We are a small informal group. We welcome both people who prefer to work as individuals but sometimes feel the Group can help in some way and people who prefer to work in cooperation with others. We occasionally organise outings and training sessions particularly for people who wish to qualify for a GCN license.
There is no subscription but members who sign up are covered by the ARG insurance scheme. We are affiliated to the Bedfordshire Natural History Society. We are also members of the Beds Heathland Forum. We have helped draft SAPS for both Bedfordshire Adders and Great Crested Newt.
At present much of our activity has been concentrated on specific sites in the south of the county. We are only too aware of how little we know about North Bedfordshire. In spite of large areas of arable desert Bedfordshire is richer in herps than one might expect. We have all the common species with the exception of the palmate newt. There are two introduced species: Midwife Toads and Pool Frogs, and one re-introduction: Natterjack Toads. The county is a stronghold for the Great Crested Newt. Much of Bedfordshire is very poorly surveyed. We simply do not know what is there. Parts of the county are under severe development pressure and there are not enough of us. If are interested please get in touch.
See picture gallery for our visit.
The Beds Heathland Forum annual meeting, organised by Phil Irving of the Greensand Trust, visited two contrasting heaths: Cooper’s Hill to the west of Ampthill (good for Common Lizards) and Mauldon Heath (good for Common Lizards, Slow Worms and the site of an Adder re-introduction).
Cooper’s Hills was chosen because it has areas of old, woody, heather small parts of which had been experimentally burned earlier this year. The purpose of this was to create a more varied habitat with a mosaic of young and old heather. This burning seems to have been successful as we could see regeneration from the root stock. In another experiment the aim was to encourage heather regeneration by removing the top layer of wavy hair grass and soil so heather seed could germinate. This was done in areas where the heather had not been able to grow because of a thick mat of grass. Again this has been successful and we saw many small heather seedlings. Both these experiments will be monitored over the next few years.
Whereas Cooper’s Hill has a good cover of heather and is heavily used by walkers, there is little heather at Maulden, though there are three acid grassland fields designated SSSIs. Paths mostly take the public around, rather than across, these areas. Unlike Cooper’s Hill the Maulden fields are grazed. There flora in one, ex-Christmas tree, field is developing well and the area will be expanded by the felling of some poplar trees, planted by the Forestry Commission as an experiment some years ago. Even more extensive conifer clearance is planned this winter for the area known as The Hump. This already supports CL and SW and may have adders.
We did not see any herps. This was hardly surprising as the weather was rather chilly and dull. Four BRAG Members attended the Forum.
Minutes of the BRAG AGM held on Thursday 19 July 2012 at The Greensand Trust office, Maulden Woods at 6.30 pm.
1. Present: Matt Andrews, Brian Banks, Trevor Broderick, Philip Gould, Andrei Marcu, Helen Muir-Howie, Diana Parsons, Marcus Phillips, Susan Phillips, Sue Raven.
2. Apologies for absence were received from Richard Lawrence.
3. OFFICERS’ REPORTS:
CHAIRMAN: MP reported on various recent activities.
Campton (nearby copse): A man was bitten on the foot by an adder while metal detecting on private land near the golf course at Beadlow Manor, east of Maulden. Although there is no public access, a public footpath runs nearby. SR will get details of the land owner and try to get permission to survey the area.
Chellington Church (SP960563): Adders have been reported but not confirmed (HM-H thinks adders are very unlikely to be in this area). It would be useful to survey the area, though, and at least confirm GS.
Maulden: Few adders have been seen the last two years. We should try to find out whether they have dispersed and if so where they now are. MP and SP will try to do some surveying but the more people from the Group who can survey the better. Perhaps let SR know if you are going to Maulden.
Millbrook Proving Ground: This looks a very promising site but it is difficult to get permission to go onto it.
Rammamere: MA was intending to use carpet tiles to survey for adders (and other herps).
Rowney Warren: The presence of adders has been confirmed relatively recently, but only in tiny numbers. MA suggested the Group should put down carpet tile refugia and undertake a thorough survey of the site this autumn to try to find where they bask.
RSPB, The Lodge: Adders have been reported but not confirmed. MP will contact Stephanie Morren (email@example.com) with a view to putting down refugia (MA’s carpet tiles and corrugated iron if we can get it cut up). She has offered to monitor the tiles.
Rushmere: The Greensand Trust would like to know which areas are favoured by adders before they undertake anymore construction work.
Stockgrove: BB has seen very few toad tadpoles in the big ponds for the last three years. This is a site which we should monitor on a regular basis.
Bedford Moat: The moat has not been cleared by BNHS for some years. SR will try to find out who to contact re getting permission to clear it out this winter.
Bucks: Liaise with Bucks Group (MP), especially about GCN at Aspley Guise.
Maulden: The Group would liaise with SR re a new pond in the Conservation Area. This would hopefully encourage the spread of GCN.
Maulden: More Christmas trees will be cut down in the adder field. These can be used to make log piles and brash heaps. The Group, via SR, will liaise.
5. THIS YEAR’S COMMITTEE. This is something we did not discuss but according to our Constitution (attached) we should have a committee. We suggest that for this year, or until the Group decides otherwise, we should carry on as before with the four posts designated in the constitution:
Chairman: Marcus Phillips
Secretary: Susan Phillips
Treasurer: Bryan Banks
Recorder: Helen Muir-Howie
Next year (or before) hopefully other people will get involved with this side of things.
We were very pleased to see so many of our members at our recent AGM, held on Thursday 19th July at The Greensand Trust. We would particularly like to say thank you to Sue Raven for accommodating us in one of the new buildings. The main subject of discussion was surveying: which sites should we concentrate on? There have been a number of sightings of adders over the last few years and one of our main tasks will be to try to confirm, or not, these records.
31 October: Planning inspector rejects appeal.
Key issues: effects of the proposal on the open countryside and on biodiversity.
We will post more details but the full report is at the Planning Inspectorate, Planning Portal, and the full reference is APP/P0240/A/11/2155625. Go to Appeals and follow the links.
We will try and post some extracts.
A planning appeal
Who wants to get involved in this sort of proceedings? Is there any point?
We are posting our account of this experience in the hope that it may be of interest, and use, to others.
The background can be traced on our related web site http://www.toadlift.webs.com. Go to home page then click ‘Planning Objections’. Anyone wanting to know the precise details of the proposed plans can view them from the Central Beds Website by following the reference: Planning – View a planning application and quoting: CB/10/00518.
Last year Biggleswade Town Council applied for outline planning permission to construct a health centre plus playing fields, pavilion and car park on an area to the east of the town known, rather vaguely, as ‘land east of Saxon Drive’. The application was turned down by Central Beds and the Town council appealed. The hearing was last Wednesday October 12 in a room at the Council Offices at Chicksands.
Very briefly, the position is this. The Town Council (or at least two members of it) want to build a health centre etc. on land which is outside the development ‘envelope’. There is new, extensive house building on ‘arable desert’ to the east of Biggleswade but this proposed health / recreation area is the other side of what will be a by-pass around Biggleswade. The land they want to build on has developed into a good wild life site. Badgers and foxes frequent the whole area. Recently the Scouts planted 100 trees to celebrate their 100th anniversary. Under the proposed plans these will mostly disappear under tarmac. From the amphibian’s point of view, it is part of their terrestrial habitat. Just beyond the southern end of the development there is a pond (Richard’s Pond, see photo gallery) which is good for the common amphibians and invertebrates. An ECO 500 toad tunnel connects this with the old balancing pond, see BHS Bulletin 64 (1998).
We had never attended such a meeting before and had little idea what to expect. Since we had already submitted written observations on the plans, at every stage, we felt that our only purpose in attending the meeting was to answer questions on what we had submitted. As a general principle we had been told ‘stick to your area of specialisation i.e. the amphibians. That might have been good advice had other people adhered to it. A certain amount of jargon was used which neither of us was familiar with, ‘conditions’ and ‘reserved matters’ both cropped up.
The hearing was informal with all participants sitting around a table. The Secretary of States’s Inspector began by trying to get the two opposing sides on opposite sides of the table. Apart from us two council officers were there to speak against giving outline planning permission: one from the planning office, the other the county ecologist. Two people spoke for granting outline planning permission: one was from a planning/law firm, the other was an ecologist. Two local councillors (a husband and wife who are both on both the Town and Central Beds Councils) sat as ‘crossbenchers’ though the health centre / sports’ pitches scheme is said to be their idea. One said she wanted to speak only as ‘a long-term resident of Biggleswade’, not as a councillor, the other said he did not want to speak. Also attending, but not speaking was a representative from the Wildlife Trust and a member of the public.
We did not take detailed notes of the whole meeting so the following is limited to the sections we thought most important.
The informality of the proceedings came as a surprise. We had imagined that only people who had given formal notice would be able to speak. We had also imagined that discussion would centre on technicalities relating to planning law and environmental impact.
Instead the councillor ‘speaking as a long-term resident’ insisted on making a number of subjective points about existing medical facilities and the demand for playing fields. As far as we could tell the identity between speaking as a councillor and as a resident became increasingly blurred. We were eventually provoked into asking whether we could attempt to rebut this ‘as long-term residents etc.’ The chairman agreed but we had not come prepared to talk about these matters and found it difficult.
The representative of Central Beds spoke briefly about the Council’s position confining herself to technical and legal arguments relating to planning law. Alternative sites were still under discussion and the proposed site was outside the ‘planning envelope’. One of the main arguments in favour of putting the health centre on this site is that nowhere else suitable has been found nearer to the town centre, and planning guidelines do not exclude the possibility of building if a suitable site cannot be found inside the planning envelope. In fact there are other possible sites which are currently being considered by Central Beds.
The ecologists on either side said very little.
The other side’s representative did not confine himself to legal matters. Instead he expressed a set of opinions about the site and the area in general which made us rub our ears in disbelief. In particular it was stated (not argued) that not all buildings are harmful to the environment; they can be attractive; there is nothing attractive about the landscape as it is at present.(!) We stuck to our brief and said nothing.
The long-term resident’s intervention
At one point the ‘long-term resident’ intervened. She could not understand what the argument was about anyway. Football pitches are green-field sites and must therefore be good for biodiversity. To our amusement she was corrected by her own side, namely the ecologist, who pointed out that football pitches are not hot spots of biodiversity. His words were intended to be tactful.
Back to the arguments
The outline planning application showed the whole area covered in buildings, car parks and a large number of sports’ pitches. They now tried to argue that there was plenty of land within the development for enhancement of the environment for protected species. Since there was no fixed number of pitches, there was plenty of space for biodiversity and protected species within the development – but all this could be sorted out after permission has been granted for the development to go ahead. ‘Exceptional circumstances’ were cited in this respect, though when we asked what they were we received no answer; just a blank stare. As compensation we were promised connectivity with existing sites and within the development. Thus the developers reckon they can create high value habitat within the development with the result that the environment will be enhanced. The standard of these arguments reflected the same grasp of biodiversity issues as that shown by ‘the long-term resident’.
The developers thought a survey, which would cost £60,000, is unnecessary and can be dealt with by ‘conditions’. Central Beds council, on the other hand, said they would not want to grant planning permission before a survey and cited Woolley v. Cheshire East Borough Council and Millennium Estates Ltd, 5 June 2009. http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/WoolleyVsCheshireEastBC_tcm6-12832.pdf
A final intervention
Just before proceedings ended another intervention came from the other councillor, though presumably speaking as another ‘long-term resident’. The essential thing, he suddenly opined, was managed land: the land was not managed enough. The result, he continued, was invasions of travellers and their fierce dogs. Why bring travellers up now? They had not been mentioned before. In any case they would do as much damage to an expensive-to-maintain playing field as a wildlife site.
There were no applications for costs.
The site visit
That was the end of the hearing but a site visit followed. We were allowed to point things out but not present arguments. So we indicated where the grass snakes had recently been spotted, where the trees had just been planted and offered to show the inspector the pond. Before we got there we were intercepted by a lady who had been keeping horses on the site for 40 years. She had been a good tenant: why was she suddenly now being threatened with eviction? The inspector said, quite rightly, that he had to ignore her comments.
We took him down to the pond which, it has to be admitted, looks rather sorry for itself but at least it holds water which is more than can be said for many water bodies this year.
The result of the appeal will be announced in about a month’s time. No one seemed ready to predict what it would be.
A final thought: the representative from the Wildlife Trust said that the attitude that a pesticide saturated arable field was of comparable ecological value to (for example) a traditional hay meadow was still widespread. What have English Nature / Natural England / David Attenborough been doing all these years?
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