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Planning the Natural Resources of the Countryside

Very little of the land of Scotland is unaffected by the influence of man, yet there are many areas where the species or plant and animal communities present are particularly rich or unique, or where combined with the natural landform provide an attractive landscape.

Ecology is the science that studies the interrelationships of these plants and animals with each other and with the environment they inhabit.

The significance to planning lies not only in the simple fact that any development affects the environment in which it is placed, but in the political and ecological imperative to safeguard the best and, more recently, to promote the variety of life on earth (biodiversity).

Ecology provides the scientific guidance for these political objectives. Conservation is the political and practical response to the environemental changes identified by ecologists.

There are two key areas in which we need to develop some level of understanding:

the ecological principles that are relevent to policy and planning

the history of conservation and the conservation movement

1. Species, Sites, Habitats and Tracts

the ecological principles that are relevent to policy and planning

Ecologists usually recognise a hierarchy of scales.

Protection of Birds Acts, Wildlife and Countryside Act & others provide protection to most individual species of plant and animal. The EC Directives and Species Action Programmes (see box) have begun to give these a wider land based perspective. For example, the Coastal ESA's promote management to maintain habitats suitable for corncrakes. Similarly Forestry consultations now take into account the territories and feeding ranges of Birds of Prey. Planning will need to respond to these wider issues.Local Biodiversity Action Plans will need to address species issues. The new NPPG14 Natural Heritage now expects planning authorities to take action to protect species.

The basis of the SSSI series (and the planning response) is the designation of sites. Debate about the size and extent of some (especially Scottish) SSSI has already emphasised that this is an inappropriate mechanism for larger areas, but as yet no alternative has emerged.

The most recognisable unit to ecologists is the habitat, an essentially uniform, consistent and recognisable assemblage of plants and animals that live together, eg oak woodland, marsh, peat bogs. This is the main unit around which international and national policy is being derived, but delivery is not primarily through planning, eg Agri-environment programme. Can, or should, planning adapt?

Tracts and Ecosystems
Larger units of the biosphere. A mixed bunch of ideas whose objective is to define larger areas with a consistent biological/ geomorphological character, eg the Cairngorms are easily recognised as a mountain area with a characteristic arctic/ alpine flora and fauna. However they usually overlap or conflict with other social, environmental or economic units. Canada uses them for land planning purposes (see box), but would they work here? (defining National Parks, for example?) - and see Natural Heritage Zones , later.

2. History

the history of conservation and the conservation movement

Most legislation for nature conservation, landscape and the environment

is outwith the Planning Acts but usually requires powers within the Planning Acts

(Circulars etc.) for action within the planning system.

(The three pages of legislation and designations included in my original notes have not been reproduced here)

The Planner's Role

all public bodies '...shall have regard to the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauties and amenities of the countryside'. Countryside (Scotland) Act,1967

shall follow the principle of '...wise use'. Circular 13/91

SNH shall '...provide advice', ' a manner which is sustainable'. Natural Heritage( Scotland) Act, 1991

Protection of Designated Sites
The National responsibility to identify and protect sites for their conservation or landscape interest is directly translated into planning legislation

Local Nature Reserves
LA's have specific powers to identify LNR's ...'in consultation with (SNH)', and latterly the byelaw and management powers to achieve it.

Structure & Local Plans
Structure and Local Plan Guidance requires the provision of policies for conservation, archaeology and landscape.

Development Control
1. Referral of applications for consultation to SNH or Historic Scotland (Gardens & Designed Landscapes & Archaeological sites) is backed up by 'call-in' powers.

2. Guidance on appropriate landscaping has been issued on a variety of subjects (eg PAN 39, PAN 40, PAN 44) and is often backed up by Planning Authorities own design guidelines

Other Opportunities for Nature Conservation
Planning Authorities are permitted to undertake a variety of other 'non-statutory' activities.
A pragmatic list gleaned from a trawl of what LA's were actually doing was published both by DoE and SO. (DoE Circular 27/87)

'the establishment of a base of information...'
Scottish Wildlife Trust (and other Non-Governmental Organisations) have been very active in survey and providing lists of important local sites. Grampian, for example, have included these in the Structure Plan as 'SINS'

'appointment of specialist advisers...'
no longer a popular option as 'planners' become more environmentally educated, except in helping to prepare Local Biodiversity Action Plans

'developing in other LA awareness of wildlife conservation'.
This has been to a great extent usurped by Government itself and SNH. eg 'Cost Effective Landscape. Learning from Nature' SO 1998

'the use of byelaws to support local nature conservation objectives'

'the making of tree preservation orders..'
whilst some LA's have identified whole woodland areas as TPO's, this is no longer recommended practice (see 'Forestry')

'preparation of nature conservation strategies..'
non-statutory strategies have played an important role in facilitating action, easying the acceptance of policy and involving the voluntary organisations. More typically prepared for urban rather than rural areas. Now replaced by LBAPs

'creation of new wildlife habitats through derelict land schemes'
in Scotland particular importance can perhaps be attached to the recreation of peat bogs in opencast coal restoration schemes

'..establishment of Local Nature Reserves..'
Scotland now has 24, but these are insignificant compared to the numbers and areas managed by RSPB, SWT etc. Should perhaps focus on an educational role?

'..through education..& information..increase public awareness..'
several LA's have school tree planting projects or publish information leaflets. It is also usually one of the key objectives used in promoting and supporting urban fringe or other environmental initiatives

Local Biodiversity Action Plans
an opportunity for working with other agencies and bodies

Advice from SNH

SNH not only give advice on specific applications or sites but have been vey active in providing guidance on policy preparation.

NOTE The NGO's (RSPB etc) may also give very relevant advice and comment.

Although they have toyed with a variety of ways of defining or describing landscapes and landforms, SNH currently promote and recommend the identification of Landscape Character Areas. This is used in the current Dumfries & Galloway Plan Review, and was used to comment on the route of the pylon line proposed to connect the National Grid to Northern Ireland.

NOTE An earlier form of land form analysis devised by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology was used by Strathclyde and Highland Regions

Nature Conservation
SNH have recently prepared a Biogeographic Zonation of Scotland, which may be used to guide SSSI identification but may also be promoted as a guide to policy zoning.(But see below)

Unifying Approaches
SNH have now combined the Biogeographic Zonation with Landscape Character analysis to produce 20 Natural Heritage Zones, which has recieved the approbation of the Scottish Office, but has yet to find a role or function.

Forestry & Fish Farms
Remenber that SNH (& RSPB) play a major role in consultations on forestry & fish farms, as well as defining much of the agri-environment programmes (especially in area identification!)

Both SNH and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have been instrumental in articulating the arguments for a change to the economic bias of the Common Agricultural Policy. This is now recognised in the recognition of conservation of the environment as a key agricultural objective and in the various Agri-environment support schemes

NPPG 14-The Natural Heritage

The Scottish Office have produced a new NPPG on Natural Heritage.

In particular this adds a few features of interest:

confirmation that the Natural Heritage is a 'material interest' for planning purposes

adds that protective policies should recognise the conservation of 'species'.

Planning Authorities should identify ' areas that have value for the enjoyment of natural heritage'.

confirms that LA's should consider any 'adverse effects' on designated sites of interest .

LA's should include policies for the 'wider natural heritage'.

LA's and developers should be encouraged to protect and enhance 'lochs, ponds and watercourses

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