From dragonflies to marsh harriers, otters to orchids, many mineral sites are outstanding places for wildlife. But by working together, mineral planners, mineral operators and conservation organisations can do even more to bring mineral sites to life for people and wildlife.

Creating new wildlife habitats is a core aspiration of the England Biodiversity Strategy, and a key principle of government guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework.  A 2006 study by the RSPB showed that mineral sites in England hold the potential to deliver 100% of the habitat creation targets for nine priority habitats - including lowland heathland, lowland meadows, and wet reedbed – and to make a significant contribution to many other habitats.

However, creating priority habitats on individual mineral sites is just the starting point.  Creating a coherent and resilient ecological network capable of responding to the challenges of climate change and other pressures requires a shift in emphasis, away from piecemeal conservation actions towards a more effective, more integrated landscape-scale approach.   Only if this landscape-scale approach is taken will we halt, and potentially reverse, the decline of England’s biodiversity.

Be strategic.

Include biodiversity delivery on mineral sites as part of the strategic vision and objectives of the Mineral Plan.

Positive and ambitious policies in Mineral Plans (‘Mineral Plans’ also covers Local Plans with mineral-related policies) can do much to help realise the potential for a landscape-scale approach to habitat creation on mineral sites and to halt the current decline in biodiversity. This advisory sheet sets out some of the most important concepts that a visionary, innovative Mineral Plan should include.

Protect what you already have.

The starting point for the Mineral Plan should be to allow no adverse effect on designated sites and existing priority habitat.

Ensure a net gain in biodiversity.

All mineral proposals should result in a ‘net gain’ in biodiversity. In other words, there should be more priority habitat following mineral site restoration than there was before mineral extraction began.

Contribute to national and local biodiversity targets for habitat creation.

All mineral proposals should make clear their contribution to the achievement of national and local targets for priority habitats. This should include identifying the specific type and area of priority habitat that will be created through mineral site restoration.

Promote a landscape scale approach.

Mineral Plans should offer a steer towards preferred habitats within the Plan area. When identifying preferred habitats, reference should be made to landscape-scale conservation initiatives such as Nature Improvement Areas, Futurescapes, Living Landscapes, Biodiversity Opportunity Areas and National Character Areas.  At the site allocations stage, the Plan should identify how the mineral sites – both individually and collectively – can best contribute to establishing a coherent and resilient ecological network.

Give habitat creation due prominence.

Recognise and promote habitat creation as an appropriate ‘stand-alone’ objective for mineral site restoration. Plans that treat habitat creation as one possible outcome within generic categories like “amenity use” or “green infrastructure” are less likely to succeed in delivering priority habitats.

Press for restoration to more “difficult” habitats where a choice exists.

Physical, geological and hydrological conditions may mean opportunities to create some habitats (e.g. magnesian limestone grassland or heathland) will be rare compared to others (e.g. broadleaf woodland). Strive to recognise and exploit such opportunities wherever they arise.

Consider biodiversity-led restoration of best and most versatile (BMV) agricultural land.

Government policy no longer precludes the development of BMV land, with biodiversity-led restoration of such land now being a valid alternative.   Biodiversity-led restoration can be delivered such that the land would still be capable of supporting agriculture, if required.

Consider wetland habitat creation within airport safeguarding zones (ASZs).

Well designed wetland habitats need not significantly increase birdstrike risk when compared to an agricultural land use. Given the lack of suitable inert fill to restore floodplain sites to agriculture, wetland restoration may be the only practical option in many cases.

Encourage early discussion.

Encourage applicants to discuss proposals with the planning authority prior to application. Involve conservation bodies (e.g. the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, etc), Local Nature Partnerships and statutory agencies in discussions to ensure delivery of significant biodiversity gains.

Encourage a simpler approach to habitat creation.

Larger blocks of a smaller range of habitats on any one site tend to perform better ecologically and are often simpler and less expensive (per hectare) to manage in the long term, than an over-complex mosaic of many different habitats.

Press for extended after-care periods.

Five years is often not long enough to guarantee successful establishment of priority habitat. Mineral Plans should increase after-care to 25 years, using planning obligations as appropriate.

Examples of best practice

A report by David Tyldesley and Associates (DTA), commissioned by Nature After Minerals (NAM), highlights several examples of Mineral Plans that address some of the above points of best practice. The following Mineral Planning Authorities are a selection of those whom NAM considers to represent best practice.

  • Rutland County Council
  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
  • Surrey County Council
  • Wiltshire Council

The information set out within this advisory sheet in no way constitutes legal or regulatory advice and is based on circumstances and facts as they existed at the time Nature After Minerals compiled this document. Should there be a change in circumstances or facts, then this may adversely affect any  recommendations, opinions or findings contained within this document