Colemans Farm is a proposed sand and gravel quarry allocated within in County Council’s 2014Mineral Plan. Nature After Minerals advised on the proposed restoration scheme (a mixture of predominately wetland habitats), during pre-application discussions with the landowner, Essex Wildlife Trust, and Essex County Council. The site is proposed for a mixed end use – including agriculture, fishing and nature conservation (both dry and water based habitats); advice was provided on to achieve a balance which didn’t compromise the biodiversity potential, but didn’t impact on the fishermen. The landowner was happy to incorporate this advice into the proposed scheme, which has now been submitted as part of a planning application to the Council.
Open mosaic habitat
Potential best practice
Wildlife friendly fishing
Water Framework Directive
The landowner submitted a ‘Scoping Opinion’ request in October 2013 to inform the requirements of an Environmental Impact Assessment in support of any future planning application. Essex County Council has innovated a Biodiversity Restoration Supplementary Planning Document, which builds on an established target within Policy S12 of the Mineral Plan for the creation of 200 hectares of new priority habitat. Colemans Farm was identified as having the potential to contribute 20ha to this target, creating reedbed, floodplain grazing marsh and open mosaic habitats.
Opportunities identified by Essex County Council / RESTORE
Colemans Farm was identified through the development process of Essex County Council’s Mineral Plan as a ‘flagship scheme’ where a significant proportion of the site area will be restored primarily for biodiversity. The site was identified through a number of criteria including: size; agricultural land classification; position in relation to the Essex Wildlife Trust Living Landscape ecological network, proximity to existing wildlife sites and the existing proposed restoration scheme. Based on the sites characteristics, with extraction levels below the water table, and the proximity to the River Blackwater, it was determined that this site would offer optimal opportunities for creating wetland habitats.
These potential restoration opportunities are also highlighted in the National Character Area profile – no. 86 South Suffolk and North Essex Clayland, within which the site sits. The Statement of Environmental Opportunity (SEO3) states that NCA should continue to:
“enhance the slow-flowing, winding rivers and their pastoral plains that provide linkages through the landscape, including redundant sand and gravel extractions sites, for their ecological, historical and recreational importance” and states “restore mineral extraction sites to a variety of wetland habitats, for their multiple benefits for nature conservation, recreation and landscape interests”.
Given the wet nature of the proposed restoration scheme, there is a clear potential for this site to be sympathetically restored to compliment the River Blackwater and it’s floodplain, and provide an important stepping stone in the landscape between Whet Mead Local Nature Reserve (LNR)and Brockwell meadows LNR downstream and upstream respectively.
Why Colemans Farm fitted RESTORE objectives:
The production of Essex County Council’s Supplementary Document was supported by a steering group, in which Nature After Minerals was invited to participate. Colemans Farm was one of five sites considered in the document, and given the nature of the proposed restoration – predominately wetland habitats – it was identified as the most appropriate site for NAM to engage.
This site is relatively unique in that the proposals are being driven forward by the landowner, rather than an aggregates company, (usually landowners are a third party in restoration plan discussions between operator and planning authority). The landowner will ultimately be responsible for the site and after care of the restoration in the long term.
This was also an opportunity to develop knowledge and understanding around the viability of managing these sites to be financially self supporting into the future. In the case of Colemans Farm, the restoration scheme combines three after-uses: agriculture, angling and nature conservation; the angling interests can provide a long term source of funds for managing the site. Historically there has frequently been a conflict between angling interests and nature conservation, however nature conservation organisations and the Angling Trust are developing best practice on how nature and fishing can successfully combine on the same site.
Where extraction activities meet the water table, sites used often to be restored to steep sided, deep lakes, often used for angling. This site gives the opportunity for some innovative ideas to be developed on how nature conservation and angling can co-exist through careful materials management, zonation of the site, and some added enhancements that attract non-conflict species.
RSPB submitted a consultation response to the formal planning application.
The indicative restoration scheme presented at the site meeting suggested a mixed end-use, with agriculture, fishing lakes and nature conservation. Biodiversity interests included hedgerows, open mosaic habitats, wet woodland and reedbed.
Areas of land to the south of the proposed extraction area were also identified to be enhanced to complement and link the wetland features of the site to the River Blackwater, to include management of reed beds and a potential 4ha wet grassland area. Other off site habitat enhancements included the inclusion of an orchard within a wider Biodiversity Enhancement Plan.
Our response and suggestions
The proposed restoration scheme featured some good principles and we were supportive of the overall aspirations for the site. However, we felt that the site could be zoned more appropriately to increase its biodiversity, yet at the same time minimise conflict between nature conservation and angling interests. Following our site meeting, we submitted some pre-application suggestions in partnership with Essex Wildlife Trust and Essex County Council Ecologist on how to improve the design at that time.
Our response to the applicant (via Essex County Council) included a number of recommendations that we felt would enhance the restoration and aftercare, as detailed in this section:
A planning application was submitted by the applicant to Essex County Council in July 2014, with a revised restoration scheme. The amended scheme addressed many of the above points, in particular relocation of wet woodland, concentration of reedbed habitat, shingle islands, and the public footpath. A further amendment by the applicant, which reduces the amount of land restored back to agriculture, creating an area of wet grassland in its place is also beneficial.
The applicant/landowner intends to establish a Habitat Advisory Group that will be incorporated under any legal agreement that accompanies the planning consent, to advise on the restoration.
How this best practice is transferable
Colemans Farm Quarry provides an opportunity to develop guiding principles for restorations of this kind. Also, it showcases a careful approach to the zoning of the site to allow a range of afteruses to be incorporated, as well as creating an important long term management fund, without compromising the integrity of the biodiversity features to be created. The true success of this restoration scheme will not be known until it has been implemented, however, best practice ideas during the planning stage can be utilised in similar scenarios across the UK, and North-West Europe.
Frequently, opportunities to engage with site restoration start only after the restoration plan is submitted as part of a planning application. It is often difficult to influence significant changes to the plans. In this case discussion of best practice restoration techniques started with the landowner well in advance of the application being submitted, thereby enabling positive changes to be incorporated within the plan without significant cost or time delays to the applicant. It may not always be possible to engage with future sites so early on in the planning process, but is something that should be considered best adopted practice with all stakeholders.