Isle of Wight Natural Area profile: what it is and why you should read it

The government’s advisor on the natural environment, Natural England, has just published the long-awaited Natural Character Area profile for the Isle of Wight.Isle of Wight Natural Area ProfileSounds dull? It isn’t. NCA profiles are being compiled for the whole of England, and each one is an in-depth analysis of the landscape, wildlife and human activity within one of England’s 159 Natural Character Areas. It’s not an action plan but it does have some “Statements of Environmental Opportunity” which mostly prove to be longwinded ways to make some pretty obvious suggestions for priorities if we want to conserve and enhance our natural area.  And given how we have done so far, obvious suggestions are not at all a bad thing. Continue reading Isle of Wight Natural Area profile: what it is and why you should read it

Environmental infrastructure: what it could really cost

Drains, water, sewage works, landfill sites… usually best left to somebody else to sort out. Well, maybe once this was true. In south-east England nothing could be further from the truth today. It’s not always perceived as an obvious connection with countryside management but maybe it should be. The Ranger has always had a bit of an interest in sewage works, (see some photos of one of his recent visits to such an establishment) and is presently involved in advising his employer on drainage issues at a proposed large residential development site. So he read with enthusiasm the Environment Agency‘s 2007 report “Hidden infrastructure: the pressures on environmental infrastructure” because, let’s face it, you didn’t, did you? It’s a short report which is obviously designed to get some pretty stark messages home. It looks at how the environment is coming under pressure in densely populated areas, such as SE England, and argues that adequate environmental infrastructure is essential if development is to go ahead within the environment’s capacity to absorb the additional impacts. As well as looking at possible ways to reduce or mitigate these impacts, the report is bold enough to indicate the scale of the problem in simple terms:

Environmental infrastructure


Above is a figure from the report – it shows the calculated average environmental infrastructure cost, per house, in south-east England. The total is over £20,000 per house built.

Continue reading Environmental infrastructure: what it could really cost

What’s behind the signs? A tale of a village green… or not.

Today in Portsmouth The Ranger was on his way to look at some nice shingle dunes when he saw a remarkable sign at the roadside, and had to ask his host to stop the car so it could be examined. A small parcel of land was surrounded by a new wooden fence, and prominently placed at two locations were some massive, highways style metal signs with some rather curious text on them – here’s one:

Sign at Eastney

Not the usual sort of thing one might expect, brand new, and rather strangely worded. Why was such a lot of money spent on such odd, over-specified signs? And that turn of words ‘sports and pastimes’… sounds familiar? It should do. Behind this simple phrase on a sign lies a big story. Let’s see if we can root it out. A bit of digging on the Portsmouth City Council website reveals that on 23/02/2004 there was a planning application for “Construction of 2 three storey blocks and 3 four storey blocks comprising 176 apartments”. The area included the site now sporting the new signs. Continue reading What’s behind the signs? A tale of a village green… or not.

Planning application rejected by fairies

Perhaps there’s hope. The Ranger spends an uncomfortable amount of time these days delving into the murky depths of the planning process – and the rights and wrongs of Permitted Development, Unitary Development Plans, and Strategic Environmental Assessment fill more of his working hours than do roaming the fields and looking vaguely at spiders. So he was much comforted to discover, via the worthy medium of The Honest Hypocrite, (thank you Richard) a great tale of how a planning application in Scotland was quite genuinely rejected by the fairies. See the original story here, and an unexpected followup tells how the property developer thinks the fairies have brought him luck! It’s nice to think that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must be smiling down on St Fillans, Perthshire.

A fairy dies every time an application is approved against officers' recommendations
A Planning Inspector yesterday


(This article was first published in 2006, but has been updated with a new link)

Buglife squished

If you’ve been following the story of small charity Buglife on this blog you will recall its legal challenge intended to prevent development on West Thurrock Marshes, a former industrial site now very rich in invertebrate biodiversity.

Buglife logo

After a long trek through the courts it seems as though the final act may now have been played out in this drama, as Buglife retires to lick its wounds following a comprehensive rejection of its arguments by the Court of Appeal. Continue reading Buglife squished

Buglife rides forth yet again

It really does seem to be like the butterfly that stamped. If you’ve been following the story of small charity Buglife on this blog you will recall its legal challenge intended to prevent development on West Thurrock Marshes, a former industrial site now very rich in invertebrate biodiversity.

