds records of bats, badgers, grass snake, rare plant and otter and BAP species including brown hare, hedgehog and UK BAP butterfly species white letter hairstreak from the surrounding area.
EFFECT OF PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT:
Designations and habitats
The Ecology Chapter of the ES prepared by RES Ltd considers potential impacts on 16 pLWSs and Ecosites located within 2km of the application site, as being not significant which is considered to be largely satisfactory. However, two pLWSs of potential county value which partly lie within the site, the River Swift and Churchover Meadows, have not been surveyed against the LWS criteria and are considered to be of County value in the impact assessment. Having discussed the matter with the Wildlife Sites team, we agree with the assessment that the majority of the grassland of Churchover Meadows which lies within the application site is species poor and heavily grazed. However the meadow adjacent to the River Swift on the north eastern bank is of higher ecological value and described as species-rich. We have concern over the habitat loss of the grassland as a result of the proposed location of the temporary construction compound and would suggest that consideration could be given to siting the compound in the field close to turbine T1 which is species poor grassland. This pLWS will be subject to direct impacts as a result of the proposals, and the loss to biodiversity should be offset either within the site or off site. It is anticipated that due to the large size of the site that mitigation for the proposed loss of habitat is likely to be achievable on site, however this is dependent on if the land is within the applicant’s ownership or with a suitable landowner agreement. This will need to be discussed further with the applicant.
The work to install cables under the watercourse or the second option of a bridge will have a potential impact on the River Swift pLWS. No pLWS surveys have been completed for either designated site, and the botanical species list (Appendix 8.2) details species within the application site as a whole, rather than by each habitat. As such it is difficult to assess the value of the species-rich meadow and the River Swift pLWS and we would therefore recommend that further information is provided prior to determination including a full species list with species abundances to make a more informed assessment of the potential impact on the pLWSs and to inform the mitigation measures required to compensate for these impacts.
The Phase 1 habitat survey of the application site was undertaken on 31 July 2013 which is during the optimal survey season. Although a constraint of the survey was that the habitats on the eastern side of the A5 could not be surveyed due to access restrictions, it is considered that the information included in the ES gives a representative view of the habitats present. The habitats recorded within the site were a mixture of arable land, improved and poor semi-improved grassland, (with areas of botanically richer semi-improved grassland nearer the river), hedgerows, broad-leaved woodland, plantation broad-leaved woodland, tall ruderal, running water, several ditches and a pond. Several of these are habitats of principal importance (under Section 41 of the NERC Act, 2006) and/or are listed on the Warwickshire Coventry and Solihull Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP), the most valuable of which are the hedgerows, semi-natural woodland, semi-improved grassland, watercourse and water body. Habitat losses associated with the turbines and associated infrastructure will result in losses of arable or improved grassland, as well as loss of c.0.45 ha of semi-improved grassland as a result of the temporary construction compound and c.0.1 ha of semi-improved grassland and of several sections of hedgerow (amounting to 120m) as a result of construction of access routes. Additional areas of riparian vegetation along the river would be lost, as a result of installation of the cable or bridge construction. No ponds will be directly impacted but along with wet ditches and the River Swift should be protected from indirect impacts such as increased sedimentation run-off and possible pollution by adhering to a robust Construction and Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) which could be secured by condition.
The outline Ecological Management Plan (Appendix 8.6) includes outline ecological enhancements including along the River Swift corridor, improvement of stock fencing along the watercourse, and a sympathetic grassland management plan which are welcomed. Monitoring for breeding birds, water vole and grassland habitat species diversity is also included. Ornithological enhancements proposed include two nest boxes for barn owl to be installed on suitable mature trees or building over 250m from the turbine base, nest boxes for tree sparrows in a line of mature trees in the north of the site, and the creation of wild bird seed margins in the north of the site. Overall the mitigation for habitat losses appears to be brief, and does not include mitigation for loss of hedgerows which should be replaced on a 2:1 basis. This should be reviewed prior to determination and more detail provided of the extent and location of habitat enhancements to ensure that there is no net loss of biodiversity, in accordance with NPPF.
Full details of the habitat mitigation and enhancement measures should be included in a full Ecological Management Plan which could be secured by condition.
Protected and notable species
Bat survey work was undertaken by Wild Frontier Ecology during 2013. The level of survey work for bats included a combination of activity transects, static automated ground level surveys and a roost assessment of all trees and buildings within a 500m buffer area of the proposed turbine locations. Automatic surveys were undertaken each month for a minimum of 5 nights, in paired locations and three additional detectors were placed along the River Swift. Due to cold weather during April, surveys began in May and continued until October 2013. However the detector for turbine 1 needed to be relocated after the first survey to the hedgerow immediately adjacent to the west, and the detector for turbine 2 was moved to the edge of woodland to the east from the August surveys onwards due to movement of livestock into the fields. In addition, two automated surveys were undertaken on one occasion (April 24th) of potential tree roosts in Bransford Spinney. The detectors did not record any bat species at the expected emergence time to indicate any roosting within the woodland however one night is not considered to be sufficient to determine the presence of potential roosts. No static surveys at height were undertaken which would have been useful to provide additional information.
