Balancing housing requirements and our natural environment

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IT is challenging to balance the Island’s need for additional housing and a rising population, while conserving natural habitats and protected species groups.

This is going to become more and more of a complex issue to address but a recent development of 200 units of accommodation for Andium Homes, at Samarès Nurseries, has demonstrated how we can achieve this hand in hand.

The land was acquired as a large redundant glasshouse site with associated irrigation ponds and rough grassland habitat, with the proposal of developing much-needed housing.

As the site had been left unused for a number of years, suitable habitat for a variety of protected species groups had become established, including rough grassland, young woodland and open water (disused irrigation ponds). GR Langlois Ltd commissioned early ecological surveys of the site with Nurture Ecology, which showed that there were high populations of amphibians, reptiles and birds on site, which needed to be mitigated for in line with local legislation and policy, while at the same time delivering the much-needed local housing.

During the construction, Nurture Ecology worked closely with GR Langlois developers, Axis Mason Architects, and builders Houzé Construction, to produce a Species Protection Plan that meant that the protected wildlife on site was not harmed in the short-term (during site clearance and construction), and was catered for in the long-term in terms of habitat creation and connectivity.

The short-term mitigation and measures to reduce the impact of the site-clearance works and construction included:

• Timing of works to avoid nesting birds and breeding amphibians and reptiles.

• Establishing an ecological buffer zone around the periphery of the site, which was enhanced with additional seeding of rough grassland and wildflowers, hedgerow planