Our ecological services team oversaw the completion of a successful planning application to develop a cemetery and country park using environmental DNA to test for the presence of great crested newts.
Syntegra roles undertaken included Preliminary Ecological Appraisal and eDNA testing of pond directly adjacent to site. The late commissioning of the surveys, towards the end of the GCN survey season, precluded the undertaking of great crested newt presence/ absence field surveys using traditional techniques (bottle trapping, netting, torching and netting). The presence/absence surveys need to be spread over an appropriate period of time and a proportion of these need to be undertaken during peak newt breeding period which runs between mid-April and mid-May. As an alternative, environmental DNA (eDNA) was used – an approved method for detecting great crested newt presence/ absence by DNA and is an approved suitable survey approach.
eDNA was successful for this project, having a benefit over traditional presence/absence surveys in that they require only a single visit to the relevant waterbody and can be carried out between mid-May to the end of June. Therefore, eDNA surveys can be programmed and completed later in the newt survey season when surveys using traditional methods are not possible. eDNA is a good way to determine likely absence or confirmed presence but it cannot be used to make an estimate of the population size class if any GCN populations are identified. For this site, the finding of a negative detection meant that there was no further requirement for the presence/absence surveys the following year during the newt season.
This result means confirmation of no GCN being present within these ponds at the time of the sampling survey and or up to 7-21 days prior. As the season was during mid-May, this is when newts are still actively in ponds and seen as peak season, so highly likely that if newts were present, the sampling of the pond banks during this time would have detected presence of newt DNA. The conclusion is that GCN are likely to be absent from the adjacent pond and therefore less likely to be present in or around the site.
The site is directly adjacent to deciduous woodland, a section 41 priority habitat (NERC 2006). Although no direct proposals to this offsite woodland, mitigation measures were recommended to protect this area by ensuring no materials or spill enter the woodland and to ensure dark corridors are in place. The proposed landscaping will ensure use of native species and reflect species and in around the woodland.
Our colleagues were requested to make recommendations for minimising impacts on biodiversity and providing net gains in biodiversity, where possible, in accordance with Section 15: Conserving and Enhancing the Natural Environment, of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (DfCLG,2018) and Policies EE2 : Enhancing Biodiversity and EE3: Nature Conservation – Designated Sites and Protected Species of Central Bedfordshire Pre-Submission Local Plan 2015- 2035 (2018). In line with Local Plan Policies, EE2: Enhancing Biodiversity, ‘Development proposals should provide a net gain in biodiversity through enhancement and creation of ecological networks by: Incorporating and enhancing existing and creating new biodiversity features within their design; and Maximising opportunities to enhance and create links between ecological networks and habitats of principal importance. Links should be created both on-site and, where possible, with nearby features. Biodiversity within a development needs to be managed, monitored and maintained. Development proposals within, or in close proximity to, an ecological corridor should enhance the functionality and connectivity of the corridor’, and EE3: Nature Conservation, ‘Up to date, comprehensive ecological surveys undertaken in accordance with industry guidelines and standards will be required to support and inform development proposals that would affect sites for nature conservation, protected species, or species of habitats of principal importance demonstrating development will deliver a net gain’.
The site has potential for use by nesting birds, moderate potential for roosting bats, moderate potential for traversing and foraging bats, moderate potential foraging and sheltering sites for hedgehogs and common amphibians, moderate potential for reptiles and moderate potential for use by foraging invertebrates. The site will provide further onsite enhancements by incorporating further nesting sites in the form of boxes within retained trees, further bat boxes are to be placed within trees, enhancement of the ditch/watercourse boundary with further plug planting, placement of log piles within the boundaries and planting of further native tree species and a wildflower meadow. The proposals also included the creation of additional ponds on site. The use of native and wildlife friendly species on site that include wildflower meadow and ponds would create additional foraging grounds for local birds, reptiles, amphibians, hedgehog, bats and invertebrate species.