30 Pillars

To: Karen Syrett, Sandra Scott, Simon Cairns, and Colchester City Council Members Cc: All Colchester City Councillors

Subject: Urgent Appeal for the Preservation of Middlewick Ranges

Dear Officers and Councillors,

As a collective of 14 esteemed naturalists and ecologists from Essex, we implore you to reconsider the inclusion of Middlewick Ranges in the Local Plan for housing development. This letter, backed by a wealth of ecological data and expertise, aims to underscore the irreplaceable value of Middlewick Ranges and the grave ecological risks posed by the proposed development.

1. Unparalleled Biodiversity and Ecological Significance

Middlewick Ranges, a site of immense ecological wealth, is more than a local wildlife sanctuary; it is a bastion of biodiversity of national importance. The site is a mosaic of rare acid grassland and rich neutral grasslands, each a haven for an extraordinary array of species. Over 1,480 invertebrates have been recorded here, including nationally rare species like Phaeocedus braccatus, Tomosvaryella minima, and the Necklace Ground Beetle Carabus monilis. The presence of these species alone underlines the national ecological significance of Middlewick Ranges. It’s not just about numbers; it’s about the unique ecological interactions and the irreplaceable habitat mosaic that supports these species.

2. The Flawed Basis for Development

The development proposals, as presented by the MoD and Stantec, are fundamentally flawed. They hinge on the misconception that complex ecosystems, like those at Middlewick, can be replicated or replaced. This is not just scientifically unsound; it is ecologically irresponsible. The process of adding sulphur to recreate acid grassland, as proposed, grossly simplifies the intricate ecological processes that have shaped Middlewick over centuries. It overlooks the site-specific conditions, including soil type, microclimate, and existing biodiversity, that are critical for the survival of the unique species assemblages found here.

3. A Misguided Approach to Biodiversity Net Gain

The proposals for Middlewick Ranges misuse the concept of Biodiversity Net Gain. The approach adopted is overly simplistic and fails to account for the complexity of ecological systems. By downgrading the existing rich neutral grassland to ‘poor semi-improved grassland’ and overestimating the potential of the proposed acid grassland ‘creation’, the plan ignores the existing ecological value of the site. This is not just a matter of poor assessment; it’s a dangerous precedent that threatens to undermine the very principles of biodiversity conservation.

4. Disregarding the Mitigation Hierarchy

The development plan for Middlewick Ranges disregards the fundamental principle of the mitigation hierarchy, which prioritizes avoiding harm to biodiversity. The proposals leap to compensation without adequately exploring alternatives or fully understanding the site’s ecological value. This approach is not in line with contemporary conservation standards and fails to recognize the inherent value of the existing habitats and species.

5. The Legal and Ethical Imperative

In light of the recent developments in environmental legislation, such as the Environment Act and the Local Nature Recovery Strategy, it is imperative that planning decisions are aligned with these frameworks. The proposed development of Middlewick Ranges is not only ecologically untenable but also potentially in conflict with these emerging legal requirements. The preservation of Middlewick Ranges is not just an ecological necessity; it is a legal and ethical imperative.

In conclusion, we urge Colchester City Council to act decisively to remove Middlewick Ranges from the Local Plan. This is not merely a conservation issue; it is a matter of upholding scientific integrity, respecting emerging environmental legislation, and safeguarding a natural heritage that is irreplaceable. Let us not be the generation that allowed such a treasure to be lost under the misguided guise of development.

We request your urgent attention to this matter and are available for further dialogue and consultation. Together, we can find a sustainable solution that honors the ecological significance of Middlewick Ranges and upholds the environmental commitments of the Council.


[Your Name] [Your Title/Position] [Organization/Affiliation]

P.S. Attached to this letter is a comprehensive analysis of the 30 foundational claims of the development proposal, each critically examined and found wanting on scientific grounds. This document further reinforces the urgent need for a reevaluation of the proposed plan.

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30 pillars

We firmly believe that no further ecological surveys are required to inform this decision. More surveys would inevitably reveal even more invertebrate and botanical diversity – and this would only further strengthen the case to protect Middlewick Ranges. These surveys can of course proceed – once Middlewick is rightfully made a protected nature reserve/country park. Only last week, for example, Peregrine Falcon and Dartford Warbler were recorded for the first time in recent timed on Middlewick Ranges!

Any further prevarication makes it increasingly likely that a large developer purchases the site with the promise afforded under the current Local Plan for 1000 houses.

The proposals are so fantastical it almost beggars belief.

It is concerning that we have to put pen to paper here at all. We are in a by adversity crisis and climate crisis. A nature emergency. We are in 2023 not in 1983. It is very very odd that we are having to find fight this in this day and age future generations would look back in horror.

This letter will show that the entire basis for inclusion of Middlewick Ranges is based on a concept that is fundamentally flawed, inaccurate evidence and bad science. It is in the interest of everyone concerned – from the council, landowner and any prospective developer to the local communities impacted – and the wildlife and irreplaceable habitats which would be destroyed – that this voice is now not only heard but treated with the seriousness it deserves.

This letter stands on the record as evidence for the inevitable future public enquiry or legal investigation, alongside the many dozens of well researched and exhaustive documents already submitted but sadly neglected so far.

Confirmation bias… But there’s only so long this can be sustained because with any level of critical examination it would crumble very quickly. They want a sound investment this is anything but; it is a liability.

We have absolutely no doubt that if/when this escalates and comes to the inevitable legal challenge, judicial review or public inquiry, then the evidence for would crumble and withstand no scrutiny whatsoever – and the overwhelming evidence supporting the protection of Middlewick would be accepted. We hope, however, that this will not be necessary.

Environmental legislation and planning policy exist for a reason. Exactly, to protect sites as special as Middlewick. Middlewick Ranges was included in the Local Plan erroneously, under slawed evidence and therefore under false pretences. This was put there by humans – and can also be removed by humans, it is difficult to accept ‘computer says no’ when the stakes are so high. Misled, misinifromed… Mistakes were made, now this can be put right.


1.      Ecological Impacts: Partial Protection e.g. 60%.. 6

2.      Acid grassland: County Significance ha/%.. 7

3.      Middlewick Grassland: Misclassification. 9

4.      Invertebrates: of National Significance. 15

5.      Potential SSSI 17

6.      Replacing the Irreplaceable: Acid Grassland/Invertebrate Community. 19

7.      Sulphuring the Ground. 25

7.1        Controversial/Experimental Method. 25

7.2        Uncertainty and Toxicity of Sulphur Proposals. 26

8.      RSPB Minsmere: A Flawed Comparison/Case Study. 28

9.      ‘Mitigation Land’: Grassland not Arable! (Existing Wildlife Value) 30

10.        BNG. 36

10.1      Under-estimate Acid Grassland. 36

10.2      Mis-identification of Northern Grassland. 36

10.3      Mis-labelling of the ‘Mitigation Land’ 36

11.        BNG: Correcting the Table. 39

12.        Stantec Report Limitations. 40

12.1      Invertebrate Survey and Reporting. 40

12.2      Botanical Survey. 41

12.3      Other Species. 42

12.4      Old and Insufficient Data. 42

13.        Protected and Other Notable Species. 44

13.1      Reptiles – A Worked Example. 44

13.2      Adders. 45

13.3      Dormice. 46

13.4      Mammals – SPIE species. 46

13.5      Waxcap Fungi 47

14.        Protected Species Translocations and Mitigation – In Principle and Practice. 48

14.1      In Principle. 48

14.2      In Practice. 48

15.        CIEEM Codes of Conduct 50

16.        Cherry-picked Expert 52

17.        Third Party Validation. 53

18.        Suitably Qualified Ecologists?. 54

19.        Independent Advice. 55

20.        Opportunity Costs. 56

21.        Birch Brook Local Wildlife Site. 57

22.        SSSI Impacts; EcIA and Habitat Regulations. 58

23.        Mitigation Hierarchy. 59

24.        Green Corridor and LoWS. 61

25.        Planning Policy and LoWS. 62

26.        National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) 63

27.        Environmental Legislation and Obligations. 67

28.        ‘Least Worst Option’ 68

29.        Conditioning the Unfeasible. 68

30.        Hypothetical Timing. 72

31.        Unsecured Compensation Land. 74

32.        Lawford Tye Case – A Planning Precedent 74

33.        Legal Challenge. 76

34.        A Dangerous National Precedent 80

35.        Summary. 80

1.    Ecological Impacts: Partial Protection e.g. 60%

I think 60% refers to green space which could include amenity grass, allotments sports pitches even roadside verge and landscaping.

In addition it will certainly be divided into 2 parts: the area beneath the pylons to the north where they won’t be able to build, and remaining areas south of the development, so whatever remains will be fragmented making loss and impact much higher than it sounds.

This in addition to the increase in disturbance from dogs and wildlife decimation from cats.

The ecological implications of building on 40% whilst preserving 60% of Middlewick Ranges:

  1. Habitat Fragmentation: Even if 60% of the area is preserved, the development would fragment the habitat, leading to detrimental ‘edge effects’ that alter environmental conditions at the habitat periphery.
  1. Specific Habitat Requirements: Many species, including sensitive ones like the Nightingale, require large, undisturbed areas. Development disrupts these requirements, even with 60% habitat retention.
  2. Disturbance and Proximity Issues: Increased human activity, construction noise, and domestic pets will significantly disturb wildlife, irrespective of the 60% area preserved.
  3. Pollution and Light Impact: Proximity to development increases pollution and artificial lighting, disrupting the ecological balance and favoring generalist species over specialised ones.
  4. Reduced Ecological Resilience: Smaller habitat patches are less resilient to environmental changes and stresses, affecting the ecosystem’s ability to recover. This is in particular in context of the Climate Crisis.
  5. Habitat Mosaics: Many/most species rely on a patchwork of habitats and habitat mosaics of various habitat types combined, for example short grassland, shrubs, trees and aquatic; remove one essential piece of this jigsaw puzzle (if in the 40% development land) then the entire system collapses and the site becomes unviable for those species.
  6. Specialist Invertebrate Habitat Needs: Expanding on point 6, the rarest and most threatened invertebrates of Middlewick – in particular solitary bees and wasps – have complex habitat needs. They may need: 
  7. sandy ground for burrowing/nesting and
  8. nearby foraging grounds in short and tall grasslands with nectar sources or invertebrate prey/hosts. 
  9. scrubby/woodland areas to overwinter in dead wood, under bark or in leaf litter.

Removing one of these habitat types can make the site ecologically unviable for diverse invertebrate populations; even if the 60% of their acid grassland/sandy slopes are retained. Even species-poor tall grassland (often incorrectly disregarded as without value/’waste ground’) can play an essential role as foraging habitat for specialist invertebrates nesting in sloping sandy soils nearby. 

  1. Biodiversity Loss Not Proportional to Footprint: The impact on biodiversity is not directly proportional to the area developed. Even a smaller footprint can have a disproportionately large negative impact on the ecosystem.
  2. Cumulative Ecological Effects: The overall ecological impact is a cumulative effect of habitat loss, fragmentation, disturbance, and altered environmental conditions, which cannot be mitigated by merely preserving a percentage of the area.
  3. ‘Creeping’ Development: As we know, if a site is not protected and is in contrast built on even partially e.g. 40%, it makes the remainder of the site much more vulnerable to creeping future development. What’s another 5% a year or two later? Or 10%? Also, considering all of the above, the inevitable degradation of the remaining ecology open this site up to claims of ‘it has lost its core ecological value, surely we can now build on the rest!’ This has been played out time and time again, and helps explain the already impoverished state of wildlife in Britain today.

These points highlight that preserving a portion of the habitat, for example 60-70%, does not necessarily safeguard its ecological integrity or the viability of the diverse species it supports. It also highlights how critically important it is to protect and preserve habitats and ecosystems in their entirety – not as piece meal scraps. We have to prevent ‘death by a thousand cuts’.

“We also do not see any data analysis of how the loss of habitat area and fragmentation is likely to impact on the survival of the existing floral and faunal populations and assemblages of the site, and on the regional metapopulations of the wider area. We also do not see any assessment in the evidence base of the likely impacts of adjacent housing and greatly increased amenity use, especially from dog walking etc, but which would have a very high negative impact on the acid grassland forming a crucial element of the LoWS’s value.” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 2) (April, 2021)

“The site supports an overall diverse assemblage of rare and threatened species, including several communities that are of Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) quality according to the Pantheon tool designed by Natural England and Centre for Ecology & Hydrology2. Assemblages recorded in ‘favourable condition’ include those associated with bare sand & chalk, rich flower resource, scrub edge, scrub-heath & moorland, bark & sapwood decay, open short sward, heartwood decay and epiphyte fauna. These assemblages illustrate the value of the mosaic of habitats present on site, enabling a wide diversity of species to be supported.” – [6] Jamie Robins, Buglife (Dec 2023)

Much of this important wildlife and biodiversity will be lost if this development proposal is allowed to proceed, through a combination of direct loss of habitats, damage to retained habitats and a reduction in habitat quality due to anthropogenic impacts.” – [2-1] Dr Annie Gordon, Essex Wildlife Trust (page 3) (July 2019)

2.    Acid grassland: County Significance ha/%

After Highwoods CP, Middlewick is the second largest Local Wildlife Site in Colchester District.

Acid grassland and lowland heath have undergone substantial declines and losses on account of agricultural intensification, afforestation and development, and sites with these habitats should be protected and enhanced, not built upon. CNHS 4-1

“Middlewick Ranges is an outstandingly important site for wildlife, not only for Colchester, but for Essex and the wider region. At 76 hectares it is one of the largest Local Wildlife Sites in the area and on its own, represents nearly 4% of the District’s complete Local Wildlife Site acreage. With tens of hectares of rare acid grassland habitat, Middlewick Ranges encompasses the largest extent in north Essex and is of similar ecological importance to Epping Forest SSSI’s acid grasslands.” – Dr Jeremy Dagley, Essex Wildlife Trust

The loss of Middlewick Ranges would not only erase almost 1/20th of Colchester District Local Wildlife Sites (equivalent of bulldozing dozens of smaller grassland LoWS sites such as churchyards; it would also lose one of the most significant; the acid grassland habitat alone is of significance far beyond Colchester District.

MWR not only represents 36% of ALL acid grassland in Colchester District, but over 10% of ALL acid grassland in Essex.

At 53 hectares of acid grassland, Middlewick Ranges is by far the largest area of open acid grassland not only in Colchester District but in the whole of Essex! There are other remaining areas of acid grassland and relict heath; but these are fragmented and in far smaller compartments, usually only a small component of other habitats, such as scrub and woodland in Epping, Danbury, Tiptree and Fingringhoe SSSIs.

Middlewick Ranges is over twice the size of the next most extensive acid grassland area (Hilly Fields Co101).

Including Middlewick there are 28 other Local wildlife Sites which include mention of acid grassland in their citation; however, Middlewick is larger than the smallest 22 LoWS which contain acid grassland, including six churchyards, village greens and former quarry sites.

At over 40 hectares of acid grassland this represents over 31% of the 128ha acid grassland estimated to exist within Locval Wildlife sites in Colchester District: almost one third of all acid grassland in LoWS!!

(The LoWS acid grassland will represent a significant proportion of the total area of acid grassland as most high quality acid grassland will be a LoWS or SSSI; and not many acid grassland SSSI sites, outside Friday Woods and roman River Valley).

In comparison to most other Essex districts, Colchester has a relatively high proporiton of Essex’s acid grassland due to localised exposed sandy surface geology in Colchester.

District / BoroughDistrict/Borough LoWS (review date) and SSSIAcid Grasssland Area (ha)District / Borough TotalsMiddlewick Ranges
ColchesterColchester (LoWS 2015)138.3147.353 ha
Tiptree Heath SSSI7(35% of all AG in
Fingringhoe Wick SSSI2Colchester District)
EppingEpping Forest SSSI85107.7 
Epping (LoWS 2009)22.7 
TendringTendring (LoWS 2008)68.468.4 
BrentwoodBrentwood (LoWS 2012)36.836.8 
ThurrockThurrock (LoWS 2006)35.935.9 
Castle PointCastle Point (LoWS 2012)30.835.3 
Garrold’s Meadow SSSI4.5 
ChelmsfordChelmsford (LoWS 2005)11.427.4 
Danbury common SSSI10 
Blake’s Wood &
Lingwood Common SSSI
BasildonBasildon (LoWS 2009)17.517.5 
BraintreeBraintree (LoWS 2015)1212
SouthendSouthend (LoWS 2011)1010 
MaldonMaldon (LoWS 2022)4.54.5 
UttlesfordUttlesford (LoWS 2007)22Middlewick as %
HarlowHarlow (LoWS 2011)0.20.2of Essex LoWS+SSSI
RochfordRochford (LoWS 2007)00Acid Grassland:

The conclusion: You would struggle to find a more damaging place to build a thousand homes then Middlewick within the entire Colchester Borough.

“There can be no doubting the high value of Middlewick Ranges for biodiversity, especially scarcer insects. Essex is one of the best recorded counties in the UK for wildlife and habitats, and we know how scarce acid grassland sites are in Essex, and how much has been lost in the last one hundred years. It is vital that every effort is made to preserve this rare remnant. Indeed, that effort is a requirement of every local planning authority and governmental organisation under the 2006 Biodiversity Duty.” – Steven Falk FRES

“The acid grassland at Middlewick is probably the largest unfragmented area of this Priority Habitat surviving in Essex, and as such CBC has a special responsibility for conserving this site and this Priority Habitat as well as to follow the policy contained in MM20 Policy ENV1: Environment (iii) Will conserve or enhance the biodiversity value of greenfield and brownfield sites and minimise fragmentation of habitats.” – [3-3] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 2) (July 2021)

3.    Middlewick Grassland: Misclassification

Chat GPT
The ecological assessment and classification of the grassland within Middlewick Ranges by Stantec have raised significant concerns, particularly regarding the misclassification of invertebrate-rich neutral grassland as ‘poor semi-improved’ and the downgrading of acid grassland areas. Here’s a detailed summary from an expert ecologist’s perspective:

Misclassification of Grassland Habitats at Middlewick Ranges

Inadequate Habitat Assessment

  1. Misclassification of Grassland Types: Stantec’s report significantly undervalues the northern grassland area by labeling it ‘poor semi-improved grassland’ despite evidence of high invertebrate value. This contradicts independent assessments suggesting a strong correlation to UK Priority habitat Lowland Meadow【Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club†source; CNHS†source】.
  2. Lack of Detailed Surveys: The ecological report does not appear to be underpinned by adequate survey data, particularly in parts of the acid grassland that were not thoroughly surveyed. This casts doubt on the credibility of the habitat classification presented in the report.
  3. Inconsistencies in Habitat Valuation: There’s a stark difference in the valuation of acid grassland within and outside the fenced firing range. Areas outside the fence, which show similar ecological characteristics, are undervalued compared to the fenced area【Lawyers for Nature†source】.

Flaws in Biodiversity Net Gain Calculations

  1. Underestimation of Existing Biodiversity: The report’s approach to biodiversity net gain (BNG) is controversial, often undervaluing existing grassland habitats. This leads to a skewed projection of the biodiversity impacts of proposed development.
  2. Overestimation of Mitigation Land Value: The proposed mitigation land is labeled as Habitat of Principal Importance (HPI) without a National Vegetation Classification (NVC) survey, resulting in an overestimated value of the recreated grassland.
  3. Discrepancies in Grassland Evaluation Standards: There are significant errors in assessing grassland, leading to an undervaluation of existing acid grassland and an unrealistic assessment of the proportion of mitigation land classified as HPI.


The ecological evidence provided by Stantec in support of the development at Middlewick Ranges shows considerable deficiencies in the accurate classification of grassland habitats and the application of BNG. These shortcomings raise serious concerns about the ecological impact of the proposed development and underscore the need for a more robust and credible ecological assessment. The evidence suggests that the site’s biodiversity is of significant ecological value, possibly equivalent to that of nationally recognized SSSIs, necessitating careful consideration and protection irrespective of its current designation.

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Would be strange to transition from acid grassland straight into poor semi-improved, especially given that the land use within the entire site has been similar; there has not been ploughing or fertilisation in living memory across the site, being used as firing ranges by MoD since the 19th Century.

“The published masterplan proposes development in the northern part of the site. However, CNHS records show an area of this to be a key location for terrestrial invertebrates.” – [4-1] CNHS (page 3)

“…as well as the acid grassland and sand areas, the northern grassland area (described by Stantec as poor semi-improved grassland) has known high value for spiders and almost certainly other taxonomic groups.” [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 1) (April 2021)

MM 37 Para 14.56:

1. ‘The Ecological evidence Report confirms that the habitats within the site are of high biodiversity value, including 53 Ha of acid grassland.’

In addition to acid grassland, the Local Wildlife Site designation also identifies presence of Essex Priority Lowland Grassland which includes the extensive grassland in the north of the site that will be mostly lost to development; this semi-natural grassland that has escaped agricultural intensification and widespread pesticide or nutrient input, and independent assessment found it supports a diverse mix of native flora and fauna, and has a strong correlation to MG 5 (UK Priority habitat Lowland Meadow) when surveyed using National Vegetation Classification (NVC) methods.

However, the Ecological evidence report dismisses this area as ‘poor semi-improved grassland’, states its Relative Conservation value as ‘Negligible’ (equating to zero value within the biodiversity net gain calculations) and applies a ‘best fit’ category of MG 1 grassland. These statements do not appear to be underpinned by any survey data, and are presented despite the report making absolutely clear that this area of grassland, and parts of the acid grassland, were not adequately surveyed. 

See Stantec (2020) paragraphs: B.5.4; B5.5; B.7.2; B.6.10; D.1.15; B.6.1; D1.20; D.1.13 et seq.; and Table 10 pg.12.  See End note 1 for a summary of survey limitations noted.

To address the above the following addition to this modification is recommended:

All habitat areas should be assessed using National Vegetation Classification methods, and subject to appropriate faunal surveys, undertaken during suitable survey conditions to adequately evaluate the site PRIOR to its allocation for development within the Local Plan.

2. ‘The council will be seeking a minimum of 10% biodiversity net gain development site, following application of the mitigation hierarchy, in line with the emerging legislation (Environment Bill 2020).

It should be noted that biodiversity net gain is widely considered by ecologists and academics alike to be controversial and by many to be unfit for purpose. It was designed to support ecological expertise and assessment, not replace it or be viewed in isolation. Natural England recommends further consultation on the new biodiversity metric 3.0, and the Environment Bill has yet to emerge.

Note also that Compensation is the final stage of the mitigation hierarchy and should be used as a last resort. If Avoidance, the first stage of the hierarchy, had been considered it is clear that the arable land ear-marked for compensatory acid grassland would be a more appropriate site for development. The Mitigation Hierarchy should have been applied at the earliest stages of this project and findings detailed in the Ecological evidence report; CBC should be aware of this.

To address the above the additional modification is recommended:

Biodiversity net gain must not be given undue weighting or substitute adequate survey, and the Mitigation Hierarchy should be applied to determine appropriate location of development and need for mitigation / compensation measures if required PRIOR to the sites allocation for development within the Local Plan.

