From the conservation section

Our Senior Conservation Officer writes...

The work of the Trust s conservation section increases all the time. The launch of Cornwall s Biodiversity Volume I: Audit and Priorities on 20th June 1997 has provided an essential baseline for the Trust s work, as well as helping others to work towards conserving Cornwall s wildlife and wild places. We now have to find the funds to carry out more action on land and in the marine environment.

Cornwall LIFE Project

The project has now officially ended, although the products and applications that resulted are only now beginning to be used extensively. One of the most pleasing aspects of the project was the input to Cornwall s Biodiversity Volume I: Audit and Priorities. Without the information from the LIFE Project, this volume could not have been written and the biodiversity planning process in Cornwall would have been set back by many months, if not years. Other applications have included work with the county planning authorities, both in defining policy areas and in analysing whether they have any effect. A colour brochure is now available, and a short promotional video in English or French can be borrowed from the Trust. The Trust has already been encouraged by the European Commission to apply for further projects.

Cornish Biological Records Unit

Work is continuing on the development of the new records centre at the Trust, including improved access to electronic records. Please contact the Trust s Director, Trevor Edwards, for more details.

Display in Penzance Shop
Drawing attention to habitat loss - display in the Trust's penzance shop. Photo: David Grandy

Regional Biodiversity Initiative

Action for Biodiversity in the South-West: a Series of Habitat and Species Plans to Guide Delivery was published in June 1997. It includes 31 plans that will guide local action throughout the region. Copies are available at £25.00 from RSPB, Exeter, EX4 4JA.

Countryside Advisory Service

The Countryside Advisory Service goes from strength to strength. Si÷n has a long waiting list, but the Trust nevertheless encourages you to get in touch if you need advice. Much of his work is taken up with advising on Countryside Stewardship and Rural Action applications, and often seeing these through to completion. A leaflet about the Countryside Advisory Service is available from the Trust.

Cornwall Heathlands Project

Since October 1995, the Trust has been involved with the RSPB and the SEPNB in a European Commission LIFE-funded project to conserve and re-establish areas of Dorset and Cornish heaths. The Trust s role has been to visit landowners of sites targeted for restoration or management, draw up  project outlinesň and promote entry into Countryside Stewardship. Fifteen outlines were produced on target in 1996, with a further 30 to be completed in 1997 and 1998. Several farmers submitted Countryside Stewardship applications in 1997, and several more have already committed to submitting in 1998.

Cornwall Biodiversity Initiative

The Trust led the establishment, in June 1996, of the Cornwall Biodiversity Initiative and, in June 1997, the first milestone was reached with the publication of Cornwall s Biodiversity Volume I: Audit and Priorities.

Volume I sets out the background to the initiative, summarises issues and analyses trends. Priority habitats, species and areas are identified and 12 recommendations are made for action. The continued loss of high-quality wildlife habitat from Cornwall is highlighted, and agriculture is identified as the main overall cause. The nature of losses is complex, but the following points stand out:

  • 72% of wetlands remaining in 1988 were lost between 1988 and 1995 - a total of 237 hectares - mostly to agriculture.
  • Unimproved and marginal grasslands continue to be lost to improved pasture or arable land.
  • Loss of wildlife habitat to development, including mineral workings and mineral waste, was low generally but high in concentrated areas such as the St Austell china clay district.
  • 1% of heathlands remaining in the 1998 were lost between 1988 and 1995 - a total of 75 hectares - to improved agriculture, overgrazing and development in equal measure.
  • 25 species were recommended for individual species action plans, including several butterflies, the common dolphin, the grey seal, the otter and the greater horseshoe bat.
  • Hedgerow and other boundary features, such as ditches, verges and field margins, continue to be lost and hold a high number of characteristic or unusual species.

Everyone involved in the initiative has agreed that action on the ground is an essential next step. Focus groups have been formed for each of the 12 recommendations in Volume I with the aim of agreeing specific work items immediately. At the same time, other work programmes will be drawn up and funding applied for.

Funding for the initiative has come so far from the District Councils, the National Trust, Cornwall County Council, English Nature, English China Clays International, the Environment Agency and the University of Plymouth. North Cornwall District Council has provided immeasurable support through its provision of the secretariat. The single largest element of funding, a grant of £4,000, came from the Sunley Wildlife Fund through The Wildlife Trusts National Office, without which Volume I could not have been published.

Copies of Cornwall s Biodiversity Volume I: Audit and Priorities are available in libraries or for viewing at Trust HQ. You can buy your own copy, which comes in a loose-leaf ring binder for ease of update, for £10 (plus £4 p&p) from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. A photocopy of the executive summary is available free of charge.
Christopher Howe

Planning responses

How does the Trust influence planning decisions? What effect do our comments have on planners? What more could be done? Charlotte Gault tries to find out.

Planning applications are sent to the Trust by Cornwall s local authorities for us to advise upon. The Trust also requests details of applications by scanning published lists or acting on advice from our members. Most applications are for developments within or near to Cornwall Nature Conservation Sites (CNC Sites) - sites of at least county importance for wildlife, referred to in local plans and national planning guidelines. Many others are for demolition or building conversions which might affect bats or barn owls. For the latter, the Trust has a standard response informing the authority and the applicant of the legal protection these species carry, and advising a survey, whereas the former type of application requires thorough assessment of its likely impact, and a clearly worded response.

Where the development does not impact upon wildlife, the Trust does not object. Planning conditions are sometimes recommended, such as to avoid work during the bird-nesting season. Occasionally our response is to object, which means that the Trust might have to represent its case at a public inquiry if the applicant appeals against refusal. This happened in February 1997 with a proposed housing estate on dunes at Perranporth. The Trust provided expert testimony, in support of the District Council, and the dunes remain unscathed. It is unusual for the results of applications to become known to us and it was for this reason - to find out what happens to our comments, who takes notice, how often, and how our comments could be improved - that I was asked to carry out an analysis of the Trust s planning responses.

I took 1996 as my subject and set out to discover what happened to some of the 500 comments made. After dividing the responses into categories, according to objection or otherwise and the type of condition or recommendation made, I chose a selection to follow up. This involved obtaining decision notices from the councils and, for some cases, going to look at the details in their files. Interviews with planners from most of the councils provided answers to more general questions.

During 1996 the Trust objected to 15 applications. These included the construction of a waste recycling plant on Dorset heath at Newlyn Downs; the construction of a slurry lagoon, which posed a risk to local watercourses; and the erection of agricultural buildings on a number of CNC Sites. Of these, five were refused permission, five given permission and the rest remain undecided. Conservation value was an important factor in all the refusals, but relevant conditions were set for only two of the permissions. Our standard recommendation for a survey for bats and barn owls highlighted differences between the district councils. North Cornwall, Caradon and Restormel routinely set a condition to survey and to provide access holes and/or nest boxes. The other three districts do not, though, following our discussions with some of their planners, this might soon improve! Most planning departments provide no specific training in conservation issues for their staff, due to pressure on time or understaffing. However, all were interested to learn more and would welcome any training the Trust could provide in the future. Making the importance of CNC Sites and our reasons for designating them clear, among other issues, would improve their understanding of our comments. The importance of separating our factual advice from our stance as a Trust was clarified, as was the usefulness of linking our comments to local plan policies.

There is room for improvement on both sides, in order that wildlife is always given proper consideration during the planning process. There are gaps in understanding within some district planning offices, and the enforcement of planning conditions is a haphazard process. However, it is clear that the comments made by the Trust are taken seriously, and are often the main reason for refusal where that is our recommendation. Not every case is won or lost on its conservation importance, as other considerations can override. Still, where effects upon wildlife are likely, the planners rely, and can continue to rely, upon a clear assessment of the probable impact and significance for Cornwall s wild flora, fauna and their habitats. Charlotte Gault

Charlotte took over from Philippa Hoskin as Biodiversity Project Officer in May. She carried out the above analysis while working as a volunteer. Philippa is now with the County Council, working as Tehidy-Hayle Ranger.

Barn Owl
How safe are barn owls in your area? The Trust is working to achieve equal provision from all planning authorities. Illustration: Sarah McCartney

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