Wildlife groups call for a ‘Nature and Wellbeing Act’

Wildlife Trusts want greater protection for Local Wildlife Sites

“Local Wildlife Sites are the Cinderella of the natural environment,” says Trust Director

Dec 23rd 2014

The Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB have drawn up proposals for a ‘Nature and Wellbeing Act’ which they want the next government to bring to parliament. This follows a series of assessments of England’s Local Wildlife Sites which the Wildlife Trusts carry out every three years. The latest assessment was published yesterday (December 22nd). According to the report, a site survey found that 11% of the 6,590 Local Wildlife Sites monitored were reported as lost or damaged by development or neglect in the five years between 2009 and 2013. The report says that the figure of 717 sites reported as lost or damaged could just be the tip of the iceberg as lack of resources mean that only 15% of England’s 42,865 Local Wildlife Sites have been checked within the last five years.

The Director of the Wildlife Trusts for England, Stephen Trotter, said that if this trend is allowed to continue, more of the nation’s most valuable and treasured wildlife places will be lost forever. “There is a real and pressing need for Local Wildlife Sites – one of England’s largest natural assets – to receive the recognition of their true value to society. In some counties they are the best places for wildlife but they continue to slip through our fingers like sand. Local Wildlife Sites are the Cinderella of the natural environment,” he said.

Local Wildlife Sites are selected for designation as such by Local Wildlife Site partnerships, which comprise local authorities, conservation bodies, local record centres, ecologists and local nature experts. Each partnership is responsible for surveying, assessing and selecting sites using scientifically determined criteria and detailed ecological surveys of the area. The Wildlife Trusts say that “together with statutory protected areas, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Local Wildlife Sites support locally, and often nationally, threatened species and habitats. Although recognised within the planning system, Local Wildlife Sites are not protected by law.”

Most Local Wildlife Sites are in private ownership and the Wildlife Trusts say it is ultimately the landowners and farmers, often with the support of nature conservationists, who secure their ongoing existence “through sensitive habitat management and sheer commitment.” Once sites are selected, partners can advise landowners on grants and land management. They should also periodically monitor the sites to assess their status and the effectiveness of the advice given.

According to the report, however, most sites are not visited on a regular basis due to lack of resources. The survey also found that site management in some cases was inappropriate, inadequate or non-existent, and the danger is that deterioration and loss of species can lead to Local Wildlife Sites being ‘deselected’ and losing their protection and status within the planning system.

45 of the 48 partnerships in the 2014 survey said they urgently needed more resources “to ensure the effective identification, management and protection of Local Wildlife Sites in their area and to combat the causes of neglect, inappropriate management and development pressures that threaten these sites.” Changes to farm environment schemes, which have reduced incentives for owners to gain support for Local Wildlife Site management, also threaten the management of publicly-owned Local Wildlife Sites, says the report.

The report calls for greater recognition and protection for Local Wildlife Sites and argues that local authorities should incorporate ecological networks into their local plans. It also calls for better support for volunteers and targeted funding to improve site management, through Countryside Stewardship and other schemes.

For further information on the report, see “Local Wildlife Sites 2014”.

For further information on the Nature and Wellbeing Act proposals, see “Nature and Wellbeing Act”.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: House Sparrow by gardenbirdwatching.com. Licensed under Creative Commons. The House Sparrow has an RSPB red status, meaning it has the highest conservation priority and needs urgent action. The RSPB says that monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, recently estimated as dropping by 71% between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations.

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Government responds to SuDS consultation

Eric Pickles announces changes to planning policy

Sustainable drainage systems a requirement on all major developments from April 2015

Dec 20th 2014

The Government has announced that it will be implementing its proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, which means that planning applications for major developments must include proposals for a sustainable drainage system and its long-term maintenance. The changes come into effect from April 2015. Major developments are defined as residential developments of 10 homes or more, or their non-residential equivalent. Smaller developments will be excluded from the legal requirement, though the Government says that local planning authorities should ensure that flood risk is not increased by any new development and that sustainable drainage systems are considered for all new developments.

The changes were announced by Communities & Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles in a written statement to Parliament two days ago (December 18th). This follows a consultation on the implementation of sustainable drainage systems as we reported in a previous news item. Defra received 402 responses to the consultation, half of which came from local authorities. Most of the concerns over the proposals focused on the lack of technical expertise among local authorities with regard to assessing and approving sustainable drainage systems. Many respondents also thought that Building Regulations were a more suitable consenting regime for this purpose.