Spider stamp © Buglife

Buglife made its own alternative stamps showing species threatened by the Royal Mail development

The original site developer, Royal Mail, has now pulled out and Buglife suggests that this is because “Buglife pressure forced Royal Mail to scrap its plans“. However the planning consent still stands, so some other body could still do the works and damage the site. So Buglife took the matter to court. Continue reading Buglife rides forth yet again

The butterfly that stamped… Buglife sees off Royal Mail at West Thurrock?

The most ironic marketing gaffe ever, and then an apparent u-turn by Royal Mail: did plucky little conservation charity Buglife really pull off this campaign coup? For those who haven’t been keeping up, see this post – or here’s a summary: Royal Mail have been planning to build a depot on a marshland full of scarce invertebrates in West Thurrock, and invertebrate charity Buglife has been campaigning to stop them. But a High Court bid by the charity to have the development halted was rejected in February. Buglife have been considering whether or not to appeal.

Spider stamp © Buglife

Buglife made their own alternative stamps showing species threatened by the Royal Mail development

Continue reading The butterfly that stamped… Buglife sees off Royal Mail at West Thurrock?

Hedgerow protection: a gap in the system

A recent discussion on the UK Tree Care mailing list explored the question of the amount of protection afforded hedgerows by the legislation in England and Wales.

Surveying a hedgerow

The Ranger surveys invertebrates in a hedgerow

It’s a widely misunderstood subject – and a quick surf around the web will show you that even those you might expect to know really don’t – for example, the Friends of the Earth website says:

…the removal of any hedge longer then 20 metres, requires planning permission. If the hedge is shown to be significant in terms of its age, environmental or historical importance, then the planning authority can refuse such permission and take further measures to protect the hedgerow.

There’s one mistake and a few understatements in this analysis, but they are typical misconceptions. The mistake: the hedgerow regulations are nothing to do with planning permission. The understatements: the establishment of the ‘importance’ of a hedge is very complex, and there is little if any discretion in the process. And even if that is successful, the ‘further measures to protect the hedgerow’ amount to very little. When the Ranger was working with protected trees he dealt with a constant stream of enquiries from people wanting to protect hedges in some way. Almost all were disappointed. It is often imagined that the Hedgerow Regulations 1997 are some sort of Tree Preservation Order (TPO) for hedges – they are not. Key differences are that whilst any tree can (in theory) be protected by a TPO, only certain very closely prescribed hedge types can qualify as ‘important hedges’, and almost all of these will be rural or agricultural hedges, well away from the urban and suburban areas where most TPOs are found, and where hedge-related conflicts usually break out. Furthermore there is no facility to proactively designate hedges as ‘important’, this can only be done in response to a notification from a landowner. Failing such a notification the potential for action in the case of a removed hedge is pretty minimal. Finally there is only really a prohibition of removal, not any lesser works. Works up to and including the ground-level coppicing of an entire hedge would not fall within the regulations in most cases. Data reported by Alina Congreve suggests that “All the criteria combined only protect about 20% of hedgerows from removal.” That’s not many. She also points out many other problems with the hedgerow regulations, and suggests that by widening the scope of the regs this could to some extent be addressed. The Ranger has come to believe that there is a gap in the protection regime that allows most hedgerows to remain in effect unprotected. This gap is not much understood as most people seem to assume that the Hedgerow Regulations cover it. This has arisen because the original Hedgerow Regs were rightly aimed at agricultural hedge removal, whereas today the issues concerning hedge removal are much more likely to be concerned with development and gardens, where the regulations do not apply and the issues are quite different. He takes a more pessimistic view than Dr Congreve because of the qualitative issues that arise once non-rural hedges are considered. The problems with the Hedgerow Regulations in non-rural situations are serious enough that a more radical approach is required. Instead of widening the scope of the Hedgerow Regulations it may be more appropriate to introduce a new category of Tree Preservation Order, complete with the existing constraints and controls that system already carries. TPOs are primarily intended for domestic, not agricultural environments. Such a new category could be applied specifically to hedgerows in any location, for the purpose of protecting their public amenity as opposed to simply evaluating their intrinsic importance.