Why badgers face a postcode lottery

July 01 2019
Why badgers face a postcode lottery

Planning Matters column with Chris Gosling

WORKING in planning, one of the most common complaints you hear is that “the countryside is being concreted over”.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England continually makes the case that brownfield, previously-used land should be used for housing in preference to green fields. Where green fields are lost, there is some cause for complaint – but first some context might help.

Around a tenth of the UK’s land surface is built upon. The loss of any green fields changes this balance but it is already set towards preserving the countryside. At the same time, many species are in decline, sometimes dangerously close to terminal. This may not all be directly due to housing estates, but the evidence points to human activity playing the biggest part in this decline and planning is charged with mitigating the effects.

Recently I have enjoyed discovering more about ecology. This has involved disputes over bat surveys and taking DNA samples of pond water to detect the presence of great crested newts, which came as a surprise. Bats and newts are the first species that spring to mind in relation to planning.

Bats are predators at the top of their own food chain and when they are thriving, a complex system of lesser organisms is successfully supporting them. They are protected under European Union law and the Wildlife and Countryside Act, as are newts, badgers, dormice, breeding birds, otters, water voles and whiteclawed crayfish, among others. Hedgehogs and slow worms sometimes benefit from protection locally.

When bats are likely to be present, the first point of contention is whether a bat survey is needed. If so, the developer must commission trained ecologists look for evidence of roosting. The next stage is a series of surveys to see if the roost is active between May and September. Measures such as installing bat boxes can be a condition of planning permission. The measures required to protect other species vary depending on the animal, as does the survey window. Miss it, and the project effectively goes on hold for up to a year, so nature conservation is one of the first issues to bear in mind with any development. Planning and ecology are therefore interlinked.

Taking the correct measures with each green field that is lost to development should adequately mitigate the harm to the other species that we share the planet with.

Last month I mentioned some of the contradictions that have recently been built into planning. Here’s another: while badgers nationwide are a protected species, in some parts of the country they are being culled, under government licence, in an attempt to curb bovine tuberculosis.

Who would ever have expected badgers to be subject to a postcode lottery?