Eight transect surveys were undertaken from April to October 2013, each survey comprising two transects divided into areas north and south of the watercourse. The transect routes differed each month. Although this gives higher coverage overall of the site, unfortunately as the routes were not the identical is not possible to directly compare the results of the transect surveys between each month and this is considered to be a limitation of the survey.
Overall the level of survey effort is generally considered to be adequate in accordance with Bat Conservation Trust guidelines (2012).
Nine species of bat were identified using the site, comprising common, soprano and Nathusius’ pipistrelle, noctule, Leisler’s, Serotine, barbastelle, brown long-eared and Myotis bat species. Barbastelle and Nathusius’ pipistrelle are nationally rare species, though Nathusius’ may simply be under-recorded. Barbastelle is very rare in the UK and has only one known maternity roost site within Warwickshire. In addition, Leisler’s and Serotine are also uncommon species in Warwickshire.
The surveys found multiple passes of noctule bat using the site on a regular basis indicating a potential roost nearby and use of the site as a flight path between roosting locations or foraging areas. The records of Nathusius’ pipistrelle were less common (ten passes) however may indicate a regular flight path. Nathusius’ pipistrelle and noctule (both high collision risk species) were also both recorded within the previous surveys of the site undertaken in 2009 – 2010. Eight passes of barbastelle bat were recorded in July. A high level of common pipistrelle activity was recorded, especially along the River Swift and the hedgerow to the east of T1. The results of the surveys have been grouped together, so that there is one category for all of the proposed turbine locations. As such it is very difficult to determine the potential impact of a location of an individual turbine on bat collision. Although the maps are useful in showing the locations of bat call registrations within the site, they are lacking in information which is required including the start and end point of each transect and the transect direction. This means that it is not possible to determine where during each transect the bats were recorded. There is no information if bats were seen, if they were commuting over the site (and if so in which direction) or foraging within the site. Although we agree that the results indicate association of bat activity with the watercourse and boundary features when compared to the location of the proposed wind turbines, we consider that there is insufficient information provided to make a full assessment of bat activity on site and therefore also a full assessment of the impact on particular species. We would therefore recommend that the results need to presented by species and location to show the relative number of registrations per species in each location to determine if there are any key locations for bat foraging, commuting routes or particular species or time of year. This is important to determine the level of potential impact of each turbine. We would suggest that a quantitative assessment of the importance of the site for bats (according to the Wray et al methodology (CIEEM In Practice article Dec 2010) would be helpful.
We have concerns regarding the turbine locations in relation to bat activity on site, (although as explained above this requires further clarification) in particular apparent regular use by noctule and use by Nathusius pipistrelle, two species of known high risk of impact from wind farm developments. Our particular concern is with the close proximity of the proposed location of turbine 1 to the nearest hedgerow and we would request confirmation of the height of the hedgerows used in the calculations to determine the distance of the turbines from the nearest boundary features. This information is needed in order to ascertain if the turbine blade tips would remain at least 50m from a hedgerow or commuting/foraging feature in accordance with mitigation guidance from Natural England (TIN051).
We also note with serious concern the potential within the ES to move the infrastructure, especially turbines by micro-siting closer to hedgerows or boundary features as this would potentially increase the negative impact on bats using the site and would contradict the NE mitigation guidance.
We would therefore recommend that the following information is submitted prior to determination of the application:
We would also like to request sonograms of the Nathusius’ pipistelle, barbastelle, Serotine and Leisler’s bats to confirm the identification of these species at the site (this is standard practice for Warwickshire Bat Group to verify records of rare species in the county).
We note that trees were assessed for bat roosts and that a number of trees were identified with potential to support roosts including a row of willows with high bat roosting potential in Bransford Spinney. The first passes of pipistrelles and noctules were recorded at times indicating possible roosts nearby. It is not clear from the plans however if these or other mature trees would be lost to the proposals. We would recommend that further inspection at height or activity surveys are carried out by a suitably qualified ecologist for any trees identified with bat potential which require removal or lopping. Details of this approach should be included in a Construction and Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) and we enclose a condition relating to this below.
It is important that any proposed lighting, including temporary, is designed to avoid illumination of foraging/commuting paths and potential roost sites. We enclose a condition on this below.
A badger survey of the site and surrounding 50m has been undertaken and one sett found located outside of the survey area (approx. 285m). However the WBRC holds a record of a badger sett in the area of the proposed access road between the A5 and location of turbine 2 which has not been included within the ES. As it is unclear as to the potential location of this sett and the impact on the sett as a result of the works, this requires further clarification in the ES to include an updated badger survey of the site prior to determination and re-assessment of the potential impact on badgers and the need for any mitigation. Mitigation measures for badgers if needed should be included in the CEMP (see condition below).
Great crested newts
The pond assessment and survey work for great crested newts undertaken by Wild Frontier Ecology is considered to be largely acceptable. The pond just outside the application site was surveyed and although bottle-trapping was not used, three survey techniques were employed, in accordance with standard guidance. It was also previously surveyed in 2008 and no great crested newts were found. The pond on the eastern side of the A5 was not surveyed due to access limitations. However the A5 would be a major barrier to amphibian dispersal if great crested newts were present, and it is located approximately 200m from the nearest works, it is therefore considered unlikely that great crested newts would be present within the application site. However we recommend a precautionary approach whilst undertaking site clearance and construction works and if any great crested newts are found then work would have to cease whilst an ecologist is consulted. Details of these precautionary measures should be included as part of the CEMP (please see condition relating to this below).
A reptile survey was previously undertaken during 2008 and one grass snake seen on the western side of the disused railway line. The majority of the site includes areas of suitable habitat for reptiles, including damp grassland, the river corridor and associated ditches and hedgerows/scrub. The proposals include works which have potential to negatively impact on reptiles during the construction phase, including clearance of grassland and vegetation along the water course in particular. As previously agreed, no further surveys for reptiles will be required as part of the ES, however we would recommend that a suitable mitigation strategy is prepared to ensure reptiles are not harmed or killed during ground clearance work. This will ensure that the risk of harm to reptiles will be very low, provided vegetation removal is carried out in a precautionary manner and under the supervision of a suitably qualified ecologist, in suitable reptile habitat areas. These measures should be fully outlined within the CEMP, to be secured by condition (see below).
Otter and water vole
An otter and water vole survey were undertaken of the pond and river corridor. Evidence of water vole was found along the watercourse in the location of the development in the form of latrines and burrows. In Warwickshire, water voles are considered very rare with only a handful of colonies remaining. The desk study reveals water vole were recorded approx. 400m upstream on the River Swift in Leicestershire in 1987 and 1988. Although no water voles were seen during the survey and only limited evidence was found, the results indicate a possible new colony of water vole in this stretch of the river which we would consider is of district value rather than local/parish value as stated in the ES and therefore the impacts on this receptor are higher than stated. Water vole are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and a UK and local BAP priority species. Evidence of otters using the River Swift has also been identified, although no holt sites were found. As such we would recommend that updated surveys for water vole and otter are undertaken prior to the works to install the cable under the water course (or alternatively installation of a new bridge) and details of mitigation submitted if required to ensure no water voles or otters are impacted. The surveys and mitigation strategy should be fully outlined within the CEMP, to be conditioned.
Other protected and notable species.
Assessment of the impact on other notable species and UK Priority species including brown hare has not been undertaken due to it being considered to be of site value. This is a very mobile species and given the restricted extent of the works it is considered unlikely that this species will be impacted as a result of the proposals (please see note below).
Given that the impacts to the river are limited in extent and there are no known records, it is not considered likely that white clawed crayfish would be impacted by the works. If any evidence of crayfish is found, then works should stop whilst an ecologist is consulted (please see note below).
Details of other windfarm sites are given within 15km of the application site, although other large non-windfarm developments are not included (as in the ornithology chapter). Details of these should be included in the ES chapter and more detail of cumulative impacts on valued ecological receptors should be presented.
Bird surveys were undertaken at the application site by Wild Frontier Ecology between November 2012 and October 2013, largely in accordance with the best practice Natural England 2010 guidelines relating to onshore wind farms and birds. This involved breeding bird surveys using an adapted version of the Common Bird Census (CBC) method, comprising 5 visits of the application site (turbine areas plus 500m buffer, apart from land to the east of the A5) between April and June inclusive and vantage point (VP) surveys at one location amounting to 60 hours between April and September. Wintering bird surveys included walking the same transect on 4 visits between November 2012 and February 2013 and vantage point surveys between November 2012 and March 2013 and also October 2013 amounting to 61 hours. NE guidance recommends that 36 hours of VP surveys are conducted per VP per season, and 72 hours if raptors are present. The level of survey effort undertaken is therefore considered to be largely satisfactory.
Previous bird survey work has been undertaken at the application site during 2007-8 and 2010 including vantage point surveys and breeding bird surveys. Full details of this are not given in the ES but are summarised. This work identified many of the same red and amber list species breeding on the site as were recorded during 2013 as well as house sparrow, starling, green woodpecker and willow warbler (although these species would not be considered to be at high risk from collision). Previous work also identified several of the same collision sensitive species as were recorded in 2012-13, as well as notable species such as marsh harrier, common tern, yellow-legged gull and mute swan, which were not recorded in 2012-13.
From the survey results, Valued Ecological Receptor (VER) species identified for the site include peregrine, little egret, red kite, hobby, lapwing, common snipe, buzzard, kestrel, golden plover, sparrowhawk, grey heron, cormorant and farmland birds including dunnock, grey partridge, song thrush, linnet, reed bunting, skylark, tree sparrow, whitethroat, yellowhammer and yellow wagtail. Gulls occurred in very low numbers and were not taken forward as VERs. Three SSSIs designated for their bird interest within 10km of the site are also listed as ecological receptors. Of the VER species, 9 species were taken forward for collision risk modelling (red kite, hobby and little egret were not modelled as they were not recorded flying in the collision risk zone).
Based on the results of the collision risk model, no significant negative impacts are predicted on the VERs. We would concur with this assessment. Cormorant, sparrowhawk and golden plover were modelled but were not assessed as part of the impact assessment due to only being assessed as being of site value. As the collision risks for these species were low and the numbers of these species recorded during surveys of the site were very low, it is not considered likely that they would be significantly impacted by the proposals.
Barn Owls were not recorded during the VP or breeding/wintering surveys. One was heard on one occasion and no roost sites were found. It is therefore considered unlikely that barn owls would be impacted by the proposals.
We are satisfied that the cumulative impacts of other developments on ecological receptors have been adequately considered and agree that there is unlikely to be a significant cumulative impact on any of the VERs at the application site.
We would agree with the need for mitigation measures to prevent impacts to nesting birds during the construction phase, i.e. vegetation removal is carried out outside the bird nesting season where possible (March – September). If this is not feasible, vegetation must be checked for nesting birds immediately prior to removal by a suitably qualified ecologist. This should be included in the CEMP (see condition below).
Removal of sections of hedgerow will impact on bird species using the site, in particular farmland passerines. However, as only small sections will be lost, we are satisfied that this will not significantly disturb local populations. These losses should be replaced elsewhere within the application site and detailed in the Ecological Management Plan. We welcome the proposed tree sparrow and barn owl boxes and the creation of wild bird seed margins; these enhancements should also be included in the Ecological Management Plan – please see condition relating to this.
No post-construction monitoring is included in the ES. This should be included in the ES, to include collision monitoring.
At the current time we would therefore recommend refusal of the application and consider that there is insufficient information within the ES to fully assess the impacts of the proposals on certain protected and notable species and to ensure that their favourable conservation status would be maintained. Further information is also required regarding the impact on potential Local Wildlife Sites, mitigation for habitat losses, enhancements and cumulative impacts of the proposals. Once further information has been provided as requested above and provided it is considered to be acceptable, we would recommend further conditions as detailed below to be attached to any planning application approved:
The agreed Construction and Environmental Management Plan shall thereafter be implemented in full.
Reason: To ensure that protected species are not harmed by the development.
i) Description and evaluation of the features to be managed;
ii) Ecological trends and / or constraints on site that may influence management;
iii) Aims and objectives of management;
iv) Selection of specific techniques and practices for establishing vegetation;
v) Sources of habitat materials (e.g. plant stock) or species individuals;
vi) Method statement for site preparation and establishment of target features;
vii) Appropriate management options for achieving aims and objectives;
viii) Prescriptions for management actions;
ix) Preparation of a work schedule (including a 5 year project register, an annual work plan and the means by which the plan will be rolled forward annually;
x) Personnel responsible for the implementation of the plan;
xi) Monitoring and remedial/contingencies measures triggered by monitoring.
The agreed scheme to be fully implemented in accordance with an agreed timetable before/during development of the site as appropriate.
Reason: In accordance with NPPF and ODPM circular 06/2005.
Reason: To ensure that protected species are not harmed by the development and in accordance with NPPF and ODPM circular 06/2005.
Reason: To ensure that protected species are not harmed by the development.
Reason: To ensure that protected species are not harmed by the development.
If consent is given, we recommend that the following notes are attached to the consent:
Any works affecting the bank or that will disrupt the main channel of any water course should proceed only with caution. Should crayfish be found, either individuals or evidence of their burrows (small D-shaped holes at water level), then works should cease while the WCC Ecological Services are contacted for further advice (01926 418060).
Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require any further information.
22nd January 2014