End Note 1. Limitations to habitat assessment: Local Plan Housing Allocation: Ecological Evidence Base Report Middlewick Ranges (Stantec UK Ltd. November 2020).

The following examples make clear that the standard of habitat evaluation was inadequate over much of the site, particularly those areas directly impacted by the proposed development, and cannot be used to justify the inclusion of Middlewick in the Local Plan, or used in calculations to predicte biodiversity net gain with any degree of accuracy.

Report references are in brackets:

I) The initial Phase 1 habitat survey (2017) found that “The tall grassland had just been cut for hay”, and that “..plant species may have been overlooked” (B.5.4). Weather conditions were 20 degrees and “dry for the survey period” (B.5.5) making it probable that cut vegetation would be dry and difficult to identify accurately, and the sward partially obscured by arisings.

ii) The botanical survey of June 2018 was undertaken during unusually hot and dry conditions with vegetation described as “heavily parched.”. It was also considered likely that “…a number of …species were no longer in evidence..” (B.6.10). 

Iii) An updated Phase 1 habitat survey completed on March 16th 2020 was outside of the optimal survey period (B.7.2). 

iv) The report describes a list of plants as “..not necessarily indicative of acidic conditions” (D.1.15) but ignores their value as neutral grassland indicators.

v) Site habitats were limited to “..a site walk-over rather than a formal National Vegetation Classification (NVC) survey” (B.6.1) despite the latter being the industry standard methodology. Plant species were instead “..identified and categorised based on relative abundance …using the DAFOR scale” (B.6.2) although the report does not contain this data.

vi) The areas most at risk from development i.e. Areas D, E & F (Figure 7a. Habitat Survey Areas and Results.) do not appear to receive any mention in Appendix D. Habitat Survey Results other than a cursory, general description as ‘poor semi-improved grassland’ (D.1.20) which contains no significant information on species composition, habitat structure, potential to support priority wildlife, and only specifically refers to grassland outside of the allocation boundary.

Vii) Despite a lack of information, and the difficulties experienced in evaluating these extensive grassland areas, they are mapped as ‘Poor semi-improved grassland’ (Figure 7a, marked SI with no colour).  This undervaluing continues with the report ascribing them a ‘best fit’ NVC category of MG1 grassland (D.3.13 et seq.) – a common grassland type of low value – despite no NVC survey having been completed. It should also be noted that not every stand of grassland will closely match NVC descriptions currently published, and additions and revisions of current vegetation types are ongoing by JNCC .

Viii) The significant area of UK Priority habitat Lowland dry acid grassland that falls within the potential development footprint, appears confined within the fenced firing range (Figure 25 -shown as orange hatching), while the immediately adjoining area outside of the fence (formerly also a firing range), is mapped as ‘poor semi improved grassland’. The difference between these valuations, and the mitigation measures required in relation to development is stark- the former must be compensated for, at least in theory, while the latter can be dismissed as ‘Negligible’. Independent walk-over survey has found dry acid grassland at least as good as that within the fenced area, in addition to the presence of lichen-heath, grass heath and scrub mosaic including a rare example of Heather (Calluna vulgaris).

It is important to note that acid grassland, and the neutral grasslands derived from them, are often not very diverse botanically, and undervalued because of this. However, grassland habitats within Middlewick are composed of native species, and have escaped the destructive agricultural practices of arable conversion, re-seeding, and excessive herbicide and nutrient input responsible for the loss of semi-natural grassland in lowland UK on a massive scale. The relatively consistent management that Areas D, E & F have been subject to over the last last 5-6 decades (possibly since adopted by the army), comprising of a single hay cut in mid-summer, and is likely responsible for the current more neutral sward  . Unfortunately this annual cut coincides with peak flowering season (June-July) promoting grass dominance and limiting the colonisation and spread of native flowers suited to the changing conditions . Slower growing perennial ‘meadow’ plants will struggle to establish in any great abundance while this management continues to restrict flowering and seed set. However, in areas that have escaped annual cutting for several years, e.g. within grass-scrub mosaic habitat in the east, a diverse mix of neutral grassland indicator species are abundant in the sward, including: Red clover (Trifolium pratense), Common knapweed (Centaurea nigra), Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), Perforate St-Johns’-wort (Hypericum perforatum), Field scabious (Knautia arvensis), Bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus), Red fescue (Festuca rubra), Meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratense) and others. Independent survey (2019-20) undertaken on behalf of the Save Middle Ranges Group (SMRG) has recorded these species as constant, although often sparse, in all grassland Areas across the north and north-east of the site, and rarely, Green-winged orchid (Orchis morio) was recorded in Area D. By contrast, vegetation within the fenced firing range is subject to intensive management with numerous cuts taken per year to maintain the short sward required for firing activity. This has prevented the build-up of organic matter, maintained the nutrient poor and free-draining conditions, and the typical ephemeral, annual and low growing perennial flora associated with the often parched, acidic soil conditions.

Rather than the ‘poor semi-improved grassland’ of ‘negligible conservation value’ assigned to Areas D E & F in the report, these areas could equally be described as “wild-flower meadow” or Priority Habitat Lowland Meadow, albeit in need of minor management adjustments to encourage the development of a sward more in keeping with more usual expectations for a meadow 

In addition to not fully evaluating habitats that will be directly effected, the report fails to consider the impacts of such a development on the protected and priority wildlife they support, and the impacts that will arise from increased user pressure on the habitats that remain.

[10-2] Lawyers for Nature

B.           The assessment of lowland acid grassland is fundamentally irrational and incapable of forming part of a robust and credible evidence base.

To achieve a favourable projection of the biodiversity impacts of development at Middlewick Ranges, the Stantec report relies chiefly on a finding that a significant portion of the recreated grassland will be classified as HPI.

HPI classification is a function of Natural England’s Technical Information Note TIN110, ‘Assessing whether created or restored grassland is a BAP Priority Habitat.’  In turn, the standard incorporated in that Note is the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) system.  By Stantec’s own admission, no NVC survey was carried out.  In the absence of such a survey, their assessment of acid grassland at the site — and in particular the stated balance of HPI and non-HPI lowland acid grassland – is fatally flawed.  

A number of specific points from the Stantec report evidences its uncertain foundations (report references are in brackets):

I) The initial Phase 1 habitat survey (conducted in 2017) found that “The tall grassland had just been cut for hay”, and that “..plant species may have been overlooked” (B.5.4). Weather conditions were 20 degrees and “dry for the survey period” (B.5.5) making it probable that cut vegetation would be dry and difficult to identify accurately, and the sward partially obscured by arisings.

ii) The botanical survey of June 2018 was undertaken during unusually hot and dry conditions with vegetation described as “heavily parched.” It was also considered likely that “…a number of …species were no longer in evidence..” (B.6.10).

iii) An updated Phase 1 habitat survey completed on March 16th 2020 was outside of the optimal survey period (B.7.2).

iv) The report describes a list of plants as “..not necessarily indicative of acidic conditions” (D.1.15) but ignores their value as neutral grassland indicators.

v) Site habitats were limited to “..a site walk-over rather than a formal National Vegetation Classification (NVC) survey(B.6.1) despite the latter being the industry standard methodology. Plant species were instead “..identified and categorised based on relative abundance …using the DAFOR scale” (B.6.2) although the report does not contain this data.

vi) Areas at risk from development are described as ‘poor semi-improved grassland’ (D.1.20) which contains no significant information on species composition, habitat structure, potential to support priority wildlife, and only specifically refers to grassland outside of the allocation boundary.’  Despite the absence of an NVC survey this grassland is categorised as MG1 Grassland under the NVC system.

Viii) The significant area of UK Priority habitat Lowland dry acid grassland that falls within the potential development footprint, appears confined within the fenced firing range (Figure 25 -shown as orange hatching), while the immediately adjoining area outside of the fence (formerly also a firing range), is mapped as ‘poor semi improved grassland’. The difference between these valuations, and the mitigation measures required in relation to development is stark- the former must be compensated for, at least in theory, while the latter can be dismissed as ‘Negligible’. Independent walk-over survey has found dry acid grassland at least as good as that within the fenced area, in addition to the presence of lichen-heath, grass heath and scrub mosaic including a rare example of Heather (Calluna vulgaris).

It is not contested that the Masterplanning process and the application stage are the appropriate venues for the most granular ecological reports. However, adequate ecological assessment, even if less granular, must underpin site allocation.  The foregoing errors are not merely procedural; they go to the heart of the assessment of whether biodiversity net gain is even possible at the site.

In brief, the report’s omission of any consistent and disclosed standard for assessing grassland directly facilitates an untenable analysis of biodiversity.  There are two principal errors. First, the deficiencies discussed in i-viii above allow for an undervaluation of existing acid grassland. In isolation, this issue is significant but not insuperable. However the next error greatly amplifies the effect of the first. The Stantec report contains wholly unrealistic assessments of the proportion of mitigation land that will be classified as an HPI.  The results are easiest to see visually and numerically.

4.    Invertebrates: of National Significance

Chat GPT:

Middlewick Ranges stands as a beacon of invertebrate diversity, holding a status of national importance due to its rich and varied invertebrate population. Here’s an expert ecologist’s summary of its significance:

Middlewick Ranges: A National Treasure for Invertebrates

Ecological Significance

  • Diversity and Conservation Designation: Hosting over 1,480 invertebrate species, including 167 designated as ‘Species of Conservation Concern’, Middlewick Ranges exceeds the national importance threshold. This exceptional diversity is a significant factor in its inclusion in the Essex Coast Important Invertebrate Area (IIA), underscoring its critical role in invertebrate conservation【Jamie Robins, Buglife†source】.

Unique Invertebrate Assemblage

  • Rare and Endangered Species: The site is home to numerous rare and endangered species, including the Nationally Rare Phaeocedus braccatus (a spider) and Tomosvaryella minima (a fly). Noteworthy are six Red Data Book 1/Endangered species like the Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus) and the Necklace Ground Beetle (Carabus monilis), along with four Red Data Book 2/Vulnerable species.
  • Section 41 Priority Species: Middlewick Ranges supports a variety of Section 41 Priority Species, such as Cerceris quadricincta and the Necklace ground beetle. These species, particularly the Necklace ground beetle, are at severe risk due to their specific habitat requirements and vulnerability to habitat fragmentation and chemical pollution【Colchester Natural History Society†source; Dr. Jeremy Dagley, Essex Wildlife Trust†source】.

Habitat Specificity

  • Specialised Habitat Requirements: The complex habitat needs of these invertebrates, including soil properties, vegetation characteristics, and microclimatic conditions, make Middlewick Ranges irreplaceable. The site’s unique ecological attributes, developed over a long historical period, can’t be artificially recreated or replicated, highlighting its irreplaceable nature【CNHS†source; Prof. Ted Benton†source】.

Potential SSSI Qualification

  • Given the site’s extraordinary invertebrate diversity and ecological features, it’s believed that Middlewick Ranges could qualify as an SSSI. This potential designation further emphasizes the site’s national significance and the necessity of its protection【Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club†source; Justin Tilley, Natural England†source】.


Middlewick Ranges’ invertebrate assemblage is not just a local treasure but a national one, deserving the utmost protection. The site’s potential for SSSI designation, coupled with its outstanding biodiversity, underscores the risk and inadvisability of any development plans. As a hub of invertebrate diversity, it stands as a crucial part of Britain’s natural heritage, meriting preservation and respect. The recognition and protection of such sites are essential in the fight against the ongoing biodiversity crisis.

~ ~ ~

IIA… 5x 1000 more, changes requirement of compensation

“An outstanding 1,480 species of invertebrate have been recorded at Middlewick Ranges, of which 167 species hold a conservation designation as ‘Species of Conservation Concern’, 11% of all species recorded. It is generally considered that sites supporting 10% Species of Conservation Concern are of national importance, indicating how valuable this site is for invertebrates. The entire Middlewick Ranges site is part of the revised Essex Coast Important Invertebrate Area (IIA)1. IIAs are nationally or internationally significant places for the conservation of invertebrates and the habitats upon which they rely.” [6] Jamie Robins, Buglife (Dec 2023)

“The evidence now available demonstrates that the site’s biodiversity is certainly of significance at county, and probably at National level. This is at a time when Government is introducing the concept of ‘nature recovery networks’ to reverse the trend of habitat loss. Britain is reportedly the worst of the G7 nations for protecting flora and fauna. It is reported that 40% of species have declined in Britain in the past 50 years. This coincides with an estimated 90+% loss of wildflower meadows since the 1940’s.” – [4-1] Colchester Natural History Society (page 2)

“In the Trust’s opinion, Middlewick Ranges is almost certainly now of national importance for insect biodiversity.  New data was submitted to you by Essex Field Club and Butterfly Conservation in June 2022 supporting this, including at least 23 Red Data Book Species and a quarter of all Essex’s known moths and butterflies. Natural England, in its letter to your authority, stated that it would expect this absolutely exceptional biodiversity to be properly safeguarded.” – [2-3] Dr Jeremy Dagley, Essex Wildlife Trust (Dec 2023)

“Of real concern to the Trust is that its insect biodiversity was not addressed sufficiently during the Local Plan preparation.” – [2-3] Dr Jeremy Dagley, Essex Wildlife Trust (Dec 2023)

5.    Potential SSSI

Chat GPT

As an expert ecologist, it’s clear that Middlewick Ranges holds exceptional ecological value, not just locally, but at a national level. The site’s potential qualification as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) underscores its significance and presents a strong case against its development. Here’s a comprehensive summary, aimed at council planners, to demonstrate why Middlewick Ranges deserves protection:

Middlewick Ranges: A Site of National Importance

1. Exceptional Biodiversity and Conservation Status

  • Middlewick Ranges is a biodiversity hotspot, particularly for invertebrates. With over 1,480 species recorded, including 167 designated as ‘Species of Conservation Concern’, the site exceeds the threshold that typically signifies national importance. This level of biodiversity places Middlewick within the revised Essex Coast Important Invertebrate Area (IIA), highlighting its critical role in national and international conservation efforts【Jamie Robins, Buglife†source】.

2. Potential SSSI Qualification

  • Independent surveys and expert opinions suggest that Middlewick Ranges could qualify as an SSSI. The presence of at least eight invertebrate assemblages in favorable SSSI condition, along with rare and threatened species, underscores the site’s national ecological value【Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club†source; Dr. Jeremy Dagley, Essex Wildlife Trust†source】.
  • Natural England has acknowledged the site’s merits for potential SSSI extension, further emphasizing its ecological significance【Justin Tilley, Natural England†source】.

3. Irreplaceable Nature of the Habitat

  • The site’s complex habitat, shaped by historical and geological factors, cannot be replicated or replaced. This irreplaceable nature is crucial in the context of current biodiversity loss trends, where Britain is reported to be one of the G7 nations with the poorest record in protecting flora and fauna【Prof. Ted Benton†source; Colchester Natural History Society†source】.

4. Risks Associated with Development

  • Any development on Middlewick Ranges poses significant risks to its delicate ecological balance. The site’s complex interplay of soil, microhabitats, and species-specific requirements makes it a unique ecological entity that would be profoundly impacted by development.

5. National Significance Irrespective of SSSI Designation

  • Even without formal SSSI designation, Middlewick Ranges’ ecological value is comparable, if not superior, to other Essex SSSIs. Its protection is essential, not only in respect of current legislation but also in the broader context of national biodiversity conservation efforts【Dr. Jeremy Dagley, Essex Wildlife Trust†source】.


Given Middlewick Ranges’ extraordinary biodiversity and the likelihood of it qualifying as an SSSI, any development proposals carry significant risks and uncertainties. It’s clear that this site is of national interest and should be safeguarded for its ecological value. The ecological integrity and legal protection afforded to SSSIs make Middlewick Ranges a precarious and potentially untenable option for development. Even in the absence of an SSSI designation, the site warrants protection due to its equivalent or greater biodiversity value compared to other protected areas. This understanding should guide any future planning and development decisions, ensuring that existing legislation and conservation priorities are respected and upheld.

~ ~ ~

“As well as a Local Wildlife Site of exceptionally high nature conservation importance, with a number of scarce plants, and most significantly an outstanding range of rare, scarce and characteristic invertebrates, we have little doubt that it would qualify as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) if subject to specialist surveys to Natural England invertebrate survey and Invertebrate Standard Advice for Essex guidelines. County data for the site gained only by nontargeted recording and very limited specialist recording already confirms that Middlewick Ranges supports at least four invertebrate species assemblages in favourable SSSI condition* (i.e. of national importance) when analysed with Natural England and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology’s analytical tool Pantheon. A study of the records of invertebrates of nature conservation value already also demonstrates that Middlewick Ranges is the most important site in the Colchester local authority area for almost all groups where data are available.” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 1) (April 2021)

“… we can provide new evidence as a result of 4 field meetings to Middlewick Ranges in 2021 which recorded 548 invertebrate species, identifying five assemblages* in favourable SSSI condition and including modern records of many previously recorded species, new county records, rare and scarce species, IUCN Threatened species and for example the Near Threatened Nationally Rare pipunculid fly Tomosvaryella minima which is the only confirmed record in Britain that the national scheme organiser has for the last 50 years, with none at all in the last 25 years.

Natural England‟s Chief Scientist Directorate invertebrate specialist has now looked at these 2021 data and states the site has merit in being considered as an extension of the existing SSSI, with the presence of scientifically interesting free-draining and impeded drainage assemblages, which are stronger in these assemblages than the recently notified Basildon ridge SSSI, as well as a good spread of 8 S41 Priority Species in the list.” – [3-3] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 1) (Nov 2021)

*Now eight assemblages in favourable SSSI condition! (Dec 2023)

“We do of course reserve the right to change this stance should it be seen that SSSI designation is the best course of action for the site, and we will continues to keep a close eye on the situation in that regard.” – Justin Tilley, Manager West Anglia Team, Natural England (21st Dec 2023) CONFIDENTIAL?? ASK ROB AND DOUGAL

“EECOS advised your officers in early 2021 that the site, with more survey work, could reach a level to be considered of SSSI-level quality.” – [2-3] Dr Jeremy Dagley, Essex Wildlife Trust (Dec 2023)

6.    Replacing the Irreplaceable: Acid Grassland/Invertebrate Community

Chat GPT

Building a comprehensive and detailed case against Stantec’s proposals for replacing Middlewick’s ancient acid grassland requires a deep dive into various ecological, scientific, and practical aspects. This expanded analysis, provided by a respected national authority and renowned ecologist, considers the multifaceted nature of the issue:

Detailed Analysis of Stantec’s Proposals

Irreplaceable Nature of Middlewick Ranges

  1. Unique Ecological and Historical Significance: Middlewick’s biodiversity is the product of complex ecological and historical processes. Its specific soil, microhabitat variety, and long-term ecological development contribute to its unique biodiversity, making it irreplaceable【Prof. Ted Benton†source】.
  2. Complex Habitat Dynamics: The site’s biodiversity, particularly its invertebrate assemblages, depends on specific ecological conditions that have evolved over centuries. Replicating these intricate ecosystems in a different location, especially within a short timeframe, is practically unfeasible【CNHS†source, Dr. Chris Gibson†source】.

Misapplication of the Minsmere Study

  1. Incomparable Site Conditions: The conditions at RSPB Minsmere, such as soil type and existing biodiversity, differ significantly from Middlewick. Minsmere’s project focused on bird habitat creation, not on replicating complex acid grassland ecosystems like Middlewick【RSPB, Mel Kemp†source】.
  2. Overlooked Factors in Habitat Creation: The successful habitat creation at Minsmere involved factors like existing seed banks and proximity to similar habitats, which facilitated natural colonisation – conditions not present at Middlewick【Mel Kemp†source】.
  3. Misleading Project Objectives and Outcomes: Relying on the Minsmere study as a justification for Middlewick’s development is misleading, as the projects had different objectives, conditions, and ecological contexts.

Critique of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) Calculations

  1. Unrealistic Expectations and Methodology: The BNG calculations assume rapid habitat creation and establishment, contradicting guidelines from Defra and Natural England that state such processes take decades【Midland Ecology†source】.
  2. Manipulation of BNG Metrics: Critics argue that Stantec’s BNG metrics are tailored to meet specific development outcomes rather than reflecting ecological realities, leading to an overestimation of potential biodiversity gains【Peter Harvey†source】.

Ecological Risks of Chemical Treatments

  1. Potential Environmental Harm: The proposed use of sulfur and herbicides for grassland recreation poses risks to adjacent LWS and SSSIs, potentially causing ecological imbalances and pollution【Dr. Chris Gibson†source】.
  2. Lack of Precedent and Scientific Backing: The approach of chemical alteration of soil properties to create acid grassland is experimental and lacks sufficient scientific backing and precedent, making it a risky ecological venture.

Underestimation of Existing Biodiversity in ‘Mitigation Land’

  1. Mislabelling of Grassland as Arable Land: The classification of Weir Lane Grasslands as ‘arable rye grass ley’ overlooks its existing ecological value as a diverse grassland habitat.
  2. Overlooked Wildlife and Habitat Dynamics: The Weir Lane Grasslands already support a range of wildlife, including reptiles, birds, and invertebrates. Destroying this habitat for an uncertain acid grassland recreation project undermines existing biodiversity.


The Stantec proposals for Middlewick Ranges are fundamentally flawed due to several key factors:

  • Ecological Complexity and Irreplaceability: The unique and intricate ecosystem at Middlewick cannot be replicated or replaced, especially not within the proposed short timeframe.
  • Misuse of Comparative Studies: The reliance on studies like Minsmere, with different ecological objectives and conditions, is inappropriate and misleading.
  • Questionable BNG Calculations: The methodology and assumptions underpinning the BNG calculations are highly contested and seem tailored to justify the development rather than reflect ecological realities.
  • Risks of Chemical Treatments: The proposed use of chemicals for habitat recreation poses significant ecological risks and lacks proven effectiveness.
  • Neglect of Existing Biodiversity: The plans fail to consider the existing biodiversity of the Weir Lane Grasslands, undermining the ecological value of this area.

In light of these considerations, the case against the proposed development at Middlewick Ranges is strong, underscoring the need for a more sustainable, evidence-based approach to land use and biodiversity conservation.

Chat GPT (orig less detailed summary)

The case against the feasibility of replacing Middlewick’s irreplaceable acid grassland habitat with an experimental, unproven technique on Weir Lane Grasslands (mislabelled as ‘arable rye grass ley’ by Stantec) involves several key points, drawing from various expert opinions and ecological principles:

Fundamental Flaws in Stantec’s Proposals

  1. Irreplaceability of Complex Ecosystems: Prof. Ted Benton and others highlight that Middlewick’s biodiversity and historical significance make it irreplaceable, both ecologically and culturally【4-1†source】.
  2. Complexity of Habitat Requirements: CNHS points out the complexity of habitat requirements for species at Middlewick, indicating that simple recreation of ‘good’ quality acid grassland elsewhere is impractical and insufficient【4-1†source】.
  3. Skepticism from Experts: Renowned experts like Steven Falk have expressed doubt over recreating high-quality acid grassland on unsuitable soils simply by adding sulfur, emphasizing the complexity of acid grassland ecosystems and the long history required for their formation【Steven Falk†source】.
  4. Misuse of the Minsmere Case Study: The RSPB and Mel Kemp from Minsmere have clarified that their acid grassland creation project was not intended as a replacement for sensitive ecosystems like Middlewick, and the conditions at Minsmere differ significantly from Middlewick’s proposed compensation site【RSPB†source】.
  5. Chemical Treatments and Ecological Impact: The plan to use sulfur and herbicides could potentially harm nearby LWS and SSSIs, raising questions about the environmental impact of these treatments【Dr. Chris Gibson†source】.
  6. Overlooked Biodiversity in ‘Mitigation Land’: The proposed ‘Mitigation Land’ at Weir Lane is already a valuable wildlife habitat, contrary to Stantec’s classification as ‘arable.’ Its destruction for acid grassland creation overlooks its existing ecological value.
  7. Challenges in Translocation of Species: The proposed translocation of species is fraught with difficulties, especially considering the complex habitat needs and the time lag between habitat destruction and creation.

Inadequacies in Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) Calculations

  1. Questionable Metrics and Assumptions: Critics argue that Stantec’s BNG calculations are based on overly optimistic assumptions and questionable metrics, potentially manipulating values to meet desired outcomes【Peter Harvey†source】.
  2. Incompatibility with Established Guidelines: The proposed rapid creation of acid grassland contradicts guidelines from Defra and Natural England, which indicate a much longer timeframe is needed for creating high-quality acid grassland【Midland Ecology†source】.
  3. Experimental and Unproven Techniques: The reliance on untested and experimental techniques to recreate complex acid grassland ecosystems is seen as a significant risk and deviation from established ecological practices.


  • The proposal by Stantec to replace Middlewick’s ancient acid grassland with a newly created habitat using experimental techniques on an already ecologically valuable site (Weir Lane Grasslands) is fundamentally flawed.
  • This approach overlooks the complexity and irreplaceability of the existing ecosystems, relies on unproven and potentially harmful techniques, and is contested by several ecological experts and organizations.
  • The case raises significant ecological, ethical, and practical concerns, underscoring the need for more sustainable and evidence-based approaches to conservation and land use planning.

~ ~ ~

“The more complex a site and the greater the biodiversity, the greater the likelihood that it is irreplaceable.” – Prof Ted Benton

“Middlewick is a particular site with a history. It is a history that comprises not just its biodiversity but also its military significance and its place in the memories of the local people, which make it irreplaceable not just in an ecological sense.” – Prof Ted Benton

“This raises additional concerns about the mitigation strategy proposed. These species have complex habitat requirements, including vegetation height, density and composition, soil properties such as moisture, compaction, friability and structure, and microclimatic conditions such as aspect, exposure to sun, rainfall and temperature. Simply creating ‘good’ quality acid grassland, even if practically feasible, will not reproduce these conditions on a different site. The point is a simple one: there are reasons why species are rare. Highly specialised species depend on complex habitat requirements that are usually the outcome of a long history of stability in a locality. They cannot be recreated at will.” – [4-1] CNHS (page 3)

“I thought the idea was just laughable, you can create acid grassland within seven years of the quality of Middlewick is simply absurd, there is no case study that shows that can be done. Moreover, it takes as far as I can see no account of the invertebrate assemblages which are the key feature of that site.”

“How are all those bees wasps and their parasites – how they all going to be transported.

MP even if they are, it’s such a layperson’s view of nature accountancy if nature acid grassland here receptor sites 2+2

it ignores so much of the fundamentals of ecology and the dynamic systems.

“There are historic reasons historic geological reasons why that site has developed as it has, and to replicate it you’d have to replicate that history which I think goes back to the Boer War.”

Regarding sulphur spreading: “If you are doing in another context you probably be accused of pollution. I struggle to believe that this one simple chemical is all you need to transform one complex habitat into another complex and sensitive habitat. It beggars belief really.” – Botanist Sven Weir, Colchester Natural History Society

This is such a simplistic view of a dynamic living breathing ecosystem. It almost reduces it down to a formula. ‘More sulphur?’ Just scatter it! Then overnight or 5 to 7 years as if by magic you get an acid grassland. It’s not just a chemical formula, it’s a sandy substrate, a complex topography and structure of the grassland. Even if you did get a seagrass and it would be a shallow and superficial reproduction.

There is no case study where this is been tested definitively. A basic tenet of conservation ecology is the use using methodology that is proven to work.

The idea that you can concentrate all of Middlewick Ranges, the wealth of diversity of species, into a much smaller area that already supports a range of wildlife, and then get a biodiversity uplift, is simply absurd; it is magical thinking. We are concentrating biodiversity in smaller and smaller areas which themselves are fundamentally unsuitable.

The idea of recreating this unique habitat a few hundred metres down the road on very enriched soils has probably been ploughed and fertilised over many decades and supports a completely different soil type and structure; it’s quite insulting really both to the wildlife and to the hundreds of scientists and conservationists who have researched this over decades. One opinion of three or four people adding legitimacy to this ridiculous plan against the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion. We talking about experts for sale. This can wash on a very superficial level, but then does not stand up to any scrutiny. Like getting an opinion from a climate denying scientist, one in a hundred 1000. But if we present this as objective truth it won’t work.

Arguably by ploughing the grass and thinning the grass and out with a fine this would, you be reducing the biomass present There will be a lot of losers as well as winners in the destruction of the sacrificial compensation habitat. We not talking about sterile farmland or a blank canvas.

“In terms of this chemical approach, I suppose if you being generous there is some very superficial logic in putting sulphur on a site of this nature in order to change the soil such as a different set of plants will grow on it. However, this is fundamentally flawed: A) this is wholly untested in respect to natural habitats as far as I understand no one has ever done it or shown it can be done. It is an experiment. – Dr Chris Gibson

We have an equation. We know there’s going to be this loss (X). And they are offsetting against that.

“The presumed gain from a totally experimental situation which may bring some of the plants back but has no mechanism whatsoever of bringing back the animals that go with it; that lack of mechanism to bring back the animals completely undermines the biodiversity uplift argument.” – Dr Chris Gibson (Dec 2023)

“An important part of the site’s biodiversity is the high count of nationally threatened and nationally scarce terrestrial invertebrates, notably Aculeates associated with the acid grassland. These have particular importance in addition to their threat-status, as many are valuable and often very specialised pollinators. The claims regarding the potential success of the proposed mitigation for loss of this habitat proposed in the Stantec report are challenged by Midland Ecology, drawing on authoritative sources (Natural England, Defra and others). On that basis recreation to ‘fairly good’ or ‘good’ condition would take 25-30 years.” – [4-1] CNHS (page

“Whilst the Biodiversity Metric 2.0 attempts to capture this difficulty in general, one set of criteria are insufficient in certain circumstances. Specifically, the Biodiversity Metric

2.0 states that acid grassland creation is ‘highly’ difficult to create, and will take 25 – 30 years to create either a fairly good or good condition respectively (with moderate condition grassland taking 20 years and fairly poor condition grassland taking 15 years). In comparison, the expert opinion obtained for Middlewick’s proposed grassland creation has stated that acid grassland can be created in 10 years or possible 5-7 years (refer to Appendix O). The difficulty of creation is also not considered to be ‘high’ at Middlewick, as the measures involved are readily accessible and not technically complicated (including factors such as cessation of lime application, deep plough, application of a sand and sulphur mix, and either seeding, turve translocation or use of green hay). Given the Biodiversity Metric 2.0 does not allow embedded data to be overwritten, the use of the tool for this habitat results in significant down-valuing of created acid grassland in comparison to values generated based on specialist knowledge (and is in addition to the downgrading of woodland creation as discussed above).” – Page 202 (261)

Response from Midland Ecology critique of the Stantec report:
“The issue of ease/difficulty in creating a priority habitat such as acid grassland is also of

concern. Dr Putwain has confidence in this being achievable in a comparatively short period

of time compared to Defra, Natural England and a host of other specialists who devised the

Defra metric. The Biodiversity Metric 2.0 states that acid grassland creation is ‘highly’

difficult to create, and will take 25 – 30 years to create either a fairly good or good condition

respectively (with moderate condition grassland taking 20 years and fairly poor condition

grassland taking 15 years). Due to this incompatibility with their assessment in 5.5, Stantec

devised a bespoke metric to place lesser weighting on the type of habitat to be lost. Put

simply, the harder the habitat is to recreate, the higher the score and therefore more

compensation/mitigation required.” –Midland Ecology (page 14)

“The off-site compensation mechanism; most closely defined under the N2K sites or international sites where it is entrenched in law, there is absolutely no way that compensation can be based upon “might work”. It has to work. The wording of compensation in that context requires it to be nailed on, that it will work, that it will offset the harm against the adverse effects of the integrity of the site.

Now, this isn’t a European site but because the terminology is the same, the talk of compensation in order to compensate for the damage, there would be every reason to use the same principle that compensation can only be considered as such if it will work rather than if it may work. An experimental scheme doesn’t reach that bar – that threshold.” ~ Dr Chris Gibson

There is no precedent. No analogous case study. No scientific literature. It is completely different if your rewilding farmland. You will get a more interesting flora and fauna on a blank slate. But that is completely different to assigning it as compensation habitat.

CB nobody has ever gone out and recreated a fully functional community. They may have altered the ground chemistry such that the plants can start to naturalise into something approaching a pastiche of the original habitat. But is only a pastiche because you don’t the rest of the wildlife there. From the microbes up to the inverts et cetera et cetera. – Dr Chris Gibson

7.    Sulphuring the Ground

7.1      Controversial/Experimental Method

The proposals to recreate acid grassland on nearly 100 hectares of existing grassland through sulphur application and ploughing are not only controversial but also highly experimental. This approach reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and formation of acid grasslands, as highlighted by esteemed ecologist Steven Falk and other experts in the field.

Misinterpretation of Acid Grassland Ecology

Steven Falk, with his extensive experience in conservation, criticizes the notion that high-quality acid grassland can be recreated on unsuitable soils simply by adding sulphur. He points out that acid grassland is a complex ecological community, often of great antiquity, comprising plants, insects, and fungal communities. It features a long historic continuity of key microhabitats and unusual plant assemblages. The soil profiles of acid grassland, formed over centuries or millennia, are integral to these habitats and cannot be artificially recreated through sulphur addition​​.

The Challenge of Replicating Ancient Soil Profiles and Biodiversity

The process proposed overlooks the complexity of recreating ancient soil profiles and the unique biodiversity associated with acid grasslands. These habitats have evolved over extensive periods, developing unique soil properties and a seed bank that is intricately tied to the local climate and ecosystem. The addition of sulphur as a means to artificially acidify the soil fails to address these intricate ecological relationships and the long-term evolution of these habitats.

Concerns Over Turf Translocation

The proposal to remove turves from parts of the Ranges to create new acid grassland areas raises significant ecological concerns. This process would destroy the existing unimproved Priority Habitat, crucial for its invertebrate assemblages and Priority Species. The success rate of translocating these species along with the turves, and their subsequent survival and flourishing, is highly questionable and risks significant loss of biodiversity【3-3†source】.

Expert Opinions and the Need for Caution

Experts in the field of ecology and conservation, like Falk, urge treating these claims with suspicion and recommend seeking opinions from bona fide experts in grassland, plant, and insect ecology. The reliance on experimental and unproven methods to recreate complex ecosystems is a matter of serious ecological concern and risks undermining the integrity and sustainability of conservation efforts.

In summary, the proposals to use sulphur on existing grasslands as a method to recreate acid grasslands are not only scientifically unsound but also disregard the intricate and longstanding ecological processes that underpin these habitats. It is a simplification of a complex ecological system and overlooks the myriad of factors that contribute to the formation and maintenance of acid grasslands.


I am astonished and disturbed by the claims that high quality acid grassland can be recreated on unsuitable soils elsewhere simply by adding Sulphur. I would suggest there is a basic misunderstanding of what acid grassland actually is! It is not ‘acidic’ grassland, or ‘acidified’ grassland (i.e. any grassland treated with acid to produce a lower pH).

Acid grassland is a complex ecological ‘community’ of plants, insects and fungal communities, often of great antiquity. It is a grassland that often features a long historic continuity of key microhabitats (such as bare, sandy ground and boggy ground) and unusual plant assemblages. The invisible soil profiles of acid grassland (hidden from the eye but formed over many centuries if not millenia by rainwater leaching) cannot be recreated by simply adding Sulphur. But those rare and precious soil profiles (mostly now lost by modern farming practices or development) are the vital foundation for all that lives above.

To suggest that simply adding Sulphur can recreate an ancient soil profile, an ancient seed bank, or ancient (and isolated) plant, invertebrate and fungal communities, is one of the most controversial claims I’ve encountered during my many years working in nature conservation. It should be treated with the utmost suspicion, and expert opinion sought from bona fide grassland, plants and insect experts at Natural England and the wildlife trusts.” ~ Steven Falk FRES

On removal of acid grassland turves:

“MM45. describes the phasing of development at Middlewick and the “practical use of turves from the ranges to create new areas of acid grassland”. This statement raises a number of horrifying issues. Removal from any part of the Ranges would destroy the unimproved Priority Habitat which already exists and achieve little – a crucial importance of the Priority Habitat lies in the invertebrate assembles and Species of Principal Importance (Priority Species) which it supports, and the likelihood that these would be successfully transported with the turves in any meaningful way and then survive, let alone flourish, is exceptionally low.” – [3-3] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 3) Nov 2023)

7.2      Uncertainty and Toxicity of Sulphur Proposals

Chat GPT
The proposed use of sulphur for the recreation of acid grassland on a landscape scale near sensitive ecological sites like Roman River SSSI and Birch Brook Local Wildlife Site raises significant concerns regarding toxicity risks and potential pollution.

Toxicity Risks of Sulphur Application

  1. Effects on Flora and Fauna: The application of sulphur, particularly on or near sensitive sites, poses a risk due to its potentially toxic effects on fauna and flora. Walker et al. (2007) in their study on the recreation of lowland heathland on ex-arable land, highlight the disadvantages of interventionist approaches like sulphur addition. They caution that such interventions may not be desirable near sensitive sites due to these toxic effects【3-1†source】.
  2. Impact on Endangered Species: The IUCN Endangered Priority Necklace Ground Beetle (Carabus monilis), found in the proposed mitigation area, is susceptible to chemicals, including sulphur. This species’ presence near the application area heightens the risk of adverse impacts from sulphur use【3-1†source】.
  3. Proximity to Sensitive Ecological Areas: The close proximity of the application area to Birch Brook, which flows into the Upper Colne Marshes SSSI, is a matter of concern. This area harbors sensitive grazing marsh plants, and the sulphur application could have harmful effects on these ecosystems【3-1†source】.

Potential Pollution Concerns

  1. Aquatic Ecosystems at Risk: The aquatic invertebrate assemblage within Birch Brook and the broader aquatic ecosystem of the Upper Colne Marshes SSSI could be adversely affected by sulphur runoff. The chemical and associated acidification from sulphur may pose unknown risks to these sensitive aquatic environments【3-1†source】.
  2. Sulphur as an Environmental Toxin: Sulphur’s toxicity extends beyond its immediate application area. It can act as an environmental toxin, affecting fungi, insects, and potentially other wildlife. Sulphur’s mode of action includes disrupting cell respiration in fungi and altering energy production in insects, leading to their death upon contact or ingestion.
  3. Run-off from Housing and Roads: The potential for additional pollutants from new housing and roads on Middlewick Ranges further complicates the issue. Run-off containing sulphur and other pollutants from these developments could exacerbate the risks to freshwater invertebrates and fish in nearby waterbodies【Pam Wilson†source】.

In conclusion, the large-scale application of sulphur as part of the proposed grassland recreation strategy near Middlewick Ranges presents a series of ecological risks. These include the direct toxicity to local flora and fauna, the potential pollution of sensitive nearby aquatic ecosystems, and the broader environmental impacts of sulphur as a toxin. These concerns necessitate a thorough reconsideration of the use of sulphur in such ecologically sensitive areas.

~ ~ ~

“We consider the success or otherwise of any acid grassland is far from certain and its impacts on the area’s flora and fauna unpredictable and untested. Walker et al. (Recreation of lowland heathland on ex-arable land: assessing the limiting processes on two sites with contrasting soil fertility and pH. Journal of Applied Ecology (2007) 44: 573–582) looked at the relative importance of constraints over 9 years on two ex-arable sites with contrasting soil fertility and pH. They note that interventionist approaches have a number of disadvantages and Sulphur addition may not be desirable on or close to sensitive sites because of potentially toxic effects on fauna and flora.

One of the important invertebrate species found at Middlewick is the IUCN Endangered Priority Necklace Ground Beetle Carabus monilis, a beetle susceptible to the effects of chemicals. This species has been found in the mitigation area, which is also close to Birch Brook, which flows through the Upper Colne Marshes SSSI about a mile away, where sensitive grazing marsh plants occur.

These potentially toxic effects would also seem to challenge the Stantec conclusion in paragraph 4.4.17 “Note, no consideration has been given to the aquatic invertebrate assemblage within Birch Brook for the purposes of this project stage (allocation). This is on the basis of consideration of habitats likely to be directly affected by development proposals at Middlewick Ranges, and based on the noted criteria within the LWS citation for Birch Brook (which do not include aquatic invertebrates)”; it should also be borne in mind that citations for SSSIs and LoWSs frequently focus on specific criteria, but this does not mean there are not other criteria of importance at sites.” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (pages 3-4) (April 2021)

“Additional pollutants found in run-off from any new housing and cars on Middlewick Ranges, pose inherent risks to the freshwater invertebrates and other species such as fish within these sensitive and valuable waterbodies. This also applies to potential dangers of the application of Sulphur onto the existing grassland buffering Roman River SSSI and Birch Brook LoWS, with unknown implications and risks of this chemical and associated acidification on the aquatic environment/ecosystem.” – Pam Wilson, Colchester Natural History Society


Sulphur is an environmental toxin. Sulphur kills fungi on contact.8 The way sulphur works is not completely understood yet. Some researchers believe sulphur may react with plants or fungi to produce a toxic agent.9 However, the main theory is that sulphur enters fungi cells and affects cell respiration.10

Sulphur can kill insects if they touch it or eat it.6 It disrupts their normal body function, altering their ability to produce energy.13

8.    RSPB Minsmere: A Flawed Comparison/Case Study

The Stantec report leanes very heavily on the Monsmere case study – and one or two other examples of attempted heathland or acid grassland creation on arable land.

Stantec did not only rely heavily on Minsmere as an important case study to justify their porposals to destroy and replace acid grassland.. this was their only case study.

“The RSPB wish to advise the Council that the Minsmere case study presented in the Stantec report is not comparable or analogous to the proposed compensation site for Middlewick Ranges and we do not consider that any mitigation/compensation would be suitably bespoke, deliverable or effective.

We would not wish the work at Minsmere to be used to legitimise or justify the destruction of acid grassland or heathland (priority habitats) at Middlewick. The Minsmere case study was a strict habitat creation project with a conservation objective to create suitable habitat from farmland of low biodiversity value for breeding Stone Curlews (one of the UK’s rarest birds). It was not a replacement for sensitive ecosystems such as acid grassland supporting an outstanding invertebrate assemblage of over 1,400+ species known to exist at Middlewick. Fundamentally, the soil conditions at Minsmere are light, whilst those at the Middlewick compensation site are a heavy loamy clay, which are nutrient-rich and currently provide important habitats in their own right.” – [5] Mark Nowers, RSPB (Dec 2023)

Table 26, Page 223 ‘Document Review’

Other arable based studies not analogous to Middlewick:

Marris, Snow, Owen and Evans (1998)

Owen and Marrs (2000)

Ausden and Kemp (2005)

Ausden (2005)

The use of the RSPB Minsmere arable to acid grassland and heath study by Stantec in their assessment for the Middlewick Ranges project raises several significant concerns:

  1. Misapplication of the Minsmere Study:
    • Fundamentally Different Objectives: The primary aim of the Minsmere project was to create habitat for the Stone Curlew, a specific bird species, which is a vastly different goal than recreating a complex invertebrate-rich acid grassland ecosystem.
    • Soil Conditions Contrast: The Minsmere site largely consisted of lighter soils, conducive to acid grassland creation. In contrast, the proposed Middlewick compensation site is characterized by heavy loamy clay soils, not naturally suited for acid grassland.
  2. Contextual and Methodological Differences:
    • Existing Acid Grassland Proximity at Minsmere: At Minsmere, existing acid grassland and heathland were close by, allowing for natural seed dispersal and colonization, a condition absent in the Middlewick scenario.
    • Selective Sulphur Application: Sulphur treatment at Minsmere was limited to less than half of the area, primarily on sandy soils, unlike the extensive application proposed for Middlewick’s compensation area.
    • Impact on Adjacent Habitats: The use of sulphur and herbicides at Minsmere did not pose the same level of risk to adjacent habitats as is likely at Middlewick, given the proximity of sensitive sites like Birch Brook LWS and Roman River SSSI.
  3. Timeframe for Habitat Development:
    • Longer Development Period: The Minsmere project spanned over 13 years, indicating a much longer timeframe for habitat development than the 5-7 years optimistically projected for Middlewick.
  4. Expertise and Management Concerns:
    • Specialized Management at Minsmere: The RSPB’s project benefited from expert-led management, a level of expertise and care that may not be guaranteed for the Middlewick project.
  5. Misleading Assumptions and Implications:
    • Over-reliance on Minsmere as Justification: Relying on this single case study to justify large-scale habitat destruction and creation at Middlewick is misleading and does not adequately consider the unique ecological complexities of Middlewick.
    • Potential Flawed Scientific Premises: The assumption that simply adding sulphur to heavy loamy clay soils can recreate complex acid grassland communities is highly controversial and lacks robust scientific support.
  6. Critique by Experts:
    • Steven Falk’s Critique: Steven Falk, an eminent entomologist, questions the fundamental understanding of acid grassland ecology in Stantec’s approach, emphasizing that acid grassland is a complex ecological community that cannot be recreated by simply adding sulphur.
  7. Broader Ecological Implications:
    • Unintended Biodiversity Impacts: The proposed methods for habitat creation at Middlewick could have unforeseen negative impacts on the local biodiversity, particularly given the substantial differences from the Minsmere conditions.

In conclusion, the reliance on the Minsmere study by Stantec to validate the Middlewick Ranges project appears to be a significant oversimplification of complex ecological processes. The differences in objectives, soil conditions, surrounding habitats, management expertise, and timeframe between the two sites suggest that the Minsmere case study is not a suitable or reliable model for the Middlewick project. This misapplication raises serious doubts about the ecological viability and integrity of the proposed habitat creation and compensation strategies at Middlewick Ranges.

9.    ‘Mitigation Land’: Grassland not Arable! (Existing Wildlife Value)

Chat GPT summary:
The handling of the Weir Lane Grassland (referred to as ‘Mitigation Land’ in Stantec’s report) in the Middlewick Ranges project raises significant concerns about the misclassification and underestimation of its ecological value. Based on the available information, here’s a summary of the key points:

  1. Mislabelling of Grassland as Arable Land:
    • Stantec’s report labels the Weir Lane Grassland as ‘arable land’ managed for silage, implying it has low ecological value.
    • However, historical aerial photographs suggest that this area has been permanent grassland for over 20 years.
    • Surveys conducted after grass cutting may have influenced this misclassification, overlooking the ecological richness of the area.
  2. Value of Weir Lane Grassland:
    • Contrary to the report’s claims, the Weir Lane Grassland is not ‘ecologically benign’ but supports diverse and valuable ecosystems.
    • It comprises tall, tussocky permanent grassland, which is a vital habitat for a range of wildlife, including invertebrates, reptiles, and small mammals.
    • This grassland plays a crucial role in ecological connectivity in southern Colchester, linking Roman River SSSI with Middlewick and Birch Brook LoWS.
  3. Importance of Accurate Habitat Classification:
    • The incorrect labelling of this grassland as ‘arable’ fundamentally undermines the ecological assessment’s accuracy.
    • Accurate habitat classification is essential for proper ecological planning and conservation strategies.
  4. Ecological Connectivity and Landscape Role:
    • The Weir Lane Grassland is an integral part of a larger ecological network, providing connectivity between various wildlife sites and SSSIs.
    • Its preservation is crucial for maintaining ecological integrity and biodiversity in the region.
  5. Potential Misuse in Biodiversity Net Gain Calculations:
    • Misidentifying this grassland could impact Biodiversity Net Gain calculations, leading to an underestimation of the ecological loss and overestimation of potential gains from the development.

In conclusion, the approach to classifying and assessing the Weir Lane Grassland in the Middlewick Ranges project appears to significantly underestimate its ecological importance. This misclassification could have far-reaching implications for biodiversity conservation and ecological connectivity in the region.

Chat GPT More detailed
The assessment and classification of the Weir Lane Grassland, as described in the Stantec report for the Middlewick Ranges project, warrant a more detailed examination, considering the ecological implications:

  1. Misclassification as Arable Land:
    • The report categorizes the Weir Lane Grassland as predominantly arable, specifically as a rye-grass ley, implying limited ecological value.
    • Historical evidence, including aerial photos, indicates this area has been a permanent grassland for a considerable period, contradicting the report’s classification.
    • The timing of Stantec’s surveys post-hay cutting likely contributed to the misidentification, overlooking the grassland’s inherent biodiversity.
  2. Ecological Richness of Weir Lane Grassland:
    • Contrary to Stantec’s assessment, this grassland is ecologically rich, supporting a variety of flora and fauna.
    • It comprises tall, tussocky grassland, vital for numerous wildlife species, including invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals.
    • This area is not just a passive landscape feature but an active contributor to regional biodiversity.
  3. Critical Role in Ecological Connectivity:
    • Weir Lane Grassland serves as a significant ecological corridor, linking various wildlife habitats, including the Roman River SSSI and the Middlewick and Birch Brook LoWS.
    • Its preservation is crucial for maintaining ecological networks, enhancing biodiversity, and ensuring habitat continuity.
  4. Challenges with Biodiversity Net Gain Calculations:
    • The mislabeling of this area impacts the Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) calculations, potentially skewing outcomes towards development interests.
    • This misclassification might result in an underestimation of ecological losses and an overestimation of compensatory gains, undermining conservation efforts.
  5. Consequences of Habitat Mislabeling:
    • The inaccurate classification of Weir Lane Grassland highlights the need for rigorous, unbiased ecological assessments.
    • Such mislabeling can lead to inappropriate management decisions, habitat loss, and a failure to recognize the true ecological value of an area.

In summary, the treatment of the Weir Lane Grassland in the Middlewick Ranges project by Stantec raises significant concerns about the accuracy of ecological assessments and the potential for misinformed decision-making. The true ecological value of this area appears to be much higher than reported, emphasizing the need for accurate, evidence-based assessments in environmental planning and conservation strategies.

~ ~ ~

The focus has understandably been on Middlewick – but this has resulted in the larger ‘Mitigation land’ being somewhat overlooked. Many have understandingly taken at least Stantec’s general assessment of this area as ‘ecologically benign arable land’ on face value – Stantec (page 210 (269)).

HOWEVER, this area of 100 hectare grassland is ANYTHING but benign – and anything but arable/rey grass ley. It is in fact ecologically of great value, supporting tall, tussocky permanent grassland which has been unploughed in many years (historical aerial photographs suggest this has been permanent grassland fro well over 20 years). In addition, the Weir Lane grasslands as we shall call them (as opposed to ‘Mitigation Land’ in Stantec’s report) – plays an important role within the landscape of southern Colchester, where this enormous grassland resource ecologically connects Roman River SSSI with the south with Middlewick and Birch Brook LoWS to the north.

However, Stantec claim the following

“Arable (Mitigation Land)

D.1.21 The majority of the Mitigation Land to the south of the Allocation Boundary (to the south of the woodland parcel/Birch Brook) and Weir Lane further south of consisted of arable land. These areas had been sown with a rye-grass ley (likely Italian rye-grass Lolium multiflorum) and supported very few forbs or herbs. Given the recent origin of the grasslands on these areas and management as a hay or silage crop (i.e. regular disturbance) it is appropriate to classify these as arable.” – Page 97 (132)

“I1: Arable fields managed for silage that had been cut on the day of the visit. Structurally homogenous and likely to be nectar-resource poor.” – Page 142 (177)

“All arable land is lost to the provision of the ecological mitigation in the land south of Birch Brook. This habitat was purposefully targeted for the ecological enhancements as it is low ecological value.” – Page 210 (269)

All of these statements are categorically, objectively and provably untrue. It stems from their survey immediately after the fields were cut; and is frankly one of the most scandalous statements from their already highly flawed report.

Compensation site – Small Heath and Small Copper – early spring coarse… dries out oxeye daisy

Necklace Ground Beetle

The increase in neutral grassland is a strong enhancement in grassland units given it replaces the ecologically benign (comparatively) arable land.” – Page 210 (269)


Chat GPT summary:

Interpreting aerial photographs to differentiate grassland cut for hay from arable land involves recognizing unique features. Hay grasslands typically exhibit uniform texture and color, lack tramlines, and may show baling and mowing patterns, with variations across seasons and signs of grazing animals. Arable land, in contrast, displays distinct tramlines, crop rows, and turning points, with seasonal changes in crop appearance. Soil color can vary, especially post-plowing, and irrigation equipment might be visible. These characteristics, although subject to local farming practices, are key indicators for aerial photo interpretation.

(see CCC LETTER for orig)

No evidence this is (or ever was) intensively managed, with heavy fertilisation, reseeding and anything more than normal hay crops which are common, including within SSSI and LoWS meadows (cutting and collecting of course being an important management strategy, all be it for grassland of this scale it’s current lower-intervention approach is resulting in a higher biodiversity value than regular annual cutting which is not for conservation purposes.

As such, the ‘disturbance’ justification – that the grassland has limited value as it was cut at the time, immediately before the survey – does not measure up; the majority of grasslands which are not grazed for management, are cut periodically or annually, this does not make them ‘ecologically benign’.

Rye grass was not identified as common (or even present in most fields) during December 2023 surveys where tall grasses and herbs persisted; and a variety of grassland compositions, structure and flowering plants was recorded. As far cry from the ‘uniform rye grass ley’ reported by Stantec; it is unlikely this extensive and varied grassland resource with tussocks and a number of herbs and grass species, appeared over night. The mis-classification appears to have come entirely from surveying after the cut – and likely not walking each meadow fully, as even in cut areas some of the flora would have been apparent. This was never solely rye grass, and the mis-labelling and mis-indeitficiation – including for the BNG calculations – fatally undermines the entire basis and justification for the destruction of Middlewick grasslands and ‘replacement’ or ‘recreation’ on this existing valuable grassland resource on 100ha of Weir Lane Grasslands.

We used the European Union’s definition of permanent grassland, as land used to grow grasses or other herbaceous forage that has not been included in the crop rotation of the holding for a duration of five years or longer (EU, 2004)


“EIA regulations

The EIA regulations protect rural land in England that’s uncultivated or semi-natural from changes in agricultural activities that might cause damage by:

  • increasing productivity
    • physically changing field boundaries

Uncultivated land is land that has not been cultivated in the last 15 years by:

  • physical means, such as ploughing or an activity that breaks the soil surface or disrupts the subsoil
    • chemical means, such as adding fertiliser or soil improvers

Restoring semi-natural grassland or semi-natural heathland

You need a screening decision if sowing seed for the restoration of land disrupts the soil surface and increases agricultural productivity.”

Weir Lane Grasslands (between Middlewick/Birch Brook LoWS and Roman River SSSI) should be formerly included in CCC Green Network for the following reasons:

– It is threatened by ploughing up and experimental chemical treatment (sulphur spreading) – under the current Local Plan – in order to ‘replace’ the ancient acid grassland at Middlewick Ranges.

– It is already much-loved open green space used by families and dog-walkers across a number of public footpaths. A ‘hidden gem’.

– This area represents one of the most extensive areas of tall and tussocky grasslands in Colchester District and wider Essex, being over 100 hectares in size!

– This grassland is a wild corridor and DIRECTLY connects a number of important habitats and sites for wildlife in South Colchester (including with designations) as follows:

i) To the north: Middlewick Ranges and Birch Brook Wood Local Wildlife Sites (LoWS) as well as Donyland Wetland, Colchester Cemetery and Bourne Brook LoWS.

ii) To the south-east: Roman River SSSI and LoWS, Upper Colne Marshes SSSI and Rowhedge Pits and Donyland Woods LoWS

iii) To the south-west: Friday Woods (Roman River) SSSI and surrounding Manwood Chase, Ball Grove and Layer Brook Pasture Local Wildlife Sites

– Weir Lane Grasslands supports tall tussocky grassland which will support a range of wildlife; small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, bats and a vast number of invertebrates. Kestrels, owls and buzzards are known to feed here showing presence of voles/shrews.

– The hedgebanks which divide the grassland into smaller fields support many large and ancient oaks and the presence of bracken, broom and wood sage shows a degree of sandy soils as indicated by soil tests. This shows the huge potential of this grassland if it is protected from ploughing up/sulphering and managed sensitively for wildlife.

– Some areas of grassland support finer grasses such as common bent and meadow grasses, and there are areas of abundant flowers like yarrow, oxeye daisy and St John’s-wort.

– This is NOT ‘ecologically benign’ or ‘low value’ or ‘arable land’ as mistakenly claimed in the online Stantec report! (They surveyed it immediately after a hay cut which means a proper survey did not take place; but they still should not have mislabelled this important are an ‘arable rye grass ley’.)

– Weir Lane Grassland should be included in the Colchester’s Green Network and protected from ploughing up and chemicals by making this a protected Nature Reserve/Country Park alongside Middlewick Ranges and Birch Brook Local Wildlife Sites – For residents and wildlife of Colchester to enjoy.


Ploughing up and killing and displacement of 10,000s of reptiles and small mammals… and millions of invertebratp

One of the greatest tricks – convince everyone that the conpensation area was a virtual wildlife desert. Arable ;and’. Drawing more direct parralels to Minsmere – arable to acid grassland.

A quick glance at Google Maps Pro historical aerial photos shows this to be a nonsense.

See notes on

10.                   BNG

10.1  Under-estimate Acid Grassland

10.2  Mis-identification of Northern Grassland

10.3  Mis-labelling of the ‘Mitigation Land’

Chat GPT

Stantec’s approach to Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) in the Middlewick Ranges project has raised several concerns regarding its implementation and potential manipulation. These concerns can be summarized as follows:

  1. Controversial BNG Calculations:
    • Suspected Arbitrary Multipliers: The choice of specific multipliers, such as 11.4% for proposed acid grassland, raises questions about their basis. These multipliers significantly influence the final BNG outcome, and their selection appears arbitrary or tailored to achieve a desired net gain.
    • Valuation of Neutral Grassland: The valuation of existing neutral grassland as ‘poor semi-improved’ seems to undervalue its ecological significance. An appropriate revaluation could dramatically change the BNG outcome.
  2. Bespoke Biodiversity Metric Usage:
    • Customized Approach: The use of a bespoke metric, instead of standard Defra metrics, tailored to the specific conditions of the development, could be seen as designed to favour the development proposal over ecological integrity.
    • Questionable Application: This bespoke approach to BNG is critiqued for not following the National Planning Policy Framework and CBC’s own commitments to sustainable development and overall biodiversity net gain.
  3. Underestimation of Existing Habitats:
    • Misidentification of Habitats: Areas that could be more accurately classified as valuable grassland were labelled as ‘arable’, potentially underestimating their existing biodiversity value in the BNG calculation.
  4. Overestimation of Proposed Habitat Value:
    • Inflated Post-Development Habitat Values: The proposed acid grassland creation, categorized as HPI habitat, used a high multiplier which is considered unrealistic, especially given the unproven methods proposed for habitat creation.
  5. Misinterpretation of BNG Principles:
    • Contradiction with CIEEM Principles: The application of BNG in this case appears to contradict professional guidelines which state that BNG should not apply to irreplaceable habitats like ancient grasslands.
  6. Ecological Viability Concerns:
    • Over-Optimism in Habitat Creation: The belief that high-quality acid grassland can be recreated in a short timeframe is challenged by experts, undermining the credibility of the BNG claim.
  7. Risk of Manipulation in BNG Calculations:
    • Potential for Biased Input: The inherent flexibility in populating a BNG table allows for manipulation by altering values to suit the desired outcome, especially when a bespoke metric is used.

In conclusion, the application of BNG in the Middlewick Ranges project by Stantec appears to raise significant concerns about the integrity of ecological assessments, the accuracy of habitat valuation, and the feasibility of proposed habitat creation. The approach is critiqued for potentially manipulating ecological values to meet development goals, raising questions about the credibility of the BNG calculations in this context.

 ~ ~ ~

The idea that the ecology can be enhanced and a biodiversity net gain achieved through development, a masterplan, mitigation and compensation does not hold up to independent scrutiny and has no basis in evidence.” – [3-3] Peter Harvey, Essex field Club (page 4) (Nov 2021)

How and why did Stantec choose 11.4% as their multiplier for their shiny new ‘acid grassland’? Curiously, 10% would have meant only 6% net gain instead of 12%.

Why did they value much of the neutral grassland as ‘poor semi-improved?’ with a multiplier of x… y would have given xx loss!

These are key questions that are part of a wider…

The entire concept of Biodiversity Net Gain is controversial within the field of ecology and the naturalist community. There is a consensus however: that it is only as good as the information put into it – and the ecologists applying BNG. It is highly susceptible to overt manipulation or inadvertent misuse. The weighting/multipliers can be ‘tweaked’ accordingly.

They have moved the goalposts.

“We also question the use of a bespoke Biodiversity Metric, rationale and approach (Appendix N of the Evidence Base) and how this is an appropriate tool to be used at this allocation stage, when the future of the integrity of the LoWS is essentially decided at this allocation stage, not by individual planning applications. The use of a bespoke metric appears designed to favour the individual circumstances of the development allocation, and allows a wholly unsatisfactory CBC-led outcome rather than one based on the National Planning Policy Framework and CBC’s own commitment to deliver sustainable development and an overall net gain to biodiversity in the implementation of the new Local Plan.” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 3) (April 2021)

In a nutshell, regarding the BNG metric/table, you could say: ‘You put rubbish in, you get rubbish out.”

“You can judge the site on the basis of the primary habitat it supports and to try and recreate that habitat or improve on the habitats. However, if you have information about the primary habitat and the diversity of invertebrates associated with it, unless you can put back those invertebrates with any degree of assurance it is not leading to biodiversity uplift. It is complete green washing.” – Dr Chris Gibson (Dec 2023)

“I’m afraid the “bespoke” metric is a fiddle. Stantec tried to use what was then the extant metric but were unable to due to the presence of irreplaceable habitats. There is a lot wrong with BNG in principle, fundamentally it is simply an equation: if you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out. However, the fact is if you can’t get it to work on the original metric and then just come up with your own metric to make it work – well that’s just corrupt!”

Under-estimate Acid Grassland:
“The Stantec Assessment of an Acid Grassland Creation Strategy is also flawed. We dispute the accuracy of their identification of the extent of the acid grassland habitat, which we believe to be significantly larger than as mapped by Stantec, where it is already acknowledged that the LoWS is dominated by acid grassland, but which is primarily designated for its invertebrate populations (e.g. in the December 2020 CBC-Local-Plan-Annexe-8—Middlewick-Ranges-Vision-Document*).” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 3) (April 2021)

*This document states:

“CIEEM Good practice principles for development states that states that Biodiversity Net Gain does not apply to irreplaceable habitat and we argue that this is the case for the old unimproved grasslands and acid grassland habitat at Middlewick Ranges. It also states that Net gains of high biodiversity value should be in the same type of habitat and includes those identified as Priority habitats.

The failure of “biodiversity net gain” (BNG) in the Local Plan text to have regard to the same habitats and species is a fundamental failure to the current wording and even if BNG were to be accepted as relevant to Middlewick Ranges against these professional CIEEM principles, then the text should be replaced by “a minimum 10% biodiversity net gain in the same Species and Habitats of Principal Importance in line with the principles outlined in the professional CIEEM guidance”. .” – [3-3] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 2) (Nov 2021)

“MM47. Policy C2 Middlewick allocation. It should be clear from our other evidence and other comments that no Masterplan could be developed which would be consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework. The ecological value of Middlewick Ranges LoWS and the importance of retaining its integrity must be recognised and protected by its removal from the Local Plan Housing Allocation if Colchester Borough Council‟s new Local Plan is to deliver an overall biodiversity net gain.” – [3-3] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 3) (Nov 2021)


Claim: “The proposals were results in a 9 to 16% Biodiversity Net Gain.”

Experimental unkown after unkiwn

An inherent flaw of BNG is that the developer’s contracted ecologist can manipulate the values within the Defra metric to get precisely the net gain required. This can be done by: downplaying the existing value and ii) exaggerating the potential gains. However, the risks of BNG being maniputaled rise exponentially if the developer’s ecologist invents their own table from scratch!

  1. Massively under-report and under-estimate the biodiversity of a) impact area and b) current proposed compensation area
  2. Massively exaggerate the value of the proposed enhancement/compensation habitat (aspired acid grassland)

Stantec have done both to arrive at their narrow and finely tweaked biodiversity net gain.

Bottom of the net game ease of course now a legal requirement, Add local authorities have a responsibility to ensure a minimum of 10% uplift. However, It is simply inconceivable that a net gain uplift is possible For the destruction of metal with ranges and the concentration Of wildlife In an ever decreasing space. No responsible or respectable ecologist Would be able to devise a table To prove again in any planning development. This is simply a statement of fact.

11.                   BNG: Correcting the Table

At its heart lies, a table… perceived as complicated, but is in fact very simple.

Firstly, we need to point out that BNg is itself highly contested and controversial, although there is one main point of agreement – it is only as good as the person populating the table and as good as the data put in.

“The inability of the Biodiversity Metric 2.0 to compute the loss of ‘very high’ distinctiveness habitats therefore triggers the requirement for a bespoke metric for Middlewick (regardless of the other issues raised above and below).” – Page 201 (260)

Repeated from

“The increase in neutral grassland is a strong enhancement in grassland units given it replaces the ecologically benign (comparatively) arable land.” – Stantec (page 210 (269))

12.                   Stantec Report Limitations

“The Midland Ecology report referred to in paragraph 3 above draws attention to several inadequacies in the MoD-commissioned survey assessment and also questions whether a satisfactory conclusion can be reached i.e. whether the site has been adequately assessed to be safely identified as suitable for inclusion in the Local Plan.” – [4-1] CNHS (page 2)

Midland Ecology report link:  https://cbccrmdata.blob.core.windows.net/noteattachment/CBC-Colchester-Local-Plan-Section-2-hearing-statements-(Third-Party)-Matter%206%20Tracy%20France.pdf



12.1  Invertebrate Survey and Reporting

“I’ve looked at the Stantec report, and one of the things that stands out is the invertebrate study which was done on one visit when it was raining. They admitted that the timing of the paternal study was after hay crop had been taken off and also at the end of July; it had been such a hot spell that a lot of the vegetation had already gone over. If you’re doing botanical surveys you should be able to monitor the weather and heating up so much so that you need to get out on survey.” – Dougal Urquhart, Colchester Natural History Society

“Stantec also state (B.2.2) “The data was subsequently used to inform preparation of a scope of works, and interpretation of species specific surveys”. Yet even though the LoWS citation states that the principal value of the site is its invertebrate populations, only an invertebrate habitat ‘walkover’ survey was undertaken in inclement weather and no species survey at all (B.10.2). This cannot adequately inform consideration at the Local Plan level for a LoWS with its principal value identified as its invertebrate populations.

“The Stantec invertebrate survey took place over a brief period and in poor weather conditions. As Aculeates are generally inactive except under warm, sunny conditions, and many have very brief flight periods, it is quite certain that the survey greatly underestimated the value of the site for this taxonomic group.” – [4-1] CNHS (page 3)

As an absolute minimum Natural England guidelines on invertebrate species survey for a site such as this would mean that there should be at least 5 full days survey across all the main taxonomic groups undertaken by specialists in favourable weather conditions through the main adult season between May and September. This must be done before it can be claimed that there is an evidence base that could justify the site inclusion in the Local Plan for any level of housing.” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 3) (April 2021)

12.2  Botanical Survey

The worse time to do a botanical survey is after hay cut, after the vegetation has been mown to ground level. If you visited the best SSSI meadow in Essex after a cut, you would not know it was a SSSI – and struggle to identify even 1/10th of its diverse flora. You would be far better off visiting in winter when at least some flowers and grasses can be identified.

But even better would be May to June before the grass has been cut. You should not have to be a forensic botanist rifling through plant remains, we have professional CIEEM guidelines and best practice for a reason. This is basics, ecology 101. But Stantec carried botany surveys of both impact site (Middlewick) and proposed compensation impact site (Weir Lane grasslands) immediately after the total 160 hectares had been cut.

In Summary

Site is valued to little that the surveys were not only carried out at wrong times or too wet or dry… but not carried out at all!

The timing of the surveys is unfortunate, and has bolstered their claim that the habitats are of lower value than the collective Essex natural history community has reported… they even got the photos of the post-cut grasslands at their most unflattering time; a ‘bowling green’. However, this was consistent with Stantec’s perceived attempt to build a case that the acid grassland and other habitats are replaceable/expendable. The result being that many – including decision-makers and ecologists involved – were inadvertently misled.

It would have been better not to include their ill-fated invertebrate and botany survey visits in the report at all – as this provided false confidence and fodder for their erroneous claim that large areas of Middlewick acid and neutral grassland are far less valuable for than they actually are; and that the sacrificial ‘mitigation land’ was supposedly ‘arable land’ whereas it is objectively and provably permanent grassland with its own significant biodiversity and wildlife value, as well as crucial function as a connecting corridor between Roman River SSSI and Birch Brook and Middlewick LoWS.

DIO/MoD contracted both Stantec and the grass cutting contractors; it is astonishing that they did not appear to have informed their ecologists that they might want to get their skates on with the botany surveys before the entire sites have been cut; and it is equally perplexing that Stantec did not ask their clients about the timing of the hay cuts so that they could schedule a visit before these took place. Or that they did not rearrange their invertebrate surveys for days where it was not cool and raining.

This is especially given the county/national value of this site – and the critical consequences and implications of these surveys on these landscape-scale grassland sites.

In the short and speaking frankly, if they had done their job properly and visited at the appropriate time of year – and reflected both sites’ true value for both flora and fauna – there is no conceivable way that there ‘bespoke’ Biodiversity Metric would have returned a positive net gain. It would have been double figures negative (see xx)

… And then Middlewick would never have been included in the Local Plan.

These are the consequences of shortcuts, confirmation bias and sloppy science.

12.3  Other Species

“No surveys were performed for mammal species by the Stantec study. Of the eight surveys that were done, only two were regarded as “adequate”, two were regarded as “partly adequate” and four as “inadequate”. The Midland Ecology Report concludes that the survey work (and, thus, evidence base) in respect of Dormice, Breeding Birds (especially Nightingale and Skylark), Reptiles, Amphibians and Badgers are to varying extents inadequate. This undermines the ability to assess impacts, mitigation strategies and Biodiversity Net Gain calculations. These considerations, when combined with the admission that further assessment is necessary, demonstrates that the Stantec Report provides no justification for allocation of the site for housing development.” – [4-1] CNHS (page 2-3)

12.4  Old and Insufficient Data

Up to date data is essential, especially for a site of such importance as Middlewick – where new records are consistently being collated.

From Essex Field Club:
We challenge statements in the Stantec Ecological Evidence Base Report which forms part of the evidence base of information submitted to support the Emerging Colchester Borough Council (CBC) Local Plan and development at Middlewick Ranges and the Stantec report needs to be evaluated against the perspective provided by the Midland Ecology Middlewick Ranges Ecological Evaluation report February 2021, whose purpose was to evaluate the ecology report on Middlewick Ranges completed by Stantec Ecology consultancy.

Paragraph B.2.1 of the Stantec report demonstrates fundamental mistakes and the Terms of Service under which the Essex Recorders partnership (their Essex Field Club) datasearch report was provided have been broken and must be remedied: “the report must also be put into the public domain and provided in full in the searchable pdf format in which it is supplied and not changed or redacted”. According to page 13, 3.3.2 Table 1: Summary of Ecological Survey Types, Aims and Dates: Essex Field Club March 2017 this datasearch is now well over three years old.

This old report and an updated one should be put into the public domain and made available to the Inspectorate. CIEEM (Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management) advice considers desk studies over 18 months old may need to be updated and more than 3 years are unlikely to still be valid.

We are also aware that there are a considerable number of records for Middlewick Ranges, including for rare and scarce species of nature conservation concern, which are held by Colchester Natural History Museum and which have not been made available to Stantec or ourselves. This also challenges the idea that CBC has provided an adequate evidence base in its supposed justification to include the LoWS in the Local Plan housing allocation.” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 2) (April 2021)

One argument is that the threshold for evidence is lower for a Local Plane Evidence Base than it would be for a Master Plan or planning application; however, the Local Plan decides the fate. It should be a very strong material consideration. If the underlying assumption is flawed (that you can mitigate/compensate) then this challenges the entire basis for any future development.

Stantec quote ‘didn’t need evidence at this time, sufficient for this stage etc

Started with a conclusion and everything was made to match. Big holes in our team, was taken on work we want qualified to do and issued reports that aren’t fit for purpose. We should be involved in sites like gardens and garages we should be involved like sites like with Middlewick we don’t have the knowledge or experience.

If you don’t have a conservation mindset by the developer mindset, there’s only one way these things will end the reports and development become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And then you have the fundamental principle of using an untested, experimental technique which is unproven to claim that you can recreate this habitat in enriched grassland

13.                   Protected and Other Notable Species

Stantec have been working on the assumption that mitigation is both possible and practicable; despite the lacking survey work. This assumption must be challenged.

Sentence repeated three times: Reptiles, GCN, and Badgers:

“the presence of xxx species within the Allocation Boundary does not affect consideration of the acceptability of development at Middlewick Ranges” – Stantec (page 28 (34))

This means they cannot conceive a situation – in the absence of data – where any of these species would be a material consideration and could be unmitigatable.

Impact on wildlife in people’s gardens

13.1  Reptiles – A Worked Example

Reptiles have been given particularly short shrift, indicating Stantec’s perceived bias towards development over wildlife conservation. Their dismissal of reptiles and amphibians as non-material considerations in the development context reveals a lack of local and county-wide understanding of these declining species. The scale of habitat destruction proposed at Middlewick and Weir Lane Grasslands – over 150 hectares – is unprecedented in Colchester District and beyond.

If this were an application of a single garage, or standard 0.2 hectare survey plot their approach would have more credibility. But we are talking about landscape-scale habitat destruction and enormous permanent loss of available tussocky grassland habitat and scrub – ideal for reptiles and amphibians. A sulphur treated moonscape will be by definition a finer sward, initially at least full of ruderals and short perennial ‘weed’ species, and will unlikely ever be as suitable for reptiles as the current Middlewick and Weir Lane Grassland areas. Where will this displaced population of Gras Snake, Common Lizards and Slow Worms go to? People gardens?

“The Allocation Boundary falls extensively beyond the known ranges of the UK’s rare reptiles (smooth snake Coronella austriaca and sand lizard Lacerta agilis), using distribution maps published online by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Group9. A reptile survey has not been completed as this is not required for this stage of the project (i.e. Allocation), as the presence of the UKs common and widespread reptile species within the Allocation Boundary does not affect consideration of the acceptability of development at Middlewick Ranges.” – Stantec (page 28 (34))

“Further avoidance and mitigation measures will then need to be defined at a later stage, and will relate to the construction stages of the development, for example:

  • construction methodology to protect retained habitat (either physically from damage, from dust particulates during earthworks, from surface run-off),

strategies for protected and notable species (either key or non key), to enable legal compliance, and best practice. In practice this will likely include measures such as translocation for species such as reptiles into a receptor site, timed vegetation clearance relating to nesting birds, clearance activities under licensed methodology (if required) for dormouse and bats (depending on whether dormice are confirmed to be present within the development footprint, and whether bat roosts are present in tree(s) or building(s) on or adjacent to the development footprint. Such strategies inherently include elements of both avoidance and mitigation.” – Stantec (page 37 (44))

“J.1.2 There is high habitat suitability for all four common reptile species (common lizard, slow worm, grass snake and adder Vipera berus) to be present within suitable habitats in the Allocation Boundary and in the Mitigation Land beyond. Indeed, incidental sightings of grass snake and adder were reported by users of the Allocation Boundary. Diverse habitats in these areas provide varied shelter and foraging opportunities for reptiles provided by the scrub, short acid grassland, bare sandy ground and woodland areas.

J.1.3 Reptiles are legally protected from intentional killing and injury under the under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended); reptiles are also an SPI under the NERC Act 2006.” – Stantec 184 (219)

13.2  Adders

Extroadinary – on one hand Stantec state that i) “There is high habitat suitability for all four common reptile species” (including Adder and ii) incidental sightings of adder have been reported.

And on the other hand they state: “the presence of the UKs common and widespread reptile species within the Allocation Boundary does not affect consideration of the acceptability of development at Middlewick Ranges”

Adders are not common! And certainly not in Essex.

In England, the Adder’s conservation status reflects a decline, primarily due to habitat loss. This decline is particularly noticeable in East Anglia and Essex. Adders are often restricted to coastal grasslands and the remaining heathlands, as their natural habitats have been significantly reduced by development and the intensification of farming. This habitat specialization makes them vulnerable in areas like Essex, where such environments are increasingly scarce. The loss of these specific habitats contributes to the Adder’s declining numbers in the region.

A population at Middlewick – as sounds possible or likely – would therefore be of at least county if not national value, Because of their small population sizes and large territories, and requirement for extensive habitat, the destruction of Middlewick – and of Weir Land Grassland – could be terminal for any Colchester Adder population – both within the site boundary, and the wider area. Yet this was not consider as requiring further thought or consideration?

No – because they can simply be moved!

Slow Worms, Grass Snakes, and Common Lizards in England, particularly in regions like East Anglia and Essex, are experiencing similar conservation challenges. These species are increasingly impacted by habitat loss due to urban development and agricultural intensification. While Slow Worms are adaptable, they thrive in undisturbed grasslands and woodlands, environments that are dwindling. Grass Snakes, reliant on wetland habitats, face threats from the draining of marshes and ponds. Common Lizards, typically found in heathlands and grassy areas, also suffer from the reduction of these habitats. These factors contribute to the decline and vulnerability of these reptiles.

13.3  Dormice


“One record of a hazel nut (apparently chewed by a hazel dormouse) was returned in the desk study from 2017, from within Birch Brook (300m south of the Allocation Boundary).” – Stantec (page 21 (27))

“In practice this will likely include measures such as translocation for species such as reptiles into a receptor site, timed vegetation clearance relating to nesting birds, clearance activities under licensed methodology (if required) for dormouse and bats (depending on whether dormice are confirmed to be present within the development footprint, and whether bat roosts are present in tree(s) or building(s) on or adjacent to the development footprint. Such strategies inherently include elements of both avoidance and mitigation.” – Stantec (page 37 (43))

13.4  Mammals – SPIE species

No hedgehog. Small mammals only in relation to Barn Owl – nothing about those in scrub or those in ‘mitigation land’. Harvest Mouse. No mention of Brown Hare, later recorded!

“The In addition, the open grassland has some potential to be used by crepuscular and nocturnal hunting species such as barn owls Tyto alba and little owl Athene noctua, although the rather uniform sward limits the potential value of the grassland as it is unlikely to support high numbers of small mammals (lacking a deep litter layer in many areas). ” – Stantec (page 149 (184))

“Given these issues, only a very small number (two calls) could be confirmed as being of bat origin; others were suspected to be rat / other small mammals.” – Stantec (page 157 (192)

13.5  Waxcap Fungi


Stantec mention ‘Waxcap’ fungi twice in their report – but only in the citations of other nearby Local Wildlife Sits, Layer Brook Meadow and Ball Grove. They state the following:

“A number of waxcap (Hygrocybe sp.) and earth tongue (Geoglossum sp.) fungi grow within the grassland, these being indicators of short, unimproved free-draining turf.” – Stantec (page 93 (128))

So they acknowledge as one would hope the value of waxcaps and their indicator status of unimproved grassland. Yet not a single word about the six species of Waxcaps supported by Middlewick Ranges! The waxcaps at Middlewick are no secret. These ‘troops’ of waxcaps are wll known to any dog walkers and all local naturalists who know the Wick to any extent. Yet no late summer survey took place; and no one was asked about this importance group of indicator species.

What will happen to these waxcaps? The population will be lost.

Chat GPT

Waxcap fungi in Essex, as in much of Western Europe, are facing challenges due to habitat loss and changes in land management. These fungi are generally found in unimproved, nutrient-poor grasslands, which have been significantly reduced in recent decades. In the UK, and by extension in Essex, waxcap grasslands are more widespread than in many parts of Europe, thanks to the preservation of unimproved pastures, lawns in churchyards, and country houses. However, the decline in suitable habitats due to agricultural intensification remains a concern.

Regarding the conservation status, some waxcap species are listed as “vulnerable” or “endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This indicates that they are at risk globally. Specifically, in the UK, several species characteristic of waxcap grasslands were formerly the subject of national Biodiversity Action Plans, and four species are listed as “Priority Species” under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act in England.

The Pink Waxcap, for instance, is one such species found in Essex, and it is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. This species typically appears in late summer and autumn in unimproved grasslands, including churchyards and sheep-grazed pastures. Pink Waxcaps are not very common in the UK and are even rarer in the rest of Europe.

To determine what constitutes a good population of waxcap fungi, specific site assessments are necessary. For instance, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) in the UK suggests that sites should be considered for notification as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSIs) if the total number of waxcap species reaches or exceeds 19.

In summary, waxcap fungi in Essex, as part of the broader UK context, are valuable but vulnerable components of the ecosystem, with several species under threat due to habitat loss and changes in land management practices​​​​.

14.                   Protected Species Translocations and Mitigation – In Principle and Practice

14.1  In Principle

Chat GPT:

Assuming protected species can be translocated, especially from Middlewick Ranges and surrounding areas, is problematic for several reasons:

  • Lack of Evidence: There’s little proof that mitigation translocations compensate for population losses on a broad scale (Nash, 2017).
  • Double Loss: Translocation reduces habitat area and suitability, leading to overcrowding and favoring generalist species.
  • Unsuitable Receptor Sites: Often, these sites are not ideal for the relocated species, impacting their survival.
  • Poor Track Record: Historical evidence shows that many compensation aspirations don’t materialize, resulting in degraded habitats.
  • Effectiveness Questions: Studies indicate a general lack of confirmatory evidence that such translocations effectively compensate for habitat loss due to development (Nash et al., 2020; Hunter et al., 2021).

These issues underscore the complexity of ecological mitigation and the need for thorough, evidence-based planning to ensure the protection of species and habitats.

14.2  In Practice

Addressing the specific challenges for protected species under licensing and legislation in the context of Middlewick Ranges involves several complex issues:

  1. Complex Habitat Requirements: Each listed species, like great crested newts, bats, and certain invertebrates, have unique habitat needs that are difficult to replicate, especially in a new environment.
  2. Time-Scale for Habitat Readiness: Creating suitable compensation habitats can take years, during which species may not survive the interim conditions.
  3. Insufficient Survey Work: Lack of comprehensive surveying, particularly for elusive species like great crested newts, raises the risk of overlooking critical habitat needs.
  4. Legislative Hurdles: Navigating the protected species legislation for each species is a complex process, often requiring lengthy assessments and specific mitigation strategies.
  5. Invertebrate Protection Challenges: The protection and translocation of invertebrate species are particularly problematic due to their specific ecological requirements and often overlooked status.
  6. Mammalian Species Concerns: The presence of mammals, especially those requiring large territories or specific conditions, complicates mitigation plans.

These factors make the mitigation process appear daunting and potentially unworkable, requiring an approach that respects the ecological complexities and legal protections afforded to these species.

“Although mitigation translocations may prevent the immediate death of animals that would otherwise be destroyed with their habitat, there is little evidence that they are compensating for the loss of populations on a broad scale.” – Nash

Nash, Darryn James (2017) An Assessment of Mitigation Translocations for Reptiles at Development Sites. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent, University of Kent.

Double whammy loss for protected species and other wildlife – need a receptor site and compensation – for the compensation habitat!

The animals you are transferring will be living in an overpopulated environment; ultimately won’t get a population that is three times the size. You have reduce the area that the population was previously inhabiting whilst also reducing the suitability of habitat, making it more suitable for generalist species and less suitable for specialist species that require sandy slopes, different aspects, free draining soils and true ancient acid grassland.

I it is a double whammy loss. I going to have a receptor site for the receptor site? Where is that one is going to move to? All of the by adversity with a seagrass and they talk about the plan… The track record of compensation is very poor and very few of the original proposed aspirations actually transpire. There is a very high chance that five 1015 Yale years later you would have a improved meadow full of dog poo and Brittany Oxton are you all.

“The translocation of reptiles from development sites is a frequent but controversial intervention to resolve reptile-development conflicts. A general lack of post-translocation monitoring means that the fate of translocated reptiles is largely unknown.”

“The study found no confirmatory evidence that mitigation-driven translocations are compensating for the losses of populations to development.”

Nash, D. J., Humphries, N. and Griffiths, R. A. (2020) Effectiveness of translocation in mitigating reptile-development conflict in the UK. Conservation Evidence 17 -7-11.

“As such, most EMC measures recommended in practice are not evidence based. The limited reference to empirical evidence in published guidance, as well as the circular referencing, suggests potential ‘evidence complacency’, in which evidence is not sought to inform recommendations. In addition, limited evidence availability indicates a thematic gap between conservation research and mitigation practice.

More broadly, absence of evidence on the effectiveness of EMC measures calls into question the ability of current practice to compensate for the impact of development on protected species, thus highlighting the need to strengthen requirements for impact avoidance.”


Hunter, S.B. et al. (2021). Evidence shortfalls in the recommendations and guidance underpinning ecological mitigation for infrastructure developments. Ecological Solutions and Evidence

Sara B. Hunter, Sophus O. S. E zu Ermgassen, Harriet Downey, Richard A. Griffiths, Caroline Howe

Connectivity – Mitigation Land

“Habitat enhancements will also be made barbastelle bats (sic) for the non-developable areas to proactively support the local maternity population in the Donyland Woods complex. This will include the conversion of arable habitats between Donyland and the Birch Brook to semi-improved grassland (increasing the diversity and quantity of invertebrates).” – Page 51

15.                   CIEEM Codes of Conduct

You do it because the right thing to do and you have potential to influence a disastrous outcome. B) There is a greater risk of legal implications without putting this right. We are held under contractual obligations to issue advice to the fit for purpose and abide by our professional codes. The moment we are aware that this advice is not right and breaches codes, we are under obligation to correct that advice. We would have two defend that advice during a public enquiry

Old data search, see 14.3

The Stantec report and non-Defra Biodiversity Metric also potentially breach the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) Codes of Conduct in a number of ways (see below).

Based on the provided information, several potential breaches of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) Code of Conduct by Stantec in their surveying and reporting for Middlewick Ranges can be identified:

Suspected Violations in Surveying

1. Inadequate Habitat Assessment

  • Misclassification of Habitats: Classifying significant areas as ‘poor semi-improved grassland’ with ‘Negligible’ value contradicts independent assessments, breaching CIEEM’s requirement for accurate habitat classification (Code 3.1).
  • Inappropriate Survey Timing and Methodology: Conducting surveys outside optimal periods or under unsuitable conditions, like in cold and rain, violates the principle of using appropriate methods for ecological assessment (Code 3.2).

2. Biodiversity Net Gain and Mitigation Hierarchy

  • Controversial Application of BNG: Reliance on a DIY ‘bespoke’ metric for irreplaceable habitats may breach guidelines on ensuring BNG doesn’t replace ecological expertise (Code 4.3).
  • Misapplication of the Mitigation Hierarchy: Failure to adequately apply the mitigation hierarchy could breach standards for ecological impact assessment (Code 4.2).

3. Additional Points of Concern

  • Lack of Comprehensive Data: Failing to provide a complete picture of the site’s biodiversity could violate the principle of thorough and accurate ecological assessment (Code 3.3).
  • Inadequate Consideration of Species Diversity: Overlooking the full range of species present could breach guidelines on considering ecological factors in assessments (Code 3.4).

Suspected Violations in Reporting

1. Deficiencies in Habitat Assessment

  • Misclassification and Undervaluation of Habitats: Contradictions in habitat classification and undervaluation breach the requirement for accurate, up-to-date information (Code 3.1).
  • Inadequate Survey Methods and Timing: Limited surveys and inappropriate timing contravene the use of industry-standard methodologies (Code 3.2).

2. Biodiversity Net Gain Calculations

  • Controversial BNG Application: Over-reliance on BNG metrics amid survey limitations may violate guidelines on ecological expertise (Code 4.3).
  • Mitigation Hierarchy Misapplication: Not properly applying the mitigation hierarchy breaches ecological impact assessment standards (Code 4.2).

3. Inappropriate Use of Case Study

  • Misapplication of RSPB Minsmere Case Study: Using irrelevant case studies could violate the principle of appropriate ecological assessments (Code 3.5).
  • Differences in Site Conditions and Management: Overlooking site differences breaches guidelines on thorough and accurate assessment (Code 3.3).

4. Unrealistic Timeframe and Impact Assessment

  • Overly Optimistic Habitat Creation Timeframe: Suggesting unrealistic timeframes without evidence violates basing work on sound information (Code 3.1).
  • Potential Environmental Impact on Adjacent Sites: Not assessing impacts on nearby LWS and SSSIs could breach standards for ecological impact assessment (Code 4.2).

5. Inadequate Survey and Assessment

  • Limitations in Habitat Surveys: Insufficient surveying and assessment could breach guidelines on ensuring thorough ecological assessments (Code 3.3).

These issues collectively suggest significant deficiencies in Stantec’s approach to habitat assessment, biodiversity net gain calculations, and mitigation strategies, potentially violating multiple aspects of the CIEEM Code of Conduct.

16.                   Cherry-picked Expert

Could have found 100 who told them it could not be done.

Stantec could have consulted any number of dozens of experts in the UK on acid grassland and heathland ecology and associated invertebrates.

The main evidence and justification hinges on the inputs from a soil scientist, Dr Philip Putwain – not a naturalist not an ecologist. So you’re missing the big picture. Looking at a very small part of that complex system and recreating only a very small part of that. They are relying on hip him as the sole experts to legitimise this proposal.

Chat GPT

In ecological consultancy, especially in complex projects like the proposed development at Middlewick Ranges, the selection of experts and reliance on their advice is a critical aspect. The potential issues with cherry-picking experts to fit a predetermined conclusion are multifaceted and can have significant implications on the integrity and outcome of environmental assessments.

Issues with Expert Selection in Middlewick Ranges Case

1. Confirmation Bias

  • Predetermined Conclusions: Selecting experts whose views align with desired outcomes can lead to confirmation bias, where data supporting these outcomes are favored, while contradictory evidence is downplayed or ignored.
  • Excluding Alternative Voices: Ignoring or not seeking input from experts with differing opinions or expertise areas limits the scope of the assessment, potentially overlooking crucial ecological aspects.

2. Specialized vs. Broad Expertise

  • Dr. Philip Putwain’s Focus: As a soil scientist, Dr. Putwain’s expertise is valuable but potentially limited in scope for a project impacting diverse ecological aspects. His emphasis on acid grassland, without mentioning invertebrates, indicates a narrowed focus.
  • Need for Broader Ecological Insight: Given Middlewick’s diverse ecology, including rare invertebrates and complex habitat interactions, input from ecologists and entomologists like Steven Falk is essential.

3. Technical and Specific Concerns in Middlewick Ranges

  • Complexity of Acid Grassland: Dr. Putwain’s soil-focused perspective may overlook the broader ecological complexity of acid grasslands, which are intricate communities of plants, insects, and fungi with historical continuity.
  • Steven Falk’s Expertise: As a renowned entomologist, Falk’s critique of the proposed acid grassland recreation highlights the need for expert opinion from various fields, including grassland, plant, and insect experts. His assertion that high-quality acid grassland cannot be simply recreated by adding sulfur challenges the project’s feasibility and ecological soundness.
  • Underestimation of Ecological Community: The proposal underestimates the complexity of recreating an entire ecological community, including soil profiles, seed banks, and associated fauna.


The Middlewick Ranges development case illustrates the dangers of relying solely on experts whose expertise may not fully encompass the project’s ecological complexity. To ensure a comprehensive and accurate ecological assessment, it is crucial to involve a range of experts, including those with differing viewpoints and specializations. This approach mitigates the risk of confirmation bias and ensures a more robust and ecologically sound decision-making process.

17.                   Third Party Validation

Essential basis of ecological consultancy and reporting is the concept of third party validation, EECOS was acting as CBC consultancy to provide this validation/approval. It is diasspointing and frankly unfathomable how EECOS appears to have failed to pick up on any of those fundamental criticisms, omissions, inaccuracies and … which have been highlighted here and many other places/sources.


It is concerning to hear that the ecological advice provided by a third party was inadequate. Peer review and mutual third-party approval by qualified ecologists are essential for quality assurance in ecological consultancy and science. This is not surprising, as many ecologists who examined the reports and data for this site had suspected such shortcomings. This revelation challenges the legitimacy of third-party validation and undermines the foundation of the compensation plans and the entire proposal to develop Middlewick. It presents an opportunity to rethink the plans from the ground up.

However, it is now apparent that EECOS would no longer support the proposals or the Evidence Base. EWt has stated the following:
“In the face of the UK’s deepening biodiversity crisis – and climate crisis – and with your Council’s strengthened duties to enhance biodiversity, full protection of Middlewick Ranges’ wildlife is, in the Trust’s view, essential.

I am speaking for both the Wildlife Trust and Essex Ecology (or EECOS) as your former technical adviser, requesting and advising that your Council, through its green spaces’ consultation, now fully protects Middlewick Ranges and removes the current site allocation for houses there, providing revised housing allocations at alternative sites.” – [2-3] Dr Jeremy Dagley, Essex Wildlife Trust (Dec 2023)

“Of particular importance has been the ecology work undertaken by Stantec. The Council instructed EEcos to assist them with this and the Stantec ecologists have been in constant liaison with EEcos to ensure they agree our approach and findings.”

“The design of the bespoke metric has been reviewed and considered by CBC Ecologists at EECOS, and through consultation it has been agreed that this is an appropriate tool for the allocation stage of this project.” – Page 38 (44)

18.                   Suitably Qualified Ecologists?

Chat GPT

The concern raised is about the qualifications of the ecologists involved. It suggests that while they might be generalists in ecology, akin to a General Practitioner in medicine, their specific expertise does not extend to agricultural ecology, entomology, or botany. This is likened to consulting a general physician or a podiatrist for a kidney ailment; they might use technical terminology convincingly to a layperson, but their knowledge doesn’t withstand expert scrutiny in specialized fields. This analogy underscores the importance of involving ecologists with targeted expertise in specific areas for accurate and reliable ecological assessments.

19.                   Independent Advice

Chat GPT:
The practice of developers or landowners, such as the MoD, conducting or funding their own ecological surveys for planning decisions is problematic. It raises concerns about bias and lack of independence. Ecologists paid by clients might face pressure to deliver favorable reports, leading to confirmation bias.

This lack of transparency and data sharing can result in an over-optimistic outlook on habitat creation proposals while downplaying the value of existing habitats. Additionally, there’s often a lack of engagement with local naturalists and experts, whose insights are crucial.

Impartial advice from respected conservation organizations is essential to ensure objectivity and comprehensive ecological assessment. This underscores the need for independent ecological advice in planning processes to avoid conflicts of interest and ensure that ecological assessments are thorough, unbiased, and consider a diverse range of expert opinions.

  • Bullet points:

    Conflict of Interest: Developers/landowners funding their own surveys can lead to biased outcomes.
  • Pressure on Ecologists: Consultants may face pressure to tailor findings to client preferences.
  • Confirmation Bias: There’s a tendency to favor data that aligns with the desired outcome.
  • Lack of Transparency: Insufficient data sharing and open access to findings.
  • Over-Optimistic Habitat Proposals: Tendency to undervalue existing habitats while overestimating potential new habitats.
  • Limited Engagement with Local Experts: Often, local naturalists and conservation groups are overlooked.
  • Need for Independent Advice: Impartial input from conservation organizations is crucial for unbiased assessments.

Inherent issue of accepting reports/data from commercial consultancies who have been paid by large land owners/developers… conflict of interest in a land owner who is keen to sell

Impartial third party advice from respected conservation organisations is so essential.

Appears to have been a confirmation bias or selectively in those voices that were chosen and listened to – the answers some wanted to hear, whilst conveniently ignoring an entire chorus of alternative voices / alarm bells.

“We argue that all references in the Main Modifications Schedule to the Local Planning Authority making appropriate assessments relating to Habitats and biodiversity, agreeing ecological plans or making decisions to their satisfaction should be replaced with the addition of “with appropriate independent ecological advice”, since the LPA has demonstrated that (1) it is does not have the expertise to make such judgements and (2) relying on commercial consultancies to provide that advice is not independent. Suitable advice could be obtained from at least Essex Wildlife Trust, Essex Field Club and Colchester Natural History Society.” – [3-3] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 3) (Nov 2021)

20.                   Opportunity Costs

Middlewick Ranges has not been managed specifically for wildlife or acid grassland; imagine how good it could be if it were? With selective scraping; amazing results in Thetford for example using the underlying soils and seedbank. Opportunity costs. The fact that we don’t know what opportunities are we missing out on here. It’s really good already; if it’s under tarmac will never know how good it could have been.

“The first time I visited Middlewick Ranges I found a couple of plants of common Heather; it struck me that is quite likely that this is a remnant Essex Heath, which is an incredibly rare and disappearing habitat. This was in the northern area; the area that is due to be developed. Heather seeds do stay in the Seabank for a very long time and if the site were managed and allowed to develop it could well develop more characteristics of proper Essex Heath. That would be a huge win if we could actually restore some of this Heath which has been destroyed. We have lost well over 90% of this habitat in the county.” – Sven Weir, Colchester Natural History Society


Chat GPT:

The inclusion of Middlewick Ranges and Weir Lane Grasslands in the Local Plan, considering their current ecological significance and potential for enhancement under conservation management, highlights the importance of opportunity costs. These areas, especially the acid grassland, could substantially benefit from selective scraping and other conservation techniques. However, their allocation for development poses a risk, neglecting the potential ecological improvements. This scenario, discussed by commentators like Monbiot, underlines the need to evaluate the lost opportunities for biodiversity enhancement when prioritizing development over conservation.

Expanded chat GPT:
The proposed development at Middlewick Ranges and Weir Lane Grasslands presents a significant opportunity cost. These areas, rich in biodiversity, could greatly benefit from targeted conservation management. The use of selective scraping and other techniques could enhance their ecological value, especially for the acid grassland. However, allocating these lands for development overlooks this potential, prioritizing construction over ecological improvement. This scenario is a classic example of opportunity cost in environmental decision-making, where the potential benefits of conservation are sacrificed for development, a concern echoed by environmental commentators like George Monbiot. Such decisions are critical, especially in the context of the current climate and biodiversity crisis.

21.                   Birch Brook Local Wildlife Site


“Were really talking about the destruction of two local wildlife sites

SV One of the other areas of concern for me is Burke Brooke which runs to the south of the Rangers. My impression of looking at Birch brick was that it was a microcosm of the Roman River Valley. For example, I found Carex laevigata (Smooth-stalked Sedge) – the only place I know it is at the bottom of Friday Woods near the Roman River. I feel theeis more to be found; the assemblages of ferns along the valley. You may not have the volume and diversity of species of the tripper Xi, but you certainly will find things that are characteristic of the river valley.

If you think about watercourses near housing developments, such as Porters Brook which runs right through Johnson John’s estate past the railway and bypasses green stood and flows out into the Colne. It has been absolutely ruined by development and public pressure. Following development these streams become a rubbish dump. That is always going to happen when you’ve got development and a large volume of people suddenly . Present. You will have people dropping , creating informal crossings rubbish, mountain biking, dog walking.

Birch brick is a sensitive watercourse which could be absolutely ruined.

Whether or not they build directly up to it is beside the point, you still get the massively increased public pressure. At the moment Birch brick is X hundred metres from the nearest built-up area; this means it requires a fairly determined dog walker to reach the site on a daily basis. However, if the development plans go ahead then Birch brick will would be within 50 m; a tempting an easy location to ‘empty your dog’. In addition you get a vast increase in pollution from run-off from the new housing estates, including particulates from tyres and pollutants and chemicals. There have been no freshwater invertebrate studies of Birch brick related to this proposal neither have the aquatic species in Roman River Valley been analysed and the potential for impacts here.” – Sven Weir, Colchester Natural History Society

“Furthermore, Birch Brook itself and its shallow valley are sensitive areas themselves (and we have argued in an earlier submission that it will be put at risk by this development). We note that CBC’s document “FINAL Colchester Borough Council (CBC) Local Plan Examination of Section 2…” states in paragraph 3.3.6 that the Council see the masterplan process as a way to (among other things) “create appropriate buffers to existing habitat”. This statement is misleading in the extreme. It should be acknowledged that Birch Brook already has a buffer zone to the north, the area of Middlewick Range that is currently under discussion. Any decision to allow development on the site will manifestly reduce the buffer zone protecting Birch Brook, and will certainly not create a buffer. Indeed, Birch Brook will become subject to increased pressures, which are likely to create pollution and erosion, thus reducing the value of its habitat over time.” [4-1] Colchester Natural History Society (page 1-2)

“Impacts of development on Birch Brook Wood

While the proposed development of Middlewick Ranges will not damage Birch Brook Wood LoWS directly, the considerable increase in anthropogenic pressures as a result of the new housing will likely have a serious detrimental impact on the quality of the habitat. These impacts include:

  • Significant reduction in area of semi-natural habitat connected to the woodland
    • Increased disturbance to wildlife caused by a large increase in visitors to the site
    • Increased light pollution
    • Increased littering and fly-tipping
    • Increased foraging and predation by domestic cats
    • Increased dog disturbance
    • Loss of tranquillity and other changes in landscape character of the area

Hazel dormice

There is some evidence that the woodland habitat of Birch Brook Wood LoWS may support a population of hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius). Surveys will be required to confirm their presence.” – [2-1] Dr Annie Gordon, Essex Wildlife Trust (page 2) (July 2019)

22.                   SSSI Impacts; EcIA and Habitat Regulations

Chat GPT

The proposed development at Middlewick Ranges, involving experimental sulphur treatment, necessitates a comprehensive Ecological Impact Assessment (EIA). Given the proximity to Roman River SSSI and Colne Estuary SSSI, a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) is also imperative due to ecological connections with Middlewick and Weir Lane grasslands.

The potential impacts of anthropogenic pressure and sulphur treatments on these sites could set a concerning national precedent in terms of SSSI and HRA protocols. There are risks of adverse effects on the biodiversity and ecological balance of these protected areas, highlighting the need for rigorous assessments to ensure compliance with environmental legislation and proper biodiversity protection.

“The Midland Ecology report paragraph 3.3 makes the point that an important function of Local Wildlife Sites is to “complement or buffer statutory conservation sites (SSSIs)”. The Middlewick and Birch Brook LoWS’s provide this buffer function for the Roman River Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest.

(NB that Colchester Natural History Society has published jointly with Essex Wildlife Trust an in-depth ten-year study of the ecology of the Roman River Valley (Roman River Valley Living Landscape: Habitats and Species 2009– 2019, ed. Darren Tansley, Great Wigborough, 2019. Available via CNHS website), and this report in turn must be studied fully to understand what is at risk from undermining the buffer zone to the north.” – [4-1] Colchester Natural History Society (page 1)

23.                   Mitigation Hierarchy

“Middlewick Ranges is one of the most important and valuable Local Wildlife Sites in the Colchester borough. The site is of exceptional value for its diverse invertebrate populations, which include a substantial number of rare and/or threatened species.” – [2-1] Dr Annie Gordon, Essex Wildlife Trust (page 1) (July 2019)

Fundamental to sound and best ecological practice – and planning policy – is respecting and following the Mitigation Hierarchy. Put simply, it is encouraging building on areas of low ecological value – and strongly discouraging building on sites of high ecological value.

Can we really say the mitigation hierarchy has been followed in Middlewick’s inclusion in the Local Plan? And did Stantec apply this best practice and the mitigation hierarchy? We are afraid to say no – in both cases.

Chat GPt:
Following the mitigation hierarchy for sites like Middlewick Ranges is crucial:

  • Avoiding Damage: The first step should always be avoiding ecological harm. Development on Middlewick contradicts this, leading to habitat fragmentation and loss of biodiversity.
  • Mitigation and Compensation: If damage is inevitable, efforts should be made to mitigate and compensate. However, the proposed measures at Middlewick, such as experimental sulphur treatment, have been criticized for their effectiveness and scientific basis.
  • Ignoring Hierarchy Consequences: Not adhering to the hierarchy risks significant ecological damage, loss of biodiversity, and sets a poor precedent in ecological conservation practice.

The failure to follow this hierarchy reflects a disregard for sound ecological practices and planning policies, potentially leading to irreversible ecological damage.

“The Council will be aware of the mitigation hierarchy that sets out a series of steps in protecting ecological habitats from harm by development, namely avoid the damage in the first instance; mitigate by reducing adverse impacts, and lastly compensate where avoidance or mitigation are not possible (per Essex Wildlife Trust letter to localplan@colchester.go.uk dated 14 November 2021). Underpinning the latter are the fundamental principles that any mitigation or compensation must be bespoke, deliverable and effective.

The RSPB wish to advise the Council that the Minsmere case study presented in the Stantec report is not comparable or analogous to the proposed compensation site for Middlewick Ranges and we do not consider that any mitigation/compensation would be suitably bespoke, deliverable or effective.” – [5] Mark Nowers, RSPB (Dec 2023)

“Where there is reason to suspect the presence of a protected species (and impact to), or Species/Habitats of Principal Importance, applications should be accompanied by an ecological survey assessing their presence and, if present, the proposal must be sensitive to, and make provision for their needs and demonstrate the mitigation hierarchy has been followed.” – [10-1] Lawyers for Nature (page 1)

“i) Mitigation hierarchy

MM37 14.56. is as follows: “Middlewick Ranges is a designated Local Wildlife Site (reference Co122). The site was reviewed as part of a wider Local Sites Review in 2015 and as a result of the review the area designated has been extended. The Ecological Evidence Report confirms that the habitats within the site are of high biodiversity value, including 53 Ha of acid grassland.

The site supports a range of protected species such as invertebrates, breeding birds and bats. Council is aware that the site supports at least one Protected Species, therefore given the site’s ecological sensitivity, full ecological assessments will need to be undertaken as part of any planning application including for all Protected Species, and Species of Principal Importance during the appropriate survey season.”

The immediate response to reading these two paragraphs should be that this site must on no account be developed.   

The mitigation hierarchy is below.  It beggars belief that instead of those involved (Colchester Borough Council, Ministry of Defence, Stantec) applying the Avoid criterion, have opted instead for Offset, and that the inspector has agreed that this is the appropriate approach.  This is despite submissions throughout the local plan process and at the hearings, during which ecologists cited extreme concern at the loss of this habitat and at the high risk of the mitigation proposed.” – [12] Community Planning Alliance (October 2021)

They have started with an answer to a question and starting with a conclusion; that answer and conclusion is ‘it will be fine. These impacts are mitigated or and we can compensate.’ Then you match everythin – all the data and all the evidence – to that foregone conclusion. That’s what’s happened here and this is what happens to many other sites, this is we are afraid not especially rare and an open secret in commercial ecological consultancy. However, the larger and more valuable the sites the higher the stakes – and the more important it is to question and challenge these foregone conclusions and bad science. If the planning system and legal ecological protections work in any way then these ‘bad apple’ proposals will be exposed and thrown out sooner or later.

A lot of it isn’t necessarily a conscious level we work on past templates there is an assumption within the industry that were being paid and we should do a good job for them and should give the developer answers which are sympathetic to their cause. There are very good examples of good ecological private practice and then also examples; say with any industries they are open to influence and in some cases there are examples of outright collusion and corruption. There is more that can be explained than simple naïveté and ignorance alone.

24.                   Green Corridor and LoWS

Chat GPT

Green corridors and landscape connectivity are fundamental in ecological conservation for several reasons:

  • Habitat Connectivity: They enable the movement of species between otherwise isolated habitat patches, crucial for genetic diversity (Bennett, 1990).
  • Biodiversity Support: Corridors support diverse species, including those requiring large territories or varied habitats (Beier & Noss, 1998).
  • Climate Change Resilience: They allow species to migrate in response to climate change, ensuring survival (Heller & Zavaleta, 2009).
  • Ecological Processes: Corridors facilitate essential ecological processes like pollination and seed dispersal (Gilbert-Norton et al., 2010).

These principles highlight the importance of maintaining and protecting green corridors for overall ecosystem health and sustainability.

Middlewick Ranges, Birch Brook LoWS, and Weir Lane grasslands are crucial for landscape-scale ecological connectivity in South Colchester. They act as significant wildlife corridors, linking suburban areas to the SSSI woodland and river corridor. These areas contribute substantially to local and broader ecological networks, offering vital refuges and acting as stepping stones to enhance ecological coherence. Such sites are pivotal in addressing the biodiversity crisis, as emphasized in the State of Nature report 2023. Protecting them is key to maintaining ecological integrity and ensuring a climate-resilient landscape.

This grassland is a wild corridor and DIRECTLY connects a number of important habitats and sites for wildlife in South Colchester (including with designations) as follows:

i) To the north: Middlewick Ranges and Birch Brook Wood Local Wildlife Sites (LoWS) as well as Donyland Wetland, Colchester Cemetery and Bourne Brook LoWS.
ii) To the south-east: Roman River SSSI and LoWS, Upper Colne Marshes SSSI and Rowhedge Pits and Donyland Woods LoWS

iii) To the south-west: Friday Woods (Roman River) SSSI and surrounding Manwood Chase, Ball Grove and Layer Brook Pasture Local Wildlife Sites

We talking about degradation of very sensitive and wild space within a relatively suburban area which links directly to the SSSI woodland and river corridor. Middlewick Ranges forms part of a large green corridor that goes almost to the centre of Colchester. It has much much wider ecological implications for wildlife in Colchester far beyond the red line boundaries.

Importance of LoWS networks

A Local Wildlife Site designation such as Middlewick Ranges should always serve as a warning that development is highly likely to be damaging and an alternative location should be sought. These sites are of great significance as core wildlife-rich habitats of substantive nature conservation value. While the network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) is crucially important, they represent only a small sample of our most important habitats and their species; the SSSI network is selective and not intended to be comprehensive. This means that many sites like Middlewick Ranges have equivalent nature conservation value but are not designated as SSSIs and have no statutory protection, despite

being of equal or greater value to wildlife.

It is of vital importance to recognise that Middlewick Ranges and all the other local wildlife sites across the country represent a major national asset, essential to nature’s recovery. They play a critical conservation role by providing wildlife refuges, acting as stepping stones, corridors and buffer zones to link and protect nationally and internationally designated sites – improving ecological coherence and connectivity and contributing to a climate resilient landscape. With no statutory status, their only form of protection is through good planning policy and decisions.” – [2-1] Dr Annie Gordon, Essex Wildlife Trust (page 3) (July 2019)

25.                   Planning Policy and LoWS

“We would like to draw the Council’s attention to our Planning Naturally 1 report, produced in conjunction with the Royal Town and Planning Institute (RTPI) and the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM). This sets out twelve principles of good spatial planning and we wish to highlight the following:

– Plans should contribute to sustainable development by enhancing the natural environment and ensuring that social and economic development takes place within environmental limits.

– Plans and projects should be based on up-to-date and scientifically robust evidence, including evidence on the value of the natural environment

– Plans and projects should be rigorously assessed for their environmental impacts, and the results used to improve the plan.

– Alternative options should be considered, particularly alternatives that are less damaging to the environment, and the reasons for rejecting any options should be made public.

Finally, the Council will need to consider their responsibilities in relation to the emerging Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS).” – Mark Nowers, RSPB (Dec 2023)

“The Midland Ecology Report asks, “what consideration has been given to the choice of alternative sites that would cause less harm?” (a requirement of the revised Env1 Policy). Given that CBC acknowledges that the land is of “high biodiversity value”, it would seem that there is a heavy burden on CBC to seek alternative sites.” – [4-1] CNHS (page 4)

“Our 2021 data also confirm that the northern area is of high value as well as the eastern and southern parts of the site that we examined, again emphasising the failure of the evidence base provided by CBC. We therefore do not agree that “the built footprint of the development has been sited to minimise the effects on protected habitats and species” [MM47 Policy SC2: Middlewick Ranges (vi)].

It is abundantly clear that invertebrate survey undertaken by competent, professional, independent specialists would find that development on any part of the Middlewick Ranges LoWS could not pass the tests contained in ENV1 or the NPPF and that the inclusion of the site in the Local Plan Housing Allocation cannot be justified. The local authority has a duty towards under the NERC Act for the S41 species.

The loss and fragmentation of important habitat areas at Middlewick Ranges does nothing to aid the conservation of the IUCN Threatened species and moves them closer to UK extinction. It should be clear that no Masterplan could be developed which would be consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework and there should be no allocation of homes on the site.

MM20. Whilst Middlewick Ranges LoWS remains in the Local Plan Housing Allocation we do not see how CBC can claim to conserve and enhance Colchester’s natural and historic environment, countryside and coastline ( MM20 Policy ENV1: Environment ) or how the Borough’s biodiversity, geology, history and archaeology can be protected and enhanced.

The acid grassland Priority Habitat at Middlewick is probably the largest unfragmented area of this Priority Habitat surviving in Essex, and as such CBC has a special responsibility for conserving this site and this area of Priority Habitat. SC2 should be removed.” – [3-3] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (pages 1-2) (Nov 2021)

“Given the lack of confidence demonstrated at Examination by independent qualified and experienced organisations that acid grassland „creation‟ could be replicated elsewhere within 10 years, and the importance of this habitat at Middlewick Ranges, we do not believe that it is possible for the MM47 Policy SC2: Middlewick Ranges (vii) text to be an achievable aim in any meaningful way.” – [3-3] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 4) (Nov 2021)

26.                   National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

See Appendix xx

We do not believe that the inclusion of the Middlewick Ranges Local Wildlife Site (LoWS) in the Local Plan Housing Allocation is consistent with national policy and the National Planning Policy Framework, and therefore the Local Plan cannot be considered sound. SC2 should not have been allocated, nor allowed to remain in the plan and there should be no allocation of homes on the site. Otherwise there is a high likelihood of legal challenge subsequent to adoption.” [3-3] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 1) (Nov 2021)

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) defines sustainable development as follows:

8. Achieving sustainable development means that the planning system has three overarching objectives, which are interdependent and need to be pursued in mutually supportive ways (so that opportunities can be taken to secure net gains across each of the different objectives):

c) an environmental objective – to contribute to protecting and enhancing our natural, built and historic environment; including making effective use of land, helping to improve biodiversity, using natural resources prudently, minimising waste and pollution, and mitigating and adapting to climate change, including moving to a low carbon economy.

It is clear that the proposal to destroy a large part of Middlewick Ranges LoWS, while putting the remaining habitats at serious risk of degradation, does not conform with the definition of sustainable development as it fails to deliver the environmental objective.

The NPPF goes on to explain (para. 32) that significant adverse impacts on the sustainability objectives should be avoided and alternative options should be pursued wherever possible. It then continues:

170. Planning policies and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by:

a) protecting and enhancing valued landscapes, sites of biodiversity or geological value and soils (in a manner commensurate with their statutory status or identified quality in the development plan);

d) minimising impacts on and providing net gains for biodiversity

The proposals do not conform with the guidelines in paragraph 170; the development does not protect and enhance a valued landscape and site of biodiversity value. It also fails to minimise impacts on biodiversity and provide net gains in biodiversity. We are firmly of the opinion that in destroying a large part of a designated local wildlife site and subjecting the retained habitats to an enormous increase in anthropogenic pressures, it will not be possible to deliver a measurable net gain in biodiversity.

171. Plans should: distinguish between the hierarchy of international, national and locally designated sites; allocate land with the least environmental or amenity value, where consistent with other policies in this Framework; take a strategic approach to maintaining and enhancing networks of habitats and green infrastructure; and plan for the enhancement of natural capital at a catchment or landscape scale across local authority boundaries.

The proposals for the development of Middlewick Ranges do not conform with the above guidelines; the site is of high environmental and biodiversity value and development of the site would amount to a failure to maintain and enhance a habitat network.

Para. 174 states:

174. To protect and enhance biodiversity and geodiversity, plans should:

a) Identify, map and safeguard components of local wildlife-rich habitats and wider ecological networks, including the hierarchy of international, national and locally designated sites of importance for biodiversity; wildlife corridors and stepping stones that connect them; and areas identified by national and local partnerships for habitat management, enhancement, restoration or creation; and

b) promote the conservation, restoration and enhancement of priority habitats, ecological networks and the protection and recovery of priority species; and identify and pursue opportunities for securing measurable net gains for biodiversity.

The proposals for the development of Middlewick Ranges do not conform with the guidelines in paragraph 174; the plans do not safeguard components of local, wildlife-rich habitats, on the contrary the proposals will damage and destroy a locally designated site of importance for biodiversity. The development also fails to promote the conservation, restoration and enhancement of priority habitats.

Finally, in paragraph 175 the NPPF states:

175. When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should apply the following principles:

a) if significant harm to biodiversity resulting from a development cannot be avoided (through locating on an alternative site with less harmful impacts), adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused.

The mitigation hierarchy has not been followed as a result of the fact that the site was not allocated through the normal policy-driven, spatial planning process which should underpin all housing allocations.

In reiteration, Essex Wildlife Trust objects to the allocation of Middlewick Ranges LoWS for housing development. The proposals do not represent sustainable development and will result in the destruction of a large area of valuable wildlife habitat and the degradation of retained habitats; the proposals do not conform to NPPF guidelines for the protection of the environment and biodiversity; the proposals will result in unacceptable biodiversity loss and cause irreparable harm to a highly valued Local Wildlife Site.” – [2-1] Dr Annie Gordon, Essex Wildlife Trust (pages 4-6) (July 2019)

“National planning policy expects plans to identify and map these sites, and to include policies that not only secure their protection from harm or loss but also help to enhance them and their connection to wider ecological networks. We do not believe that CBC have demonstrated an objective process to quantify the natural capital value and avoidance of areas of high ecological value in the process that informed their decision to include Middlewick Ranges as one of the Site Allocations for the Local Plan.

The Draft stage of the Colchester Borough Local Plan 2017 – 2033 published in June 2017 which contains Policy SC2: Middlewick Ranges states on p126 “Further opportunities to expand the urban area southwards presents itself on land which the Ministry of Defence wish to dispose of around part of Middlewick Ranges as well as a number of smaller sites”.

This statement shows that CBC agreed the principle of site allocation for housing in the Emerging Local Plan and strongly suggests that the allocation has simply been made because of the convenience of the land availability resulting from the site’s identification for closure by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). We question what consideration CBC has given to the choice of alternative sites that would cause less harm as required by the National Planning Policy Framework.

We challenge the Evidence Base used by CBC to justify the inclusion of Middlewick Ranges LoWS. We do not believe that CBC have demonstrated how their decision making to allow Middlewick Ranges to be allocated in the Local Plan as a suitable site for housing complies with the requirement under National Planning Policy Framework that requires developers to ensure habitats for wildlife are enhanced and left in a measurably better state than they were pre-development.

These principles are considered a necessity in demonstrating that development would be sustainable. Similarly, the MoD, as a statutory authority should also demonstrate what measures have been taken to have full regard to biodiversity under Sec 40 of Natural Environment & Rural Communities Act (2006) to dispose of the site when found to be surplus to requirements in favour of development (as opposed to management as a National Nature Reserve for example) knowing that the land has been designated as a Local Wildlife Site (LWS) and supports nationally rare species. We do not see that CBC and adjoining authorities have clearly evidenced the housing requirement on this land.” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (pages 1-2) (April 2021)

“All large development allocations must be accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment, which has not been undertaken, and it is irrational and unsound to rely on the need for these in individual planning applications as argued by Stantec, when an allocation for housing has already been built into the Local Plan. We do not believe CBC can fulfil their duty under Section 40 of NERC Act (2006) to have full regard to biodiversity in their decision-making when they have not had these specialist invertebrate species surveys to adequately evaluate the existing invertebrate fauna, the potential impacts and whether proposed mitigation and compensation is adequate.” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 3) (April 2021)

“However habitat creation cannot replace an irreplaceable never-ploughed nature conservation resource, and should not be used as a justification for the site’s inclusion in the Local Plan Housing Allocation. CBC’s Env1 Irreplaceable habitat policy states that proposals that would result in the loss of irreplaceable habitats will not be permitted unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy. Where are the wholly exceptional reasons for this site of SSSI quality?” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 3) (April 2021)

The requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework and CBC’s own commitment to deliver sustainable development and an overall net gain to biodiversity in the implementation of the new Local Plan mean that the inclusion of the site in the Local Plan Housing Allocation cannot be justified. The ecological value of Middlewick Ranges LoWS and the importance of retaining its integrity must be recognised and protected if Colchester Borough Council’s new Local Plan is to deliver an overall biodiversity net gain. We do not see how the proposed allocation of Middlewick Ranges LoWS for housing can allow CBC to safeguard the Borough’s biodiversity, geology, history and archaeology, which help define the landscape character of the Borough, through the protection and enhancement of sites of international, national, regional and local importance under Policy ENV1.” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 4) (April 2021)

In addition, the following paragraph expresses the dismay and frustration within the naturalist ands conservation community at the lack of transparency and timing of the 2021 Local Plan Examination, where participants including planners and councillors, were not allowed sufficient time to properly review the evidence; and some documents were not made available in a timely manner; thereby calling into question the soundness of this original decision to include Middlewick within the Local Plan:

“We have also had to make a second separate additional response to information and documents which have been provided by CBC at the last minute in an extraordinarily unsatisfactory and undemocratic way which in our opinion should not be any part of the Evidence base – Emerging Local Plan examined by the Planning Inspectorate at the forthcoming hearings, since they have not been subject to any prior public consultation or provided sufficient time to thoroughly evaluate.” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 4) (April 2021)

Full compensation plans you need evidence and a precedent to submit a proposal. You need to prove that this is demonstrably realistic and there are case studies to show that this is a legitimate pathway to compensation. Therefore using a made up metric, using experimental and proven techniques where there is no field case study of sensitive acid grassland unploughed land established over a hundred hundreds of years there is no case study for the replacement of this habitat using sulphur method. Boiling it down to the heart of whether this is possible. Is this mitigated and can we compensate? The very core of this plan which was cobbled together by an associate ecologist Rebecca Strawbridge, she was not suitably qualified as an acid grass and ecologist or botanist. She basically did an Internet search for acid grass and creation came up with some random links in terms of treating arable land. She found one soil expert came up with a metric and its job done. Recreated down the road.

“As a LoWS, the Ranges are a key biodiversity site in the area, supporting one of the largest areas of the Priority Habitat Acid Grassland in Essex. Any development on this site will result in the loss of this Priority Habitat and an overall loss of biodiversity, contravening National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) biodiversity policies. Paragraph 179 (b) of the NPPF (2021) states that planning policies should “promote the conservation, restoration and enhancement of priority habitats, ecological networks and the protection and recovery of priority species; and identify and pursue opportunities for securing measurable net gains for biodiversity”.

As well as its inherent wildlife value, Middlewick Ranges is also important as part of a network of sites supporting local biodiversity in the Essex Coast IIA. Paragraph 174 of the NPPF (2021) states that “planning authorities and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by a) protecting and enhancing valued landscapes, sites of biodiversity and b) minimising impacts on and providing net gains for biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures”.” – [6] Jamie Robins, Buglife

27.                   Environmental Legislation and Obligations

“The Local Plan Review presents a clear opportunity to include Middlewick Ranges within the Green Infrastructure Plan of the Borough and secure the future of this site. Buglife argues that to meet the Government targets for 30% of land to be protected by 20303, LoWS should be protected from inappropriate development. In the context of a biodiversity crisis, this site is a biodiversity hotspot and development needs must be met on sites of less value. This is not only to fulfil the requirements for developments to avoid significant harm to biodiversity, but also to ensure meaningful uplift can be achieved through enhancements and Biodiversity Net Gain.

Buglife urges Colchester City Council to include Middlewick Ranges as an important green space within the Local Plan Review and protect it from development.” – [6] Jamie Robins, Buglife (Dec 2023)

28.                   ‘Least Worst Option’

‘Least Worst’ Objection

Here’s some points I’ve put together to counter this reasonable question/argument (I will include in the letter, so glad this was raised!):

  1. The notion that planners and MoD/DiO’s ‘least worst’ option claim is a complete misrepresentation must be vehemently opposed. Their approach is based on a predetermined outcome, assuming that development is inevitable. Despite past informal agreements, this doesn’t guarantee a finalised deal. The current local plan’s ‘best deal’ for Middlewick actually entails the total and irreversible destruction of a vital ecosystem.
  • The remaining habitat fragments offered as a consolation are expected to deteriorate due to pollution from housing developments and increased public pressure, such as a surge in pets and dog walking. This presents a grim future for both wildlife and local residents, who are expected to be grateful for these diminishing and degraded scraps of nature.
  • The planning conditions for Middlewick are overly broad, complex, and impractical, reasons enough to have excluded it from the local plan initially. It seems the planning inspector faced immense pressure to approve these plans, which are based more on fantasy than feasibility, such as the dubious promise of recreating acid grassland on nutrient-rich existing grassland.
  • Experience shows that such large-scale developments often fail to deliver on their environmental promises. The likely outcome for Middlewick, based on similar cases, is a degradation into areas dominated by dog waste and nettles, a far cry from the promised vibrant, species-rich grasslands teeming with life. This underscores the need for a reevaluation of the plan and its long-term implications.
  • Even if removed from the Local Plan, any future developments would be subject to the same stringent planning conditions; although it is highly unlikely that any Master Plan or planning consent would be approved, especially now we have so much data and there is increased scrutiny and a spotlight on Middlewick and how the impacts simply cannot be mitigated.

29.                   Conditioning the Unfeasible

Chat GPT
The reliance on planning conditions to address the ecological concerns and objections raised about the development of Middlewick Ranges is fundamentally flawed and inadequate. These points highlight why such an approach is neither acceptable nor satisfactory:

  1. Misrepresentation of “Least Worst” Option: The planners and MoD/DiO’s characterization of the proposed development as the ‘least worst’ option fails to acknowledge the irreversible ecological destruction it would entail. The premise of inevitability in development ignores the significant ecological value of Middlewick Ranges and underestimates the detrimental impact of habitat fragmentation and degradation​​.
  2. Inadequate Protection of Remaining Habitats: The preservation of fragmented habitat portions, such as the 60% ‘green space’, does not guarantee ecological integrity. Fragmented habitats suffer from edge effects, increased human disturbance, and are less resilient to environmental changes. The fragmentation and proximity of development to these habitats will significantly impact the complex ecosystem, especially for species requiring large, undisturbed areas​​.
  3. Failure to Address Comprehensive Ecological Impacts: Planning conditions often fail to consider the cumulative ecological effects of habitat loss, fragmentation, pollution, and altered environmental conditions. There’s a lack of detailed assessment of how the loss of habitat area and fragmentation will impact the survival of existing floral and faunal populations and assemblages【3-1†source】.
  4. Questionable Feasibility and Enforcement of Conditions: Experience has shown that large-scale developments often do not fulfill their environmental promises. Planning conditions can become mere formalities, unable to ensure the long-term preservation and management of complex ecosystems. The actual outcomes often differ significantly from the idealized ecological plans proposed during the planning stages.
  5. Insufficient Consideration of Specialist Habitat Needs: Many species in Middlewick Ranges, especially the invertebrates, have specific habitat requirements that cannot be met by fragmented or partially preserved habitats. The loss of integral habitat components, even if a percentage is preserved, can render the entire site ecologically nonviable for these species​​.
  6. Ecological Principles Overlooked: The entire premise of the development, including the reliance on planning conditions, overlooks fundamental ecological principles. The unique and irreplaceable nature of the existing acid grassland and its associated biodiversity cannot be adequately protected or replicated through imposed conditions.
  7. Legal and Reputational Risks: Ignoring these ecological principles and pushing forward with development under inadequate planning conditions could lead to legal and reputational risks for the council. It could be seen as failing to adhere to environmental legislation and obligations under policies like the National Planning Policy Framework and upcoming environmental laws.
  8. Public Perception and Opposition: The reliance on planning conditions may also fuel public opposition. The perception that the development is proceeding despite significant ecological concerns can lead to heightened scrutiny, legal challenges, and erosion of public trust in the planning process.

In summary, planning conditions, as currently proposed, are insufficient to mitigate the ecological impacts of the development at Middlewick Ranges. The complex and interconnected nature of the site’s biodiversity cannot be safeguarded through these conditions alone. A more holistic, ecologically informed approach is necessary to protect this valuable natural asset.

~ ~ ~

I think we should be cautious in engaging with debates over specific conditions, area measurements, or the number of houses planned etc. This can be a red herring and diversion, playing into the hands of those pushing for development. They shift focus onto minor concessions, leading us to inadvertently accept the underlying premise of development. Our efforts should focus on challenging this flawed premise and not negotiating over the scraps they’re willing to spare for wildlife.

Our primary objective should be to challenge the core assumption that this development is feasible or justifiable. The acid grassland at Middlewick is, by its very nature, irreplaceable, making any proposed mitigation or compensation strategies inherently flawed. (I know everyone here is aware of this, just tackling the Qs that planners or the public might pose, ensuring we remain consistent in our opposition to the fundamental principle of this development.)

Repeated from above

The notion that planners and MoD/DiO’s ‘least worst’ option claim is a complete misrepresentation must be vehemently opposed. Their approach is based on a predetermined outcome, assuming that development is inevitable. Despite past informal agreements, this doesn’t guarantee a finalised deal. The current local plan’s ‘best deal’ for Middlewick actually entails the total and irreversible destruction of a vital ecosystem.

No legal agreement with council and MoD south of Brich Brook No security and confidence wrt ecology. No agreement so plan should be reevaluated – if not going ot happen where eit said going to happen where… something inspectorate honed in on.

Does the council have any legal agreements of the land south of Birch Brook for the purposes of mitigation as part of Local Plan SC2

It is recognised that if the planning conditions were applied and mandated in full, any development would be unworkable and unviable. However,

A developer will look at local planning conditions ecological constraints legal considerations and may think it’s more trouble than it’s worth. A developer and planning committee can find ways to get round planning conditions. Their mission and goal is to build houses and they won’t stop

Even any concession of the conditions becomes a box ticking exercise, salvaging anything we can from this disaster. We all know the plans that sound nice on paper like acid grassland you go back five years later and find bristly ox tongue and dog poo.

“The use of the most up to date and complete ecological data is essential to influence how biodiversity interests are considered in the Local Plan process. Information on the ecological importance of a site should be used by your Authority to inform consideration of how successfully the application of the mitigation hierarchy (the principle of avoid, mitigate then compensate for harm to biodiversity interests) can be deployed for a proposed allocation.

Since our previous correspondence, we have been made aware of additional survey data gathered by third party organisations and individuals (notably Essex Field Club and Butterfly Conservation) for Middlewick Ranges. This information was provided to your Authority in representations from Essex Field Club in Autumn 2021, and most recently prior to the Local Plan Committee meeting (13th June).

Whilst being partial in coverage, this data supports the view that Middlewick Ranges is of considerable significance for a diversity and abundance of invertebrate fauna, including many rare and notable species. In addition to this, we have been made aware that the full extent of lowland dry acid grassland habitat is not recorded on the Priority Habitat Inventory data layer on GIS mapping tools (e.g. MAGIC). Whilst this habitat was acknowledged as being present and considered in the consultation process, it may be that the value of the area was not fully understood previously.

We are aware that your Authority will consider the adoption of the Local Plan in a forthcoming meeting on 4th July. Natural England notes that amended Policy has described extensive requirements in relation to biodiversity matters at Middlewick Ranges, with the intention that if a proposal cannot demonstrate full compliance with the policy and meet statutory duties then the Council should refuse consent. Natural England would expect full adherence with the proposed policy in order to safeguard biodiversity interests here.” – [1-2] Natural England (June 2022)

“One of the hats I wear is a Green Flag award judge. And I was asked to look at the grounds of Essex University and I was shown round by the grounds manager. I get to see the management plan of the University grounds how the whole area is being managed in terms of by adversity and wildlife. One thing I was interested in finding more about is the mitigation for the knowledge Gateway business Park. That was granted permission on the basis that the mitigation would take place and one of the main areas that was to compensate for the loss of part parkland was improving hive marshes. The meadow was long grass with lots of thistles but did not look like a well-managed meadow and hive marshes nothing has been done. Five years on nothing has happened to that habitat it hasn’t achieved anything, a few years down the line it’s all forgotten about.” – Dougal Urquhart, Colchester Natural History Society

MP This is a rule not the exception. It is very common that these plans they put down, you get an ecologist to sign it off and it signs a sounds very good you have some pretty maps, it looks very good maybe with some mockup and a very little monitoring that takes place you come back five years later and you look for these 38 plant species and ask where is it? It’s a fantasy.

In theory the developer should take care of the site for 30 years, but that is very rarely enforced.

30.                   Hypothetical Timing

In a hypothetical scenario, the timing of the development at Middlewick Ranges in relation to the proposed ecological mitigation strategies presents a significant challenge that renders the process unworkable. Here’s a detailed breakdown of why this is the case:

  1. Mismatched Timing for Habitat Creation and Development: The proposed midpoint for development around 2025 conflicts with the estimated time required to create suitable mitigation habitat. Assuming, optimistically, that acid grassland could be recreated in 10 years, there would be a significant gap during which no suitable habitat would be available, leading to a biodiversity deficit. This contradicts the goal of biodiversity net gain and risks permanent loss of important species【4-1†source】.
  2. Complexity of Ecosystem Translocation: The idea of relocating an entire ecosystem, especially one as complex as that of Middlewick Ranges, is highly problematic. Even if acid grassland were created in 5 to 10 years, replicating the intricate ecological network, including mycorrhizal connections, micro biomes, and the diverse invertebrate assemblage, is far-fetched. This goes beyond just recreating certain plant species and touches upon the fundamental ecological system that can’t be rapidly replicated.
  3. Time Lag in Habitat Colonization: The time lag for new habitats to be colonized, especially if the source habitat is destroyed early in the process, is a critical factor. The potential decades-long gap before newly established habitats can support similar biodiversity levels as the original site means a long-term biodiversity deficit. Local extinction of certain species during this gap period cannot be ruled back, preventing these species from colonizing newly formed habitats.
  4. Experimental Nature of Proposed Solutions: The proposed use of sulphur to recreate acid grassland is highly experimental and controversial. As noted by experts like Steven Falk, such an approach shows a fundamental misunderstanding of acid grassland ecology. The feasibility of this method in creating a habitat comparable to the original is highly doubtful.
  5. Dependence on Unrealistic Planning Conditions: The reliance on planning conditions to safeguard the ecological integrity of the site is unrealistic. These conditions often fail to capture the complexity of ecological systems and are not a substitute for preserving existing, irreplaceable habitats. The enforcement of such conditions over long periods also raises practical challenges.
  6. Risk of Irreversible Ecological Damage: The irreversible ecological damage that would result from the development, even if mitigated later, is a significant concern. The potential loss of biodiversity in the interim period cannot be compensated for, making the proposed development and mitigation strategy ecologically unviable.
  7. Legal and Ethical Considerations: The proposal to develop Middlewick Ranges and compensate with recreated habitats raises legal and ethical questions about adherence to environmental laws and policies. The mitigation hierarchy emphasizes avoidance as a primary strategy, which seems to be overlooked in this scenario.

In conclusion, the timing and feasibility of creating a comparable ecological habitat at Middlewick Ranges as compensation for development are highly questionable. The complexities involved in ecosystem translocation, the experimental nature of the proposed solutions, and the significant time lag in habitat colonization all contribute to making the scenario unworkable from an ecological standpoint.

~ ~ ~

“The Local Plan period is 2017 – 2033 and development of Middlewick is proposed around the mid-point, say 2025. Even if suitable mitigation habitat could be achieved in the questioned 10-year period this would result in no suitable habitat being available when required, biodiversity net gain would not be achievable and important species would be lost.” – [4-1] CNHS (page 3)

MP The concept of moving this entire ecosystem wholesale; this complex interconnected web. You can challenge the logistics. If you were going to make this work you need many many years a transition period to allow colonisation. You’re dealing with a local extinction event, how are they going to colonise if the habitats haven’t established; and if the local populations have already been wiped out when the bulldozers move in.

Even if you were able to create acid grassland within 5 to 10 years, which sounds ridiculous, and had some of the flora there, this is very different to having the sandy substrate that bees dig into, the sandy slopes with different aspects, the fundamental ecological system which is very complex from the mycorrhizal connections underground to the micro biome to the flora to the inverter assemblage. Even if you had from a chemical point of view some ladies bed straw, sheep sorrel and hair bell that is only a tiny part of ecological picture and in not in any way reflected in any of the reports.

And then you have the logistics of the timelag. The many decades it would take for these new habitats to be colonised. If the source site is removed then these species will be lost locally forever and cannot colonise the slowly establishing compensation site.


“The one thing in any habitat creation scheme that you can never do is recreate time. It would require time for those species to arrive. If you have lost them at year one from the actual site you are in a biodiversity deficit for decades – Millenia even – to come. That is no degree of uplift whatsoever.

The whole principle that you can do this is completely predicated upon a strawman which is an experiment which has never ever been delivered. On one side of the equation you have a known: a very well known amount of loss and documented by local naturalists, not only the many hectares of sensitive habitat but also all of the invertebrates that go with it, and on the other side of it you have a ‘if we cross our fingers and wish possibly we might get something in seven years time. Seven years time is completely unlikely to happen. The only way in my view this could ever be given permission is if it were contingent upon carrying out the compensation works in advance and then monitoring that to the same level that the original site was monitored for and only when the features that currently exist on the existing site are found on the site then works can commence. There has to be this delayed start otherwise if the compensation doesn’t work after seven years were then we’ve lost the site and with loss of compensation. Whereas a sunset clause they would have to turn around and say ‘right those thousand houses have to be taken down?’ Seven years on. There’s no logic to it. There is no logic in it either in planning law or natural justice.” – Dr Chris Gibson

“Any acid grassland creation further south should be created on land of proven low existing nature conservation value and subject to specialist comparative species surveys to evaluate the success or otherwise of the habitat creation and species assemblage quality before it can begin to be considered to provide any useful alternative resource. Its success as compensation for losses at Middlewick is far from assured.” – [3-1] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 4) (April 2021)

31.                   Unsecured Compensation Land

There are numerous outstanding questions about the ownership, securing and size of land – both within the allocation boundary ad within the proposed mitigation site.

32.                   Lawford Tye Case – A Planning Precedent

Chat GPT

The Lawford Tye case sets a significant legal precedent that could greatly influence the Middlewick Ranges situation, particularly in how ecological evidence is considered in planning decisions. Here’s an overview of the key aspects of the Lawford Tye case and its implications for Middlewick:

Legal Precedent Set by Lawford Tye Case

  1. Integration of Local Naturalists’ Data: The Planning Inspectorate’s decision in the Lawford Tye case highlighted the importance of considering comprehensive ecological data, including records from local naturalists. This approach contrasts with reliance solely on commercial ecological reports, which may not fully capture the biodiversity of a site.
  2. Weight of Local Records: The case demonstrated that local records could challenge and potentially override conclusions drawn in commercial ecological reports. This approach aligns with the scientific principle of considering the full range of available data to make informed decisions.
  3. Comprehensive Ecological Assessment: The decision emphasized the need for an inclusive and thorough ecological assessment, incorporating diverse sources of data. This approach ensures a more accurate understanding of a site’s ecological value.
  4. Legal Obligation to Consider Diverse Evidence: The case established a legal obligation for local authorities and developers not to rely excessively on a single report but to incorporate a broad spectrum of ecological evidence. This requirement helps prevent biases and ensures that decisions are grounded in a complete understanding of the ecological landscape.

Implications for Middlewick Ranges

  1. Need for Thorough Ecological Evaluation: The Middlewick Ranges development proposal must undergo a rigorous ecological assessment, considering all available data, including recent findings by local naturalists and environmental groups.
  2. Potential to Challenge Commercial Reports: Given the Lawford Tye precedent, any reliance on a single commercial report at Middlewick can be legally challenged, especially if local records contradict the report’s findings.
  3. Importance of Local Expertise: The significant role of local naturalists and their records in the Lawford Tye case underscores the value of local ecological knowledge in assessing Middlewick Ranges’ biodiversity.
  4. Legal Framework for Decision Making: The case provides a legal framework for decision-makers at Middlewick, mandating a comprehensive evaluation of all ecological data, which could significantly influence the planning outcome.
  5. Potential for Reevaluation of Middlewick Proposal: The precedent set by the Lawford Tye case may necessitate a reevaluation of the Middlewick Ranges proposal, particularly regarding its ecological impacts and the validity of the proposed mitigation strategies.


The Lawford Tye case is a crucial reference point for the Middlewick Ranges scenario. It highlights the importance of a holistic approach to ecological assessment and the potential for local naturalists’ data to play a pivotal role in planning decisions. This precedent strengthens the case for a thorough reexamination of the Middlewick Ranges development proposal, ensuring that all ecological evidence is adequately considered.

~ ~ ~

“This sets a dangerous precedent and the underlying assumptions and data is bad. The evidence submitted isn’t legitimate.

The Orford site sets a legal precedent. Even if you get a report and a veneer of legitimacy saying you can compensate, if the local nap naturalists and data contradicts that the fact that you have this report isn’t a legal basis. They have an obligation to consider all of the available data and science.

Lunar yellow underwing and the important role it played. This raises legal and financial questions for the council and any prospective buyer. An investment can be lost.” – Dougal Urquhart, Colchester Natural History Society

First one is the longest, with John Hall, a twenty page account of the ultimately successful campaign to save Lawford Tye field, home to Lunar Yellow Underwing and more, from the clutches of housing developers after Public Inquiry. Hopefully this will have useful lessons for others in a similar, sadly all-too-frequent situation.

The whole purpose of writing this up for British Wildlife and Essex Naturalist was that it basically says that if your consultants are trying to get away with doing a crap job and you’ve got better evidence from local naturalists, you simply have to make sure that evidence gets in in a proper regimented way such that it is validated even if not captured itself by the consultants involved, then it has validity. The inspector of the Lawford case in 2020 found that this was a compelling argument and as a consequence threw the housing development out.

From Sven:

The point inspector made was I having the consultants report if there is a weight of local records from local county recorders submitted but not represented in the consultants report then simply having commercial consultants report that is signed off is not sufficient; there is an obligation to incorporate and consider the full weight of data and records available at the time not just rely heavily on one consultant. There is an obligation on the local authority and the developer to not just rely too heavily on one report; this goes back to the hierarchy of evidence underpinning scientific thinking, here we have the opinion of three or four individuals spearheaded by one ecologist who does not appear to be suitably qualified… The expert may get a good research project out of it. This is free or for individuals versus the weight of scientific consensus and wrt Lawford there is a responsibility not only in the consultant but also develop and local authority, they can’t just rely on the fact that they’ve have this report in writing they need to listen to other voices contributing legitimate evidence. We have a lot of new data even since the reports were written and the metric has changed; but there was sufficient evidence available at the time for this to have been taken seriously and this data to be considered. There is an obligation for consultant ecologist to include a data search;

33.                   Legal Challenge

This is a topic no one enjoys talking about, but it is a considerable elephant in the room. The Middlewick development proposals will be subject to legal challenges if this continues to go ahead.

These statutory planning policies and regulations are not a ‘nice to have’ or box ticking exercise. They are underpinned by law. And as such, any perceived contravention of these environmental and planning legislations and regulations are subject to a legal challenge.

Chat GPT
The potential legal challenge to the Middlewick development and its inclusion in the Colchester Local Plan is a complex issue, underpinned by various environmental legislation and planning laws. The concerns raised by Peter Harvey of the Essex Field Club and the Community Planning Alliance (CPA) highlight significant legal risks associated with proceeding with the plan in its current form. Here’s an overview of the key issues and implications:

Breaches in Environmental Legislation and Planning Laws

  1. National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) Compliance: The NPPF sets out clear guidelines for sustainable development, including the protection of wildlife sites. The inclusion of Middlewick Ranges in the Local Plan, as outlined in the NPPF, may not meet these guidelines, particularly regarding the preservation of Local Wildlife Sites and biodiversity net gain.
  2. Environmental Act Obligations: The Environment Act introduces stringent requirements for biodiversity net gain, which the Middlewick development must adhere to. The concerns raised by Essex Field Club about the ecological assessment and biodiversity net gain calculations suggest potential non-compliance with the Environment Act.
  3. Legal Challenge Risks: As highlighted by the CPA, there’s a significant risk of legal challenges if the Local Plan proceeds with Middlewick Ranges’ inclusion. These challenges could arise from perceived non-compliance with the NPPF, inadequate ecological assessments, and failure to meet biodiversity net gain requirements.

Implications for Council, MoD, and Potential Developers

  1. Council’s Legal and Financial Risks: Colchester Borough Council faces potential legal risks if it proceeds with the plan without adequately addressing the ecological concerns. Legal challenges could result in delays, increased costs, and potential alterations or cancellations of the development project.
  2. MoD’s Responsibility: The Ministry of Defence, as the landowner, must consider the legal implications of selling the land for development. Any non-compliance with environmental laws could impact the MoD’s reputation and responsibilities.
  3. Developers’ Due Diligence: Developers interested in the Middlewick site must conduct thorough due diligence, considering the potential for legal challenges and the requirements of the NPPF and Environment Act. They need to assess the viability of the project in light of these legal and ecological challenges.


The potential legal challenge to the Middlewick development is grounded in significant environmental concerns and the requirements of planning laws. The implications for the council, MoD, and potential developers are substantial, emphasizing the need for careful consideration and compliance with environmental legislation and planning policies. It is crucial for all stakeholders to re-evaluate the inclusion of Middlewick Ranges in the Local Plan in light of these potential legal risks and the overarching goal of sustainable development.

~ ~ ~

We do not believe that the inclusion of the Middlewick Ranges Local Wildlife Site (LoWS) in the Local Plan Housing Allocation is consistent with national policy and the National Planning Policy Framework, and therefore the Local Plan cannot be considered sound. SC2 should not have been allocated, nor allowed to remain in the plan and there should be no allocation of homes on the site. Otherwise there is a high likelihood of legal challenge subsequent to adoption.” [3-3] Peter Harvey, Essex Field Club (page 1) (Nov 2021)

For example, NPPF states following (page 8):

16. a be prepared with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development;
This is a legal requirement of local planning authorities exercising their plan-making functions (section 39(2) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004).

We believe we have an overwhelming – and in fact unanswerable – case for removing Middlewick Ranges from the Local Plan and thereby protecting this site from the allocated development.

From MO1

5. Legal Challenges and Timing Issues

5.1 Potential for Legal Challenges

  • Non-Compliance Issues: The problematic nature of the proposals and questionable Biodiversity Net Gain calculations could lead to legal challenges under the newly introduced Environment Act.
  • Statutory Duties: Failure to comply with statutory duties toward biodiversity might result in objections from organisations like Natural England; they reserves the right to object to specific development applications, and wish to remain involved.


•             Lawyers for Nature’s advice builds a strong case against the inclusion of Middlewick Ranges in the Local Plan, citing significant deficiencies in the ecological assessment and potential legal challenges.

•             They emphasise the need for a robust and credible evidence base and the reinstatement of specific language in the Local Plan to ensure compliance with biodiversity objectives and wildlife law.

~ ~ ~

This letter from the Community Planning Alliance (CPA), dated October 2021, is addressed to Colchester Borough Council. It expresses deep concerns about the inclusion of SC2, Middlewick Ranges, in Colchester’s Local Plan, emphasising the site’s ecological significance and potential legal challenges if the plan proceeds with its current allocation.

  1. Legal Challenge and Additional Modification
    1. CPA warns of a high likelihood of legal challenge if SC2 is not removed.
    1. The proposed additional modification aims to ensure ecological viability before any development.

“At a Public Inquiry the respective barristers will be at pains to emphasise where any actions or proposals would be consistent with the NPPF. The NPPF is high in the mind of the Inspector when making the decision to dismiss or allow an Appeal.” [13-2] John Hall and Dr Chris Gibson, Essex Naturalist: Lawford Tye Case Study (page 73(19)).

From National Planning Policy Framework (December 2023) (pages 11-12)

Preparing and reviewing plans

31. The preparation and review of all policies should be underpinned by relevant and up-to-date evidence. This should be adequate and proportionate, focused tightly on supporting and justifying the policies concerned, and take into account relevant market signals.

32. Local plans and spatial development strategies should be informed throughout their preparation by a sustainability appraisal that meets the relevant legal requirements (17). This should demonstrate how the plan has addressed relevant economic, social and environmental objectives (including opportunities for net gains). Significant adverse impacts on these objectives should be avoided and, wherever possible, alternative options which reduce or eliminate such impacts should be pursued. Where significant adverse impacts are unavoidable, suitable mitigation measures should be proposed (or, where this is not possible, compensatory measures should be considered).

33. Policies in local plans and spatial development strategies should be reviewed to assess whether they need updating at least once every five years, and should then be updated as necessary (18). Reviews should be completed no later than five years from the adoption date of a plan, and should take into account changing circumstances affecting the area, or any relevant changes in national policy. Relevant strategic policies will need updating at least once every five years if their applicable local housing need figure has changed significantly; and they are likely to require earlier review if local housing need is expected to change significantly in the near future.

Development contributions

34. Plans should set out the contributions expected from development. This should include setting out the levels and types of affordable housing provision required, along with other infrastructure (such as that needed for education, health, transport, flood and water management, green and digital infrastructure). Such policies should not undermine the deliverability of the plan.

Examining plans

35. Local plans and spatial development strategies are examined to assess whether they have been prepared in accordance with legal and procedural requirements, and whether they are sound. Plans are ‘sound’ if they are:

a) Positively prepared – providing a strategy which, as a minimum, seeks to meet the area’s objectively assessed needs19; and is informed by agreements with other authorities, so that unmet need from neighbouring areas is accommodated where it is practical to do so and is consistent with achieving sustainable development;

b) Justified – an appropriate strategy, taking into account the reasonable alternatives, and based on proportionate evidence;

c) Effective – deliverable over the plan period, and based on effective joint working on cross-boundary strategic matters that have been dealt with rather than deferred, as evidenced by the statement of common ground; and

d) Consistent with national policy – enabling the delivery of sustainable development in accordance with the policies in this Framework and other statements of national planning policy, where relevant.

36. These tests of soundness will be applied to non-strategic policies20 in a proportionate way, taking into account the extent to which they are consistent with relevant strategic policies for the area.

(17) The reference to relevant legal requirements refers to Strategic Environmental Assessment. Neighbourhood plans may require Strategic Environmental Assessment, but only where there are potentially significant environmental effects.

(18) Reviews at least every five years are a legal requirement for all local plans (Regulation 10A of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012).” – [14] National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF Dec 2023) (pages 11-12)

34.                   A Dangerous National Precedent

Other concerns: Withheld information, size inconsistencies

  1. Environmental Legislation Precedent: Allowing such development could undermine UK’s environmental protection laws. It may encourage other developers to propose similar experimental and potentially harmful methods elsewhere, weakening the integrity of environmental policies.
  2. Impact on Local Planning: This move could set a risky precedent in local planning, promoting development over conservation. It risks prioritizing short-term gains over long-term environmental sustainability.
  3. Biodiversity Protection: Implementing large-scale experimental interventions could be catastrophic for the diverse ecosystems in Middlewick. The area’s unique flora and fauna, crucial for ecological balance, could be irreversibly impacted.
  4. Setting a Poor Example: Proceeding with such a plan would send a negative message to residents of Colchester and beyond. It demonstrates a disregard for ecological integrity and community values, undermining efforts in environmental education and awareness.
  5. Risk of Unpredictable Outcomes: Experimental techniques, like adding sulphur on a landscape scale, could lead to unforeseen and potentially irreversible ecological damage, making it a dangerous experiment with a vital natural asset.

The development of Middlewick using such experimental methods could therefore have far-reaching and damaging consequences, both locally and nationally.

35.                   Summary

“We further note how the current Covid 19 pandemic has brought home to us all how vital are our local green spaces for both our physical and mental health. It is now well established by a large research literature that access to green space is vital to well-being. Intense urbanisation in the borough of Colchester in recent decades has both eliminated much green space and destroyed connectivity among much of the rest. We have been moved by the passion, knowledge and effort shown by the Save Middlewick Ranges campaign group. This is surely evidence enough that local residents both need and deserve continuing access to this unique and environmentally rich local space.” – [4-1] CNHS (page 4)

“It should be acknowledged that Middlewick Ranges is vitally important not only for wildlife but also for local people in the area. The site adds immeasurable value to the local community and contributes significantly to quality of life, health and well-being by providing a nature-rich, open green space consisting of an interconnected mosaic of habitats, some of which are relatively rare.

We acknowledge that the Government and the MOD are committed to a Defence Estate Optimisation programme to dispose of surplus land; we are also aware that the aim is to maximise “value for money” by selling these surplus sites for housing. However, housing site allocations should always be determined by local authorities through a coordinated approach to spatial planning which is policy-led and takes into account local sites of biodiversity value and ecological networks. We would support an alternative, environmentally sustainable disposal of the site and would recommend gifting it to the local authority to be managed in perpetuity as a country park or local nature reserve, for the benefit of wildlife and the local community.” – [2-1] Dr Annie Gordon, Essex Wildlife Trust (page 5) (July 2019)

Appendix 1 – Summary of Middlewick Situation


– Middlewick Ranges is currently threatened by development and the prospect of up to 1000 houses because of its allocation under the current CCC Local Plan.

– This would permanently destroy this valuable Local Wildlife Site and green space for people and wildlife – including rare acid grassland and the host of rare invertebrates of national importance it supports.

– Much of the information below was either not considered or not available at the time of making this crucial – and catastrophic – original decision to build on Middlewick Ranges. Colchester City Council were badly misinformed; but now have the full picture.
Middlewick Ranges should be IMMEDIATELY REMOVED from the Local Plan andprotected as a vital part of Colchester’s Green Network – as a Nature Reserve/Country Park managed for wildlife and people. (See reasons below)

[This view is echoed by many county/national nature and conservation organisations such as Essex Wildlife Trust: https://www.essexwt.org.uk/middlewick-ranges ]

Reasons Why Middlewick Should be Protected and Removed from the Local Plan

– Middlewick currently supports the largest remaining area of open acid grassland in Essex, being over 50 ha alongside other important habitats; this represents over one third of acid grassland in Colchester District and roughly 10% of ALL acid grassland in Essex

– Acid grassland is a Priority Habitat; a Habitat of Principle Importance in England (HPIE). By definition, it is irreplaceable. This would be permenatly lost under the current Local Plan.

– Due to this rare soil and grassland type, Middlewick Ranges is home to over 1400 invertebratesover 150 of these having a conservation status (being threatened/endangered/rare or protected). 

– For example: Stag Beetle, Purple Emperor butterfly, Four-banded Weevil-wasp and other extremely rare solitary bees, digger and cuckoo wasps and the Necklace Ground Beetle, Britain’s fastest declining beetle.

– Experts including from Colchester Natural History Society, Essex Field Club, Buglife and Essex Wildlife Trust, who strongly object to the proposals, have therefore said Middlewick is of national importance for invertebrates!

– Buglife have included Middlewick Ranges on their national map as an ‘Important Invertebrate Area’ (IAA) alongside River Colne and Roman River SSSI and Highwoods Country Park: https://www.buglife.org.uk/our-work/important-invertebrate-areas/ 

– Middlewick supports an abundance of other wildlife including lizards, slow worms and grass snakes, toads, small mammals, Badgers, bats (including the rare protected Barbastelle bat) and over 10 Red List bird species including Grasshopper Warbler, Skylark and Nightingale. As well as Essex Red List plants and a range of Waxcap fungi associated with acid grassland.

– The proposals set out by MoD and their consultant Stantec to destroy Middlewick Ranges Local Wildlife Site and replace it with ploughed and chemically treated grassland to the south using unproven experimental methods, are extremely controversial and have been denounced and debunked by a HUGE array of nature organisations, ecologists and other experts, including: EFC, CNHS, EWT, RSPB, Buglife and UK invertebrate expert and author Steven Falk FRES. Natural England have also raised repeated concerns.

“I am astonished and disturbed by the claims that high quality acid grassland can be recreated on unsuitable soils elsewhere simply by adding Sulphur. I would suggest there is a basic misunderstanding of what acid grassland actually is!   To suggest that simply adding Sulphur can recreate an ancient soil profile, an ancient seed bank, or ancient (and isolated) plant, invertebrate and fungal communities, is one of the most controversial claims I’ve encountered during my many years working in nature conservation.” 

Steven Falk FRES, author of Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland, and a national authority on invertebrates and their habitats.

– The Stantec Middlewick report (available online) which stated the acid grassland could simply be ‘replaced’ – has been criticised in a multitude of ways by a multitude of experts and organisations. Search ‘Midland Ecology Middlewick’ for just one example. 

– The errors and omissions in the Stantec report which informed the LP Evidence Base, are simply too many to list. To illustrate, they surveyed for insects on a rainy day when they were not flying; and they surveyed the meadows just after they had been cut for hay (both at Middlewick and at Weir Lane ‘compensation’ site, mislabelling this grassland ‘arable’).

– As a result, they badly underestimated the biodiversity value of the existing grassland habitats impacted – as well as exaggerating the value of the new habitats, using the above unproven experimental ‘sulphering’ methods. 

– For these reasons, the ‘Biodiversity Net Gain’ they claimed to achieve using their DIY spread sheet (not the official Defra metric which does not allow such calculations for irreplaceable habitat such as acid grassland!) – would actually mean a significant Biodiversity Net Loss!!

– In addition, Birch Brook Woodland Local Wildlife Site would be very significantly impacted by any development on Middlewick; this current peaceful and dark green corridor is home to one of Essex’s most important Nightingale populations, as well as many other breeding birds, rare ferns and other wildlife.
– The impact of having an enormous new housing estate nearby – and the associated lighting, noise, pollution and people, cats and dogs – would be devastating for wildlife along Birch Brook, including the Nightingale population. It would turn into just another polluted semi-urban stream! (Roman River SSSI may therefore also be impacted!)

– The Weir Lane Grasslands to the south of Middlewick Ranges and Birch Brook currently represents one the largest tall grasslands in Colchester District being over 100 hectares! This is also a vital green corridor which connects Roman River SSSI to Birch Brook/Middlewick LoWS, into the heart of Colchester.

– This permanent grassland has established to provide a home for a large biomass of invertebrates – and the small mammals, reptiles, birds and bats which feed on them. Hovering Kestrels and presence of owls and buzzards shows the presence of prey species.

– Current plans would destroy this Weir Lane Grassland ecosystem entirely, ploughed up and subject to sulphur spreading with unknown impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecology – effectively a ‘landscape-scale chemistry experiment’, with no ecological basis or precedent. Attempting to replace what by definition is irreplaceable Priory acid grassland habitat.

– Middlewick Ranges is a vital green open space for the people of south Colchester, including those lacking big gardens or other accessible spaces essential for mental and physical health and well-being.

– Colchester County Council has a responsibility to protect Local Wildlife Sites and other important spaces for nature under existing and upcoming environmental laws and legislation, including National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the Environment Act (which enforced Biodiversity Net Gain) and the Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS).

– CCC therefore have a statutory duty to protect and not destroy such irreplaceable wild spaces – and also to ensure that 30% of land be protected by 2030 under Government plans (30by30).

– Middlewick Ranges Local Wildlife Site should therefore be protected for good by removing this invaluable site from the Colchester Local Plan; it should never have been included in the first place, it is time to put things right.”


The following key extract is from the updated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) released 19th December 2023. The key section relating to biodiversity and environment is shown below.
Full document: National Planning Policy Framework (publishing.service.gov.uk)

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