Ecological appraisal, farm accesses, Cheshire (2016)

One of the smallest projects I’ve ever advised on.  This involved a new farm building access and new car parking area in rural Cheshire.  Usually, something this minor wouldn’t attract the attention of the county ecologist, but in this case the site was in a SSSI Impact Risk Zone as it was very close to a SSSI, and just 10 metres from a Local Wildlife Site, so I was called in to provide Extended Phase 1 habitat survey and advice to the project team.I found that the project site supported improved grassland and a hedgerow typical for the local area, being rather species-poor and getting a little leggy from lack of laying.

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No trees would be affected by the proposals and there were improved grass fields between the project and the SSSI boundary.  So far, so good.  I then went on tour through the fields to see whether I could find the ponds marked on the Ordnance Survey map, because we’re in Cheshire and thus it’s obligatory to find at least one potential great crested newt pond within 250m of every single development site !

True to form, I found several ponds potentially usable by great crested newt, including this one:

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It’s almost completely choked with bulrush, but although it seems not to make sense, great crested newts seem to love these swampy ponds and I’ve found plenty by bottle trapping ponds like this in the past.  I concluded that the project would have to consider the possibility that great crested newts might occur on site – probably not in the improved grassland, given that it’s managed for silage, but possibly in the base of the hedgerow.  As such a short length of hedgerow will be affected, I don’t think the project merits a full great crested newt survey and mitigation licence, so I’ve recommended Reasonable Avoidance Measures for great crested newt instead.

Natural England have already communicated that they have no concerns about the project, so I hope the county ecologist will agree with me.


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