Minerals and Waste Local Plan: Pre-Submission Publication
9. The Brecks Protected Habitats and Species
9.1 Covering 39,434 ha of heathland, forest and arable farmland, The Brecks is of European value to birdlife. Designated in 2006 as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the European Council's Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds, The Brecks habitat is important for a range of ground-nesting birds, including the Stone Curlew, Woodlark and Nightjar. The East of England supports 65% of the UK's breeding pairs of Stone Curlew where most breeding is located within The Brecks. The rich biodiversity of The Brecks is also recognised through other statutory conservation designations including four Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), numerous SSSI and National Nature Reserves (NNR). SSSIs and NNRs make up 40% of the total area.
9.2 Evidence used to support the adoption of the Breckland Core Strategy in 2009 included research to inform the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) of the Breckland Core Strategy which examined the effects of housing and roads on the distribution of the Stone Curlew in The Brecks. The adopted mitigation policy required that any new built development which may impact on the SPA must be subject to Appropriate Assessment. New built development is not permitted within 1,500m of the edge of the SPA (shown as a 'Protection Zone' on Map 2) unless it can be demonstrated by an appropriate assessment that the development would not adversely affect the integrity of the SPA. Such circumstances may include the use of existing buildings and development where completely masked from the SPA by existing development.
9.3 Stone Curlews are also found outside the SPA; these birds are clearly part of the SPA population and functionally linked. Accordingly, a mitigation zone indicated areas that have been identified where there are concentrations of Stone Curlew (most recently using data from 2011-2015). There are also areas within 3km of the SPA, where Stone Curlews could be associated with the SPA, but there is a lack of survey data. The yellow squares on Map 2, indicate precautionary areas where there is a lack of data, but future surveys could identify regular use by nesting Stone Curlew, functionally linking these areas to the SPA.
Map 2: Stone Curlew mitigation zones and protection zones
9.4 Within these areas, built development may be brought forward, providing a project level Habitats Regulations Assessment can demonstrate adverse effects have been prevented, for example where alternative land outside the SPA can be secured to adequately mitigate for the potential effects.
9.5 In 2013 a "Further Assessments of the Relationship between Buildings and Stone Curlew Distribution" study was carried out by Footprint Ecology on behalf of Breckland Council to update previous work on the effect of buildings and roads on Stone Curlews in The Brecks. Including new analysis and using additional survey data, this study report focused on the effects of buildings on the distribution of breeding Stone Curlew in The Brecks. The report provides strong support for the continuation of a 1,500m zone around the areas capable of supporting Stone Curlews. Within this zone additional built development is likely to have a significant effect on the SPA.
9.6 The 2013 research also suggests that the planting of woodland/screening as a mitigation measure is unlikely to be effective and that the effect of nest density is strongest as a result of the amount of buildings. One of the key aims of the research was to differentiate the effects of nest density due to different building classes. Due to the sample size and number of buildings identified there needs to be an element of caution applied to the results, however, the research indicates that there was no evidence of a negative impact of agricultural or commercial buildings. As such, the analysis suggests that project level HRA for non-residential development in the SPA buffer zones may be able to demonstrate that adverse effects can be ruled out.
Policy MW4: The Brecks Protected Habitats and Species
The Council will require suitable information to be provided to enable it to undertake a Habitats Regulations Assessment of all proposals for development that are likely to have a significant effect on the Breckland Special Protection Area (SPA), which is classified for its populations of Stone Curlew, Woodlark and Nightjar, and/or Breckland Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which is designated for its heathland habitats. Development will only be permitted where sufficient information is submitted to demonstrate that the proposal will not adversely affect the integrity of the SPA or SAC.
A buffer zone has been defined (indicated in red hatching on Map 2) that extends 1,500m from the edge of those parts of the SPA that support or are capable of supporting Stone Curlew, where new built development would be likely to significantly affect the SPA population.
A buffer zone has also been defined (indicated in orange hatching on Map 2) that extends 1,500 metres around areas that have a functional link to the SPA, because they support Stone Curlew outside, but in close proximity to the SPA boundary, within which new built development would be likely to significantly affect the SPA population.
Built development (including plant and processing sites) within the SPA boundary, or located less than 1,500m away from the SPA boundary or identified areas that have a functional link (see Map 2) will not normally be permitted, unless a project level HRA is able to demonstrate that adverse effects can be ruled out.
Where a proposed building is outside the SPA but within 1,500m of the SPA boundary or identified areas that have a functional link, including those precautionary areas where there is currently a lack of data (see Map 2), there may be circumstances where a project level Habitats Regulations Assessment is able to demonstrate that the proposal will not adversely affect the integrity of the SPA.
Circumstances where the proposal is able to conclusively demonstrate that it will not result in an adverse effect on the Breckland SPA may include where the proposal is:
- More than 1,500m away from potential stone curlew nesting sites inside the SPA (these are those parts of the SPA that are also designated as Breckland Farmland SSSI);
- A new building that will be completely masked from the SPA by existing built development;
- A proposed re-development of an existing building that would not alter its footprint or increase its potential impact.
Woodlark and Nightjar
Built development (including plant and processing sites) within 400m of the SPA that support or are capable of supporting Woodlark and/or Nightjar will not normally be permitted.
The Council will consider the need for a Habitats Regulations Assessment to determine the implications of development on Nightjar and Woodlark on a case-by-case basis, depending on the location and nature of the proposal.