Purpose of Report
1.1 The purpose of this report is to evaluate the ecology report on Middlewick Ranges
completed by Stantec Ecology consultancy and 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;
1.2 An evaluation of other Local Plan requirements and particularly those of statutory
authorities in their regard to biodiversity duty is considered;
1.3 The report concludes by setting out a number of options to safeguard all or part of the site
at Middlewick Ranges and secure it for long-term nature conservation.
1.4 Two main considerations are recommended to determine the viability of the site
i) Although beyond the remit of this piece of work consideration should be given to
whether CBC and adjoining authorities have clearly evidenced the housing
requirement on this land given that the authorities have jointly agreed to work
together to achieve the targets set and so release other sites of lesser
environmental value;
ii) Have CBC demonstrated the process that informed on the decision to include
Middlewick Ranges as one of the Site Allocations for the Local Plan by demonstrating
an objective process to quantify the natural capital value and avoidance of areas of
high ecological value?
2 Statutory Duty and Mitigation Hierarchy
2.1 Middlewick Ranges is currently a live military firing range and training area owned by the
Ministry of Defence (MoD) located to the south of Colchester. The site has been identified
for closure as part of the Defence Estate Optimisation (DEO) Portfolio and the MoD wish to
have the site included within Colchester Borough Council’s (CBC) Emerging Local Plan 2017-
2033 to support the delivery of housing and associated infrastructure.
2.2 CBC appears to have agreed the principle of site allocation for housing in the Emerging Local
Plan (publication draft, June 2017) which contains Policy SC2: Middlewick Ranges. This policy
The allocation shown on the Policies Map is expected to deliver approximately 1000 new
dwellings. The final number of dwellings will only be confirmed when full details of
constraints are known… development will be supported on land within the area identified on
the policies map which provides:
i. Up to 1000 new houses of a mix and type of housing to be compatible with
surrounding development;
ii. Access and highway works on the local road network, including new junctions, to be
agreed with The Highway Authority and delivered at the appropriate time
commensurate with the development;
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iii. Detailed ecological surveys and appropriate mitigation to enhance the ecology of
the remaining areas of the Local Site including the provision of compensatory
habitat to replace habitat lost to development;
iv. Strategic areas of public open space;
v. Delivery of enhancements to sustainable travel connectivity including public
transport, cycling and walking infrastructure;
vi. Mitigation measures to address site contamination; and
vii. Provision for retention or diversion of any existing public rights of way within the site.
A masterplan will be required to inform the detailed definition and mix of uses within the
2.3 It is not clear what process CBC have conducted to determine the appropriateness of
Middlewick Ranges as a site suitable for delivery of 1000+ houses. Having made the decision
to include the site in the Emerging Local Plan with an associated Policy SC2 pre 2017, this
policy also identifies a requirement to carry out detailed ecology surveys to fully inform on
what level of mitigation and/or compensation is necessary;
2.4 CBC should therefore fully demonstrate what measures have been taken to comply with
their statutory duty to have full regard to biodiversity in their decision making under Sec
40 of Natural Environment & Rural Communities Act (2006). By doing so, they should
clearly show what evidence was available for them to fully consider the (actual or
potential) impacts on biodiversity and other ecosystem services for the full or partial loss
of Middlewick Ranges to enable them to include the site in the Emerging Local Plan and
when that decision was made.
2.5 Evidence should show how the Mitigation hierarchy has been considered and implemented
to avoid areas of high ecological value in their selection of the site in the emerging Local Plan
and why it considered that avoidance of such loss was not possible.
In particular, CBC should demonstrate how the principle of development on this site meets
National Framework guidance with regard to biodiversity net gain and the mitigation
Paragraph: 024 Reference ID: 8-024-20190721 of government guidance on the Natural
Environment to support NPPF (2019) issued on 21 07 2019 states :
Biodiversity net gain (BNG) complements and works with the biodiversity mitigation
hierarchy set out in NPPF paragraph 175a. It does not override the protection for designated
sites, protected or priority species and irreplaceable or priority habitats set out in the NPPF.
Local planning authorities need to ensure that habitat improvement will be a genuine
additional benefit, and go further than measures already required to implement a
compensation strategy.https://www.gov.uk/guidance/natural-environment
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2.6 National Planning Policy Framework Para 175a states:

  1. 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;
    2.7 Further to this National Planning Policy Framework Para 170 states:
  2. 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); b) recognising the intrinsic character and beauty
    of the countryside, and the wider benefits from natural capital and ecosystem services –
    including the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land,
    and of trees and woodland; c) maintaining the character of the undeveloped coast, while
    improving public access to it where appropriate; d) minimising impacts on and providing net
    gains for biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more
    resilient to current and future pressures; e) preventing new and existing development from
    contributing to, being put at unacceptable risk from, or being adversely affected by,
    unacceptable levels of soil, air, water or noise pollution or land instability. Development
    should, wherever possible, help to improve local environmental conditions such as air and
    water quality, taking into account relevant information such as river basin management
    plans; and f) remediating and mitigating despoiled, degraded, derelict, contaminated and
    unstable land, where appropriate.