In response, the Government is holding a further consultation which proposes to make Lead Local Flood Authorities a statutory consultee on all major developments. It is thought that Lead Local Flood Authorities will be able to provide the required technical expertise whilst a statutory consultation will not cause delays in the planning process. In addition, the Government is proposing to put in place a “capacity-building programme” to ensure that local planning authorities have the necessary capacity to approve proposals for sustainable drainage systems. It will also keep the option of amending Building Regulations under review.

The proposal to exclude minor developments (less than 10 homes) did not find favour with the respondents to the consultation, with 62% in disagreement. However, a similar number thought that some threshold was necessary in order to avoid a burden on resources. The Government has said that its proposals to exclude minor developments from the requirement is proportionate and that it will keep the effectiveness of its approach under review.

On maintenance, most of the respondents agreed with the Government’s proposal that a suite of options was the best solution for maintaining sustainable drainage systems “for the lifetime of the development.” The changes to planning policy will reflect this, and the Government has said that long-term maintenance arrangements need to be assured for sustainable drainage systems to be successful: “Developers will have responsibility for ensuring such arrangements are secured as a requirement of their planning conditions.” It has also said, however, that “commuted sums paid by developers for maintenance of sustainable drainage must not be the default option.”

The Government has also sought to reassure respondents on the costs of maintenance. It says that research commissioned by Defra found that the maintenance costs of sustainable drainage systems were, on average, no higher than the average charge for conventional piped surface water drainage. In addition, informal discussions with developers revealed that the actual figures for maintenance of some sustainable drainage systems within managed open spaces can be much lower (a typical example was about £6 per property per annum).

The Government will now be publishing revised planning guidance in time for the policy changes to take effect (i.e. before April 2015). For further information, see the written statement to Parliament from DCLG Secretary Eric Pickles.

To read the Government’s response to the SuDS consultation (PDF document), click here.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: SUDS at Hill Farm Estate, near Inverkip, Inverclyde © Copyright Thomas Nugent and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The photo shows part of a Sustainable Urban Drainage System at a new housing development at the former Hill Farm.

Environment Agency’s Open Data Initiative will make more data freely available for public use

Open Data will enable people to better protect themselves from flood risk, says EA

New datasets will also enable users to create innovative new products and solutions

Dec 12th 2014

The Environment Agency has recently set up a Data Advisory Group which will be advising the Agency on its Open Data initiative. The Data Advisory Group held its inaugural meeting on the 18th November. The Environment Agency has made a commitment to make more of its data freely available to the public and has already made 100 datasets available under an Open Government Licence.

The Data Advisory Group consists of external parties with an interest in Environment Agency data, the Agency’s current data customers and those with an Open Data background, together with representatives from Defra and the Environment Agency. The Agency says it will balance its business requirements with the needs of its customers in making more data available over the coming years: “Once we have identified the top candidate datasets we will work with Defra and the Cabinet Office on a case-by-case basis to identify resources to make them Open.”

‘Risk of Flooding from Rivers and Sea’ Datasets

The Environment Agency has announced that its ‘Risk of Flooding from Rivers and Sea’ datasets will become Open Data as of 11th December 2014. The Agency says that “this will allow access free of charge, even for commercial use, enabling people to use our data to better protect themselves from the risk of flooding. Users will be able to download the data without registering and can use and manipulate it as required to create innovative new products and solutions.”

Paul Leinster, the Environment Agency’s Chief Executive, said: “Following the wettest winter on record, we have seen the demand for our flood risk data rise. We made a commitment in May to provide more of our data without cost or usage restrictions and have been working hard to make this happen. The release of our Risk of Flooding from Rivers and the Sea products will create exciting opportunities for mobile applications and website developers as well as providing businesses and insurers with more information to help better understand flood risk and improve decision making. We hope individuals will use the data to make it easier for people to understand their flood risk and take action to reduce the impact and consequences of flooding.”

Three ‘Risk of Flooding from Rivers and Sea’ datasets are being made available under the Open Government Licence. The first – “Risk of Flooding from Rivers and Sea” – is a map that shows the likelihood of flooding from rivers and the sea in England, considering the location, height and condition of 175,000 defences. Results show the annual chance of flooding, rated as Very Low, Low, Medium and High.

The second is “Properties in Areas at Risk” This is a database that uses the Risk of Flooding from Rivers and Sea product with Ordnance Survey data to assign one of the flood likelihood categories to properties simply based on the likelihood of flooding to the area within which the property is situated.

The third is “Postcodes in Areas at Risk”. This is a database that uses the Risk of Flooding from Rivers and Sea product with Ordnance Survey data and Royal Mail data to show the number of properties in each postcode area that are in each of the four flood risk categories.

