Strategic mineral planning is key to achieving high quality habitat in the right locations and balancing the needs of biodiversity with other important end-uses. Evolving minerals policy in the form of Mineral Plans is an exciting opportunity to focus efforts in a joined-up way.The UK’s habitat creation targets for nine priority habitats – including reedbeds, heathland, calcareous grassland, acid grassland, meadows and grazing marsh – could potentially be met through mineral site restoration alone (see the RSPB Nature After Minerals report, below). In other words, the minerals industry and the minerals planning system have the potential to play a fundamental role in halting the current loss of biodiversity and creating a coherent and resilient ecological network.
To help ensure that Mineral Plans contain policies that promote opportunities for wildlife, Nature After Minerals has produced an advisory sheet for planners and other interested parties, which can be used as a checklist of the key biodiversity-related issues to be addressed in Mineral Plans.
In 2007/08, Nature After Minerals held a series of 9 workshops across England, attended by 350 delegates, to identify the factors limiting the scale of biodiversity delivery on mineral sites. These were:
Through the workshops, a number of key points kept re-appearing as best practice:
In 2010, Nature After Minerals commissioned a report (see below) to investigate whether emerging Minerals Development Framework (MDF) policies offered the positive framework that is needed to restore BAP habitats and species. Since this report, the government has produced a number of policy and strategy documents which promote the biodiversity agenda. This has strengthened the case for biodiversity-led restoration of mineral sites, with the result that these issues are starting to be more comprehensively addressed in Mineral Plans. The key policy and strategy documents, in chronological order, are the:
The Lawton Review was a ground-breaking review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological network, which identified the reasons for the ongoing decline in biodiversity in England and set out key principles for creating a coherent and resilient ecological network. Many of the key principles from the Lawton Review were incorporated within the Natural Environment White Paper; England Biodiversity Strategy and the NPPF. Key messages from these documents include:
The NPPF is particularly important in terms of promoting the biodiversity agenda in Mineral Plans, as it sets out the government’s planning policies for England and how they are expected to be applied. It must be taken into account in the preparation of local plans and is a material consideration in planning decisions. Key biodiversity policy issues that are addressed by the NPPF, include:
The NPPF also sets out a number of policies for how the existing ecological network (designated sites, etc) should be protected, which is the fundamental starting point for any consideration of biodiversity in Mineral Plans.
Many Mineral Plans contain strong policies on the protection of designated nature conservation sites and the biodiversity-led restoration of individual mineral sites. However, relatively few Mineral Plans have seriously addressed the issue of identifying exactly how mineral extraction and mineral site restoration can lead to a net gain in biodiversity. In particular, very few Mineral Plans have planned for biodiversity at a landscape scale or identified how they can contribute to establishing a coherent and resilient ecological network.
To ensure that they comply with the requirements of the NPPF, Mineral Plans should guide and map where minerals development should happen, so as to deliver the greatest gains for biodiversity, primarily through the biodiversity-led restoration of mineral sites (i.e. contributing to the coherent and resilient ecological network referred to above), The presence of landscape- scale conservation initiatives such as Nature Improvement Areas; RSPB ‘Futurescapes’; Wildlife Trust ‘Living Landscapes’ and Biodiversity Delivery Areas, should be a major consideration in this process. For allocated sites and current permissions, sites should not be considered in isolation. Instead, where mineral sites are close together, consideration should be given to developing a joined-up approach to mineral site restoration, so as to deliver maximum biodiversity gain.
Nature After Minerals,
Charity Number: 207076
Copyright RSPB 2016