    2.8 Given that the Emerging Local Plan may be adopted fully and that recently (1/2/2021) the
    council has adopted Part 1 of the new Local Plan, the council should also fully demonstrate
    the following to assure compliance with the revised Env1 Policy
    i) what consideration has been given to the choice of alternative sites that would
    cause less harm?
    ii) that the benefits of the proposed development clearly outweigh the impacts on the
    features of the sites and the wider network of natural habitats (in terms of natural
    capital value); and
    iii) sufficient baseline evidence has been collated in the form of surveys and historical
    data to ensure that recommended mitigation and compensation measures will fully
    mitigate and/or compensate for losses to justify that selection.
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    3 Site Designation and Ecological Value
    3.1 The ecological value of the land at Middlewick Ranges is well-documented. It is a nonstatutory
    designated Local Wildlife Site (LWS) reference CO122 Middlewick Ranges,
    Colchester. The site was designated in 1991 and has retained its wildlife value as overall
    favourable status for the last 30 years (Wildlife Trust monitoring reports). It was designated
    and is monitored by Essex Wildlife Trust and is in the ownership of the Ministry of Defence
    3.2 Despite its local designation, many Local Wildlife Sites across the UK meet the standards for
    designation at a higher level such as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), but only a
    handful of sites may be designated to this higher level as Natural England only designate a
    limited number to act as a representative sample that meet the national criteria. Any
    survey work should clearly demonstrate if the site does meet the criteria for designation
    as a SSSI or higher designation that that of LWS.
    3.3 Unlike SSSIs, all sites that meet the LWS criteria can be designated in full or as candidate
    LWSs. A LWS can act as a reservoir for vulnerable species which can re-colonise areas from
    which they have disappeared. LWS can also complement or buffer statutory nature
    conservation sites (SSSIs) and help to identify and protect stepping stone habitats along
    strategic wildlife corridors, such as rivers. This may be especially important in the context of
    climate change, where wildlife corridors may provide a means of dispersal for species at a
    time of environmental change.
    3.4 The selection criteria for designation of Middlewick Ranges are based on habitat quality and
    quantity of HC11 – Other Neutral Grasslands and HC13 Heathland and Acid Grassland with
    sections of good quality Lowland Dry Acid Grassland present and the nationally scarce
    Lesser Calamint (Clinopodium calaminta) found in the western edge of the site.
    The principal value of this site however is its invertebrate populations (SC18 Species of
    Principle Importance and SC19 – Important Invertebrate Assemblages). The main rifle butts
    at the south end of the site, along with smaller sandy banks to the north, provide significant
    nesting habitat for a range of insects, whilst the extensive grasslands surrounding them,
    including those areas kept closely mown over the active parts of the rifle range, provide the
    necessary additional foraging grounds.
    The best-studied group of insects is the hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants), within which
    seven nationally threatened (Red Data Book) and eight Nationally Scarce species recorded.
    The most significant species are the SPIE digger wasps Cerceris quadricincta (RDB1) and
    Cerceris quinquefasciata (RDB3), the latter’s brood-parasite cuckoo-wasp Hedychrum
    niemelai (RDB3) and the Small Blue Carpenter-bee Ceratina cyanea (RDB3). Some of the
    short-mown sandy banks bordering the range roads support a large population of the RDB2
    Bee-wolf (Philanthus triangulum).
    3.5 The evidence provided is in the public domain and clearly demonstrates that the site is of
    local and national importance due to the presence of lowland acid grassland which has
    undergone a substantial decline and loss in the 20th century due to agricultural
    intensification, afforestation and development.
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    3.6 Many of the invertebrates that occur in acid grassland are specialist species which do not
    occur on other types of grassland. Middlewick Ranges supports open parched acid grassland
    on sandy soils which are the favoured habitat for a considerable number of ground-dwelling
    and burrowing invertebrates such as solitary bees and wasps
    3.7 In terms of NPPF( 2019) government guidance Paragraph: 012 Reference ID: 8-012-
    20190721 Revision date: 21 07 2019 states:
    Locally designated ‘Local Wildlife Sites’ and ‘Local Geological Sites’ are areas of substantive
    nature conservation value and make an important contribution to ecological networks and
    nature’s recovery. They can also provide wider benefits including public access (where
    agreed), climate mitigation and helping to tackle air pollution. They can be in rural, urban or
    coastal locations, can vary considerably in size, and may comprise a number of separate
    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.
    3.8 CBC should demonstrate how their decision making to include Middlewick Ranges as a
    suitable site for housing complies with this government guidance as well as their own policy
    Env1 in CBC Adopted Local Plan 2001-2021 which remained the current point of reference.
    This states that, “The Council will safeguard the Borough’s biodiversity… through the
    protection and enhancement of sites of international, national, regional and local
    importance.” It also states that where new development within a ‘rural location’ is
    proposed, it should demonstrably “be in accord with national, regional and local policies for
    development within rural areas, including those for European and nationally designated
    areas; be appropriate in terms of its scale, siting, and design; protect, conserve or enhance
    landscape and townscape character, including maintaining settlement separation; protect,
    conserve or enhance the interests of natural and historic assets; apply a sequential
    approach to land at risk of fluvial or coastal flooding in line with the guidance of PPS25;
    protect habitats and species and conserve and enhance the biodiversity of the Borough;
    and provide for any necessary mitigating or compensatory measures.”
    3.9 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;
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    4 Ecology Evidence-base for Middlewick Ranges
    4.1 The MoD have provided CBC with a suite of documents to inform on the rationale to secure
    the site to deliver 1000+ homes and associated infrastructure. This section concentrates on
    the evaluation of the ecology report produced by Stantec;
    4.2 The Stantec report is a detailed report which provides information on the site, the habitats
    present, types of species likely to be associated with those habitats. Details of the surveys
    undertaken to inform on the masterplan, the likely losses incurred and proposed mitigation
    and/or compensation on site. These are detailed in a series of Appendices. A bespoke
    metric to quantify how Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) can be achieved is also contained in the
    appendices and is discussed separately in Section 5;
    4.3 The report details the personnel who have carried out the surveys and assessments. It is
    accepted that the ecologists are suitably qualified and have the relevant licences where
    required. Additional specialist advice has been sought and provided by Dr Putwain on
    habitat creation and enhancement of acid grassland and heathland creation (Appendix M)
    and importance of invertebrate assemblages by a specialist entomologist;
    4.4 One of the main purposes of undertaking the surveys and assessment of the site was to fully
    inform on the viability and suitability for its development, where to avoid areas of highest
    ecological value and whether it is possible to mitigate and/or compensate for the losses
    incurred to achieve an overall net gain in biodiversity;
    4.5 A number of desk-top and field surveys have been undertaken over a period of time from
    2017 – 2020 to inform on the ecological value of Middlewick Ranges which provide an
    extended period on which to assess the site. However, the methodologies differ in the
    depth of survey undertaken which range from desk-top or walk-over surveys to detailed
    studies (mainly of bats);
    4.6 The report provides a level of detail on some aspects, there are other areas which need
    more detail to fully inform on whether the scheme is truly viable. CBC Local Plan policy
    Env1 states “The Local Planning Authority will take a precautionary approach where
    insufficient information is provided about avoidance, mitigation and compensation
    measures and secure mitigation a and compensation through planning
    conditions/obligations where necessary”.
    Whilst it is accepted that this is an open-ended statement to capture most eventualities, it
    remains unclear how CBC will fulfil their duty under Sec 40 of NERC Act (2006) to have full
    regard to biodiversity in their decision-making if they do not have a suite of surveys to fully
    inform on potential impacts and whether proposed mitigation and compensation is
    adequate to aid with their decision-making.
    4.7 Home Office Circular 06/2005 Paragraph 99 has been retained for use to aid decisions and
    states that
  3. It is essential that the presence or otherwise of protected species, and the extent that
    they may be affected by the proposed development, is established before the planning
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    permission is granted, otherwise all relevant material considerations may not have been
    addressed in making the decision. The need to ensure ecological surveys are carried out
    should therefore only be left to coverage under planning conditions in exceptional
    circumstances, with the result that the surveys are carried out after planning permission
    has been granted. However, bearing in mind the delay and cost that may be involved,
    developers should not be required to undertake surveys for protected species unless there is
    a reasonable likelihood of the species being present and affected by the development. Where
    this is the case, the survey should be completed and any necessary measures to protect the
    species should be in place, through conditions and/or planning obligations, before the
    permission is granted. In appropriate circumstances the permission may also impose a
    condition preventing the development from proceeding without the prior acquisition of a
    4.8 The British Standards Biodiversity & Development BS 42020 Para 8.1 also states that
    decisions must be based on adequate information to assess impacts on biodiversity
    4.9 The following section evaluates the surveys undertaken and considers whether they are of
    sufficient detail to inform on the viability of the site for development and therefore inclusion
    in the Local Plan
    4.9.1 Habitat Assessment – Phase 1 and botanical survey: Adequate
    Surveys were undertaken in May 2017, June 2018 and March 2019. The May and June
    periods are during optimum survey seasons and the March survey was carried out to
    confirm the mapped status of habitats completed previously. The report details that the
    LWS status and Acid grassland are generally in good condition and are valuable at County
    A desk-study evaluation of the methodology used, results and mapped areas is accepted,
    although it is not clear within the report if the condition of each habitat is accurately
    mapped and detailed on plans. This may have more relevance to achievement of biodiversity
    net gain discussed in Section 5.
    4.9.2 Invertebrates – Inadequate
    The site is designated for its invertebrate assemblage considered to be of County and
    potentially National value. A walk-over survey was undertaken in June 2019 and was
    restricted to certain dates when the firing range was not in use. The dates coincided with
    poor weather (drizzle and cool conditions) which did not enable samples to be collected for
    later analysis or field observation (as most invertebrates would be in burrows, longer grass
    thatch etc for protection from rain and wind). The sites to the south of Birch Brook had also
    been cut and caused further difficulties in assessment of habitat value for invertebrates.
    The report has had to rely mostly on a habitat based assessment, but concludes that the
    terrestrial invertebrate assemblage is of at least County level. The report concludes that the
    survey effort and findings may not reflect true population status and states: Whilst such an
    invertebrate assemblage is suggestive of potentially national level importance for terrestrial
    invertebrates, it is unknown how representative the survey work has been in terms of
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    taxonomic coverage, temporal spread (i.e. across all seasons, or focussed on specific periods)
    and geospatial coverage. This dataset (when considered in the absence of a habitat appraisal
    considering current habitat conditions) is indicative that the Invertebrate Survey Area could
    have a terrestrial invertebrate assemblage of elevated nature conservation interest, beyond
    the County Level for which Middlewick Ranges LWS is already designated.
    It should be noted that at a National level this may be a key consideration in determining
    whether the loss of the site should be avoided and/or whether any mitigation and/or
    compensation measures proposed are adequate.
    4.9.3 Dormice – Nut search: Inadequate
    A search of the woodlands for field signs for hazelnuts nibbled by dormouse is inadequate
    for purposes of identifying if this species is present/absent or to inform on appropriate
    4.9.4 Riparian Mammals – Search on Birch Brook for field signs of Otter: Adequate
    The survey was undertaken in September 2019 and found no evidence of Otter. Whilst
    these findings are accepted, evidence of presence of other riparian mammals is not
    adequately detailed. The watercourse was not considered suitable for Water voles (a UK
    and EU Protected Species), but photographs of the brook contained in the report seem to
    show that this may not be the case as the brook appears fairly narrow with grassed, earth
    banks in places. Water voles do use sub-optimal habitats and further survey work would be
    required to adequately confirm presence/absence of this species and mitigation required;
    4.9.5 Breeding Birds – Habitat Assessment: Inadequate in part
    Section 4.4.18 – 4.4.23 and Appendix I provides details of the walk-over survey and habitat
    assessment carried out in January 2019. This is outside of the optimum time of year to
    undertake assessments and support any casual observations of likely usage, but the report
    acknowledges the presence of Nightingale with 19 territories alone present in the Allocation
    Boundary and breeding bird survey appraisal area. The site is also considered suitable for
    other ground nesting birds such as Skylark and generally for foraging and nesting. Presence
    of notably rare birds on the Red list of Birds of Conservation Concern includes Song thrush,
    Fieldfare, Barn owl and Grasshopper warbler.
    The report states that the site is of at least County level importance for the breeding bird
    assemblage, including Nightingale, but that this is based on an assessment of habitat quality
    only and not based on a full breeding bird survey.
    4.9.6 Bats – range of methods: Inadequate in part
    A range of methods and at various levels have been undertaken over a period of time to
    establish presence of Bats and types of species/population size, location and the types of Bat
    roost present . The methodology is more in depth for this species due to the likelihood of a
    licence from Natural England being required for disturbance and destruction of some roosts
    and to accompany a full planning application.
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    There is concern that the initial Bat activity survey was carried out in September to October
    2018, a period outside of which Bats are more active (generally late April to end of August)
    and only two transect surveys were completed on two routes across the whole site which is
    unlikely to inform on bat usage due to limitations on timing and spatial studies. Towards the
    autumn, Bats will start to hibernate depending on weather conditions and food availability.
    In addition the report accepts that current best practice guidance of two survey visits per
    month (April to October) in appropriate weather conditions for bats in moderate/high
    habitat, but this survey effort was not followed and only one survey per month was
    required/carried out (and only during September and October).
    These initial findings may therefore not be representative of the sites status for foraging and
    A Bat Hibernation Survey was carried out in December 2018 –February 2019 and a further
    general Habitat Appraisal for Bat foraging and roosting was undertaken in January 2019 of
    the whole site.
    A more detailed Bat Trapping and Tracking survey was completed in June, August and
    September 2019 and confirmed the presence of the rare Barbastrelle bat (and other Bat
    species) within the Birch Brook woodland.
    Overall relatively rare species of bats (Barbastrelle and Nathusius’) were recorded along with
    Brown long-eared, Natterer’s and Daubenton. The woodland complex is considered of
    Regional importance to Barbastrelle bats and other sites of County value.
    4.9.7 Reptiles: Inadequate
    No reptile surveys have been completed, but historical data and Habitat assessment confirm
    the likely use of the site by Adder, Grass Snake, Common lizard and Slow worm. Appendix J
    considers that the habitat is of high suitability within the site and Allocation boundary. The
    presence/absence of these species and to what level of population significance is required to
    fully establish their value at a local, country or regional level;
    4.9.8 Amphibians: Inadequate
    No amphibian surveys have been carried out and the Phase 1 survey identified only one
    pond that held water within the Birch Brook woodland corridor and supported marginal
    vegetation considered suitable for Great Crested Newts (GCNs) as a breeding pond whilst
    two other ponds provided sub-optimal habitat due to them drying out. Terrestrial habitat
    both within the Allocation Boundary and Mitigation land was identified as suitable.
    A Habitat Suitability Score (HSI) is normally undertaken on each pond to quantify the value
    to support GCNs. This does not appear to have been carried out. A further five ponds have
    been noted on the Phase 1 Habitat map on the Mitigation land but these do not appear to
    be described or assessed within the report. An assessment of the ponds is required and
    evaluation of their connectivity (there do not appear to be any major obstructions such as
    roads, fast-flowing rivers etc);
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    Although the presence of GCNs on site would be unlikely to stop any development per se, it
    would be necessary to agree a licensing approach and suitable mitigation prior to any
    planning approval;
    No reference has been made to the presence of Common toad which is a Priority Species on
    Sec 41 of NERC Act (2006) due to is vulnerable status, and is likely to be present on the site;
    Confirmation of the presence/absence of the Palmate newt should be provided as it is
    normally associated with slightly acidic ponds and terrestrial habitat that occur in this area
    and has previously been recorded in Colchester. This is a nationally rare species and may
    require separate mitigation measures.
    4.10 Other Mammals
    No specific surveys have been carried out for mammal species, but undoubtedly the habitat
    described will be suitable for small mammals such as Moles, Shrews, Woodmice, Field voles
    and Bank voles which provide food source to larger prey already recorded such as Barn owl,
    Kestrel and Fox. Although not protected their presence is another indicator of the diversity
    of species present;
    Badgers and their setts are protected and several outlier setts have been noted during the
    surveys as incidental records. The woodland, hedgerows and scrub areas within the site
    provide opportunities for Badger setts and adjacent habitats provide suitable foraging and
    commuting habitat.
    Whilst the presence of Badgers and small setts would be unlikely to be considered as a key
    constraint, the locations of setts, their status and population size are required to determine
    the full constraints. Badgers are particularly highly mobile and adaptable species that can
    create setts with multiple holes and chambers to support large, well-established clans.
    These details would need to be established and a clear Badger strategy developed to ensure
    their setts and foraging/commuting routes would not be compromised should the decision
    to proceed with Site allocation be accepted. See Section 6 on Mitigation and Compensation.
    4.11 Summary
    A suite of habitat/botanical and species surveys have been carried out over a 3 year period
    by suitably qualified ecologists and specialists to more fully inform on the actual and/or
    potential constraints to development and areas suitable for development and retention of
    natural green space;
    There is some concern at the general level of survey effort and the timing of surveys outside
    of optimal season. Whilst it is unlikely that this level of evidence would be accepted for a
    full planning application (as is pointed out repeatedly within the Stantec report), there is
    concern that a major decision on whether to allocate this land at all for development based
    on this evidence is acceptable.
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    5 Biodiversity Net Gain
    5.1 Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is a requirement under National Planning Policy Framework Para
    175 which requires developers to ensure habitats for wildlife are enhanced and left in a
    measurably better state than they were pre-development. Following the Mitigation
    hierarchy (as detailed in Section 2) clear evidence must be shown of how the applicant has
    avoided those areas of highest ecology value, mitigated on site and only as a last resort
    compensated off-site to achieve an overall net gain in biodiversity. These principles are
    considered a necessity in demonstrating that this development would be sustainable by
    achieving an overall BNG to allow the site to be allocated in the Local Plan.
    An assessment must be undertaken to fully quantify and transparently show how a net gain
    can be achieved. This is done using a biodiversity metric, to show the type of habitat and
    habitat condition within the site before any development; and then demonstrate how the
    development is improving biodiversity, such as through the creation of new habitats, or the
    enhancement of existing habitats.
    Biodiversity improvements on-site are preferable, but where this is not possible, habitat
    creation or enhancements can be provided off-site if agreed by the Local Planning Authority.
    The metric in this situation (i.e. for Middlewick Ranges allocation) seeks to provide an
    indication that a net gain for biodiversity is achievable using the Mitigation Land, and with
    the defined developable footprint.
    5.2 The Environment Bill (likely to become statute in 2021) states a 10% net gain in biodiversity
    will be mandatory. Until then, most Local authorities can decide what level of gain is
    5.3 Stantec have tried to demonstrate within their report the processes they have taken to
    comply with the Mitigation hierarchy to Avoid, Mitigate and Compensate – and by doing so,
    achieve the overall BNG. Appendix N provides a detailed analysis of the calculation and
    assessment which are summarised and evaluated below:
    Avoidance – the survey work carried out has been used to determine the layout of
    development on the site. The ecology report details ecological assessment of the Allocation
    site and Mitigation Site and no other assessment is included at a wider level (it is not clear if
    this has been done at a Strategic level across the local authority areas as part of the Local
    Plan evidence base – see Section 1)
    The Masterplan show development is concentrated in the northern part of the Allocation
    Site where the ecological value is considered of lower value and that the areas of higher
    ecological value have been avoided. For this premise to be accepted the level of detail
    available in the ecology reports should be fully considered in terms of survey effort and
    timings to ensure best practice and guidance was complied with to fully inform (see Section
    Mitigation – some mitigation for loss of habitat has been included in the developable area
    with the principle of green routes, buffers to existing development and connectivity to the
    Mitigation land identified. Those landscaped areas within the development area will provide
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    some biodiversity value within any new development but will be calculated against the
    natural habitats lost and would therefore result in a loss of biodiversity if no other mitigation
    or compensation were put in place.
    Further mitigation has been identified on land within Middlewick Ranges which is shown as
    retained. This is an area of mainly acid grassland and other scrub/woodland habitat.
    Measures to enhance the ecological value have been recommended to increase its
    biodiversity value and add to the metric. Note that the percentage gain in biodiversity value
    of this area is relatively low due to the site and habitats already being of high conservation
    value and largely favourable status informed by the ecology surveys;
    Compensation/Mitigation – Due to the comparatively high value of land to be lost to
    development and the high value of land to be retained, Stantec identified a further need to
    create more habitats off-site and in comparatively low ecological areas in order to maximise
    the percentage increase. The Mitigation land is comprised largely of intensive agricultural
    (arable) fields which have been improved through nitrification and which are of
    comparatively low ecological value (and from an ecological point of view more suitable for
    development not withstanding other constraints);
    5.4 The main habitat-type to be lost from the proposals is acid grassland and Appendix M details
    the proposed methodology to allow new areas of acid grassland to be created on the
    agricultural fields. This methodology includes the application of sulphur to increase acidity
    levels, careful translocation of turf from the northern section of Middlewick Ranges and
    spreading of green hay from the retained acid grassland onto the new site (see Section 6).
    5.5 These complex processes are contained in the Acid Grassland Management Strategy
    produced by Stantec and supported by Dr Putwain in a letter dated 29th September 2020
    documented in Appendix M which considers the creation of acid grassland in the Mitigation
    Land at Middlewick. Dr Putwain provides details of his experience as an academic,
    researcher and practitioner in applying his evaluation of whether the proposed methodology
    will succeed and concludes the letter by stating, “the acid grassland restoration strategy
    proposed by Stantec has a very high probability of successfully creating a functioning acid
    grassland ecosystem that will have very close similarity with the existing reference acid
    grassland occurring within the Allocation Boundary. This can be achieved within 10 years and
    possibly within 5-7 years”.
    5.6 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.
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    5.7 The addition of a large area of acid grassland on a land that is of low ecological value will
    support a higher percentage of biodiversity gain and with the three elements of avoidance,
    mitigation and compensation in place, Stantec have calculated that 9-16% BNG could be
    achieved based on the proposed layouts, habitats to be created or enhanced and length of
    time to achieve optimum ecological value.
    5.7 To calculate the BNG Stantec have used four options for layouts and habitat creation and a
    bespoke metric based on the Defra metric to calculate the net gain. The calculation is
    contained in a series of tables within the report. The Defra metric uses Excel software which
    can be interrogated to determine changes in size, types, condition and connectivity of
    habitats to calculate biodiversity values pre and post development. The metric used by
    Stantec is complex and such interrogation is not possible in the report format and lies
    beyond the remit of this report. However, Stantec do acknowledge that there may be a
    series of measures required and the exact requirements will be dependent on further
    surveys to inform on future planning applications. There is concern that proposed
    compensation areas may have influenced the size and scale of the developable area, but due
    to the lack of evidence still outstanding, there could be an issue in whether the Masterplan
    is actually a true reflection of how much land could be developed at all and therefore
    whether this site is a viable option given the costs of mitigation and compensation alone to
    achieve BNG.
    5.8 Long-term management of mitigation and compensation areas is also a requirement of any
    overall scheme to achieve BNG. The Defra metric gives higher scores and longer periods for
    habitats that are difficult to establish or for those such as woodland that will take time to
    mature and achieve optimum biodiversity value. The Environment Bill stipulates a minimum
    period of 30 years to allow for maximum biodiversity value to be achieved and that the
    person(s) responsible for undertaking that management will be identified and a
    management plan agreed as part of any planning approval. This aspect of the after-care and
    long-term management is briefly referred to in the report and there is concern that full
    consideration of the long-term care and management of these new areas and associated
    costs of establishment have not been fully recognised. Although the MoD have confirmed in
    writing (letter dated 14th October 2020 Appendix O) that they are content the proposed
    “post development habitats” align with anticipated training needs, this does not confirm
    who will be responsible for creation, management and maintenance of this and areas within
    the Mitigation land.
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    6 Species and Habitat Mitigation
    6.1 Whilst the Stantec report has used a bespoke metric to quantify if gains or losses are
    possible from the proposed development of Middlewick Ranges, neither the metric used or
    the Defra metric take the presence of protected/priority species or more common species of
    animals into account when calculating its biodiversity value.
    6.2 The presence of species at a National, Regional, County and Local level have been recorded
    at this site and acknowledged as part of a desk-top study or by surveys already completed.
    Stantec readily identify that more surveys are necessary to fully inform. However, the
    surveys and desk-top studies already undertaken confirm the presence of important
    invertebrate assemblages, reptiles and amphibians, small and large mammals, birds and
    bats. All species are reliant on the terrestrial habitats which support the range of plants on
    soil substrate;
    6.3 One of the main factors in delivering biodiversity gain at this site is the translocation of the
    acid grassland. Much emphasis has been placed on the methodology to do so and the
    support of plants from various sources to help this succeed. Little/no consideration has
    been given to the displacement of associated species groups which readily rely on these
    habitats – particularly the associated soils biota, invertebrates, reptiles and mammals along
    with the impacts and loss of foraging and commuting areas as one habitat is displaced to
    create another. The impacts on associated fauna from translocation should be fully
    considered in any viability study to determine the use of this site for development along
    with the need to mitigate, monitor and manage sites in the long-term;
    6.4 The Joint Nature Conservancy Council (JNCC) publication A Habitats Translocation Policy
    (2003) should be read fully in this context
    Section 5 of this is particular relevant and is inserted below:
  4. Key conservation issues in relation to habitats translocations
    5.1 Habitats translocations have been proposed as offering a solution when an area
    recognised as of importance for wildlife is threatened by development. From the point of
    view of a developer, habitats translocation is an attractive solution because it can be cheaper
    and more convenient to move the habitat than to proceed with the development elsewhere.
    Thus transport, housing and industrial development interests are greatly affected by policies
    and practices concerning habitats translocation. The response by conservationists to habitats
    translocation is most strongly negative for those sites which are of high conservation interest
    (internationally important or of SSSI quality) for their habitats and species. Even for sites of
    more local interest, opposition to habitats translocation is strong from conservationists
    because of the poor track record of sustaining the original quality of translocated habitats,
    coupled with their dislocation from their ecological and historical context. This has resulted in
    strongly opposing views on the merits and role of habitats translocation, between
    conservationists on one side and developers on the other.
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    5.2 Proposals for translocating habitats have increased recently in Britain, typically as part
    of development proposals affecting sites of known or potential importance for wildlife. In
    these circumstances, habitats translocation has been portrayed as a means of mitigating (in
    the sense of seeking to reduce the impact) damaging developments, by moving the
    conservation interest affected to a new “safe” location. However, experience shows that
    habitats translocation is, at best, merely a means of achieving partial compensation (in the
    sense of seeking to make amends for the impact) for development. The available evidence
    (as reviewed by Bullock et al. (1997)) indicates that habitats translocations have not been
    successful in maintaining the characteristic biodiversity of the assemblage that is moved, and
    so the practice is regarded as damaging by statutory and voluntary conservation
    organisations and many academic researchers. This was the clear view that emerged from
    discussions at the June 1997 Joint Committee meeting and from subsequent meetings of the
    Inter-agency Translocations Working Group. Bullock et al. (1997) summarise much of the
    factual background to habitats translocations in Britain, while Jefferson et al. (1999) review
    in detail the experience relating to translocation within a grassland site in Devon (Brocks
    Farm). There are circumstances where translocations of individual species may require the
    associated movement of other species and associated substrate material, but the scale of
    habitats translocation will typically be much larger in terms of the range of species and
    amount of substrate to be moved.
    5.3 Habitats translocation has also been suggested as a tool to assist the restoration of
    degraded habitats. The rationale here is that moving samples of habitats from areas rich in
    biodiversity to places where biodiversity has been lost through development, intensive land
    management or pollution, will help to accelerate re-colonisation by assemblages of typical
    species. The problems with this approach are twofold: first, there will be damage to the
    donor site, and second, the process of translocation will result in changes to the assemblage
    of species moved, so that the original interest will not persist unchanged in its new location.
    Therefore, habitats translocation for restoration projects should only be carried out after a
    thorough prior assessment of the likely losses and gains involved. Nevertheless, there are
    situations where the restrained and selective use of habitats translocation may help to
    restore degraded habitats, at least partly by resulting in the establishment of additional
    species characteristic of the habitat concerned. This is particularly the case for early
    successional stage habitats, which depend upon intensive management or disturbance to
    retain their biological interest. Heathland restoration has been investigated widely, including
    the use of experimental trials of alternative techniques (for and earlier review of this topic
    see the handbook by the Environmental Advisory Unit, 1988). In most situations, however,
    relying on a combination of natural colonisation, initiation of appropriate management
    regimes and judicious species translocation (as a tool for the re-establishment of
    characteristic species where there is evidence that they will not return soon), will be the best
    restoration strategy. Where species translocation is employed it should comply with the
    guidance given by JNCC (2003).
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    7 Conclusion and Recommendations
    7.1 The key concerns are
    i) Have CBC demonstrated a sequential process and evidenced use of the Mitigation
    hierarchy in their decision to select Middlewick Ranges as a suitable site for
    development and in doing so, can demonstrate that land of less ecological value has
    been rejected as not suitable and supported by an objective rationale;
    ii) Has CBC demonstrated the necessity to achieve their housing allocation target is
    dependent on the land at Middlewick Ranges being developed to enable 1000+
    houses to be constructed and that no other suitable sites of lesser ecological value
    are available in the surrounding districts of Colchester, Braintree and Tendring;
    7.2 i) Has CBC demonstrated that they have sufficient information from ecology surveys
    completed to inform on the proposed masterplan and delivery of sustainable development
    that is fully viable without later compromising on the ability to achieve BNG
    ii) Has CBC demonstrated that the necessity of such development to deliver the
    housing targets outweighs the ecological and natural capital assets associated with this site;
    7.3 Not with-standing that CBC and other local authorities are under intense pressure to deliver
    these targets and are required to assess ecological importance against many other
    constraints to reach their decision and achieve a planning balance, it should be noted that
    there are a number of concerns that have been identified within the ecology report and
    evidence base of CBC that require clarification to determine if this site is suitable for
    7.4 If the site is of great value to local communities and naturalists there may be options to
    either save the site completely from development or to greatly reduce the footprint of
    development if that is an approach that is wished to be taken. The below are put forward as
    possible options and examples based on successes on other sites across the UK
    i) Use social media and other mechanisms as part of a “Save Middlewick Ranges” type
    campaign backed by the Wildlife Trust, Campaign for Rural England, Friends of the
    Earth, Buglife, Plant Life etc and if possible, associated local conservation celebrities
    to get public support to save the site from development;
    ii) Localised recording groups could record species on iRecord or similar recording
    systems available in the public domain to openly show and publicise the importance
    of this local area of wildlife and people;
    iii) Work with the MoD, Natural England and other statutory authorities partnered by
    organisations and led by the Wildlife Trust or similar independent organisation to
    have the site designated as, for example a National Nature Reserve and managed by
    Natural England;
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    iv) A Crowd-funding programme and/or local benefactors and sponsorship may assist
    in funds to support the above and secure future management of the site on its
    release by the MoD

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