The Environment Agency says that only the England part of the three Risk of Flooding from Rivers and Sea products is being made available as Open Data. The Wales coverage is now owned by Natural Resources Wales and is not currently Open.

For more information on the Open Data initiative, see the Environment Agency’s blog on the Advisory Group by its Executive Director of Evidence Miranda Kavannagh.

Susdrain aims to increase knowledge and awareness of sustainable drainage systems

Susdrain is a new community that provides a range of resources for all those involved in delivering sustainable drainage systems (SuDS)

Dec 9th 2014

Created by CIRIA (the Construction Industry Research and Information Association), Susdrain is an independent platform that provides a range of resources, discussion forums and support for drainage and highway engineers, planners, urban designers, landscape architects, property developers, drainage consultants and suppliers, flood risk managers and environment managers, and members of the general public who have an interest in the subject. The aim of the network is to increase knowledge and confidence in the delivery of SuDS, covering all the stages of planning, design, approval, construction and maintenance.

Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)

Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) include a wide range of approaches to the management of surface water drainage. SuDS are designed to control surface water run-off by imitating natural drainage as much as possible, allowing surface water to drain into the ground close to where it falls. A well-designed sustainable drainage system reduces the risk of flooding from surface water.

In natural environments, rain falls on permeable surfaces and soaks into the ground; a process called infiltration. In urbanised areas many surfaces are sealed by buildings and paving, with the result that natural infiltration is limited. Instead, drainage networks consisting of pipes and culverts divert surface water to local watercourses. In some cases, this has resulted in downstream flooding and deterioration in river water quality caused by diffuse pollution or when combined sewers (which collect surface water run-off and foul waste) are overwhelmed by surface water leading to a release of polluted water into rivers.

With climate change increasing the probability of wetter winters, sustainable drainage systems have become an important tool in reducing flood risk and have been endorsed by local authorities across the country. London Mayor Boris Johnson has played a lead role in developing a sustainable drainage action plan for the city of London. The plan is an integral part of the London Infrastructure Plan 2050 and its proposals for a “green infrastructure.” The London Infrastructure Plan 2050 says that the action plan will model and map the potential for retrofitting sustainable drainage across London. It will also establish incentives to encourage landowners to capture more rainwater on new and existing development, and present proposals to manage the risk of surface water and sewer flooding. The plan envisages a chain of interventions such as green roofs, rain gardens, swales, and detention basins planned and implemented at a catchment-scale. For further details, see our news item “London Mayor develops Sustainable Drainage Action Plan for London”.

SuDS Delivery

The Government recently held a consultation on the mechanisms for SuDS delivery, which closed at the end of October. Among the proposals was the intention to deliver SuDS via the existing planning system and the National Planning Policy Framework, instead of via a separate system of SuDS Approval Bodies. The consultation has drawn a mixed response with one criticism focusing on the fact that the new planning regulations would only apply to major developments, which would exclude housing developments of less than 10 homes.

Another criticism has come from Keyline, the UK’s largest distributor of drainage and utility materials. Its national sector manager for utilities Gareth Twohey said that the proposed change could lead to a piecemeal approach to SuDS implementation because local planning authorities look at local needs when it comes to new development and not at the wider context. “SuDS have to be holistic rather than site-specific to work properly, by looking at the crucial ramifications downstream of new installations,” he said. “Moving the problem onto someone else’s patch could result in a nightmare scenario, when more joined-up thinking might have mitigated this risk.”

The Government is currently analysing the feedback from the consultation and is expected to publish its deliberations in the early part of 2015. For more details of the consultation responses, see our news item “Changes to SuDS implementation face more criticism”.

Susdrain

Susdrain’s Paul Shaffer says: “With the need for SuDS greater than ever before, Susdrain provides up-to-date guidance, information, case studies, videos, photos and discussion forums that help to underpin the planning, design, approval, construction and maintenance of SuDS.” See the Susdrain website for more information on Susdrain.

To watch a video on Susdrain, see Paul Shaffer’s YouTube presentation.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Permeable paving surrounding a new SUDS pond, near Renton, West Dunbartonshire © Copyright Lairich Rig and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. “The pond is out of shot to the left in this photo.”

Hampshire village prepares for more groundwater flooding

Groundwater levels on the rise in November

Residents concerned over lack of accredited Community Safety Officers

Dec 5th 2014

Residents of a Hampshire village are preparing for more flooding this winter following groundwater data released by the Environment Agency and a forecast from the Met Office that the next three months would see rainfall well above the average. As we reported in a previous news item, the village of Hambledon was badly affected by groundwater flooding last winter, with the chalk ground being described as “acting like a sponge.” Work has begun on a £3.9 million flood alleviation scheme for the village, but the work will not be complete until 2016.

Recent figures from the Environment Agency showed that the groundwater levels in Hambledon were 10 metres higher than the same time last year, and were rising by more than half a metre every day. The prospect of more groundwater flooding led to a meeting of local residents with emergency planners from Hampshire County Council last month to develop a plan.

Chair of the Hambledon Flood Action Group Tony Higham was seeking assurances from the Council that volunteer helpers would be properly trained and available to help over the Christmas period. The Council used to employ accredited Community Safety Officers who assisted local residents when the village was affected by groundwater flooding earlier this year, but they have been made redundant as part of the Council’s cost-cutting plans. The Council has responded by saying it has created a pool of emergency response workers from its staff who can be called on day or night to help.

Tony Higham was demanding that the Council make 10,000 sand bags ready for deployment, and he also said that Southern Electric and Southern Water should be prepared for flooding with emergency generators ready for use if necessary. Quoted in the Portsmouth News, Councillor Sean Woodward said that highway teams have cleared 2,500 gullies and drainage channels across the county to reduce flood risk, whilst the Council had sandbags at every highway depot across the county, ready to protect the highways should they be needed.

In July of this year, the County Council approved funding of £3.9 million for the Hambledon Flood Alleviation Scheme. Because of the scheme’s importance, the Council had begun investigatory works before securing the total funding for the project. In October however the Environment Agency provided £1.4 million to enable Phase Two of the scheme to proceed in full. For further information, see the Hampshire County Council website.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Hambledon High Street leading towards the Parish Church © Copyright Anonymous 4452 and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Government allocates £15.5 million to Somerset for flood risk management

£4.2 million will be spent on Somerset Levels flood defences

Ministers hope six-year commitment will benefit 7,000 properties in the South-West

Dec 3rd 2014

The Treasury has announced how it plans to allocate the £2.3 billion of flood defence spending which it promised to commit earlier this year. £15.5 million will be allocated to flood defences in Somerset over a six-year period, including £4.2 million for the Somerset Levels and Moors. Ministers hope this six-year commitment will benefit 7,000 properties in the South-West.

The South-West was badly hit by last winter’s floods with around 1,800 properties across the region affected by flooding. High winds and high waves also played a part in causing millions of pounds worth of damage to property, flood defences, transport and communication links and the region’s infrastructure The main rail link to Cornwall was forced to close when the track collapsed into the sea at Dawlish and other rail services were also disrupted. Flooding resulted in several road closures and the rail link to Cornwall remained closed for months.

The Western Daily Press says that, in Somerset, 172 properties on the Somerset Levels and Moors were flooded and some villages were totally cut off for several weeks, with residents being forced to travel on a boat provided by Somerset County Council. Farmers on the Somerset Levels are now voicing their anger at the authors of a recent report by the Royal Society which discusses the issue of resilience and questions whether investment to protect farmland is the best use of public money.

Two academics who co-authored the report were asked by BBC News how global lessons might be applied to Somerset. One of the authors is reported to have said: “There’s huge demand for flood protection in the UK. It’s not cost-effective to use public money protecting agricultural land.” And the second academic said: “The flooding of the Levels looked impressive – but most of the area flooded was agricultural land. You would be better investing in protection for London, Portsmouth or Hull where there are many more people facing recurring problems.” In response, a local farmer is quoted as saying: “These so-called experts haven’t got a clue what they are talking about. We are used to being flooded – but we don’t expect to get ignored for so long.”

Last winter’s floods raised the question of dredging as a measure in managing flood risk. Residents of the Somerset Levels argued that dredging had been neglected for years and that flooding could have been reduced if the rivers had been properly maintained. However, others have argued that in some instances dredging can make matters worse by shifting the problem elsewhere, with flooding occurring downstream as a result. A representative of the Environment Agency told Roger Harrabin of BBC News that it had cost an extra £10 million to dredge the rivers and improve local defences, which prior to the floods were further down the queue of national priorities. Somerset was towards the bottom of the list of counties in the South-West, he said, based on the number of homes flooded last winter: “around 180 homes were inundated in Somerset (about 150 in the Levels), compared with more than 400 in Wiltshire.”

But on the question of priorities, a Defra spokesperson said: “It is vital that we protect people and property from flooding, including farmland, which is the backbone to our food and farming industry – and worth £97 billion to the economy.”

For further details of the Government’s allocations of flood defence spending, see The Guardian.

Acknowledgement

Photo: Map of Somerset Levels by Nilfanion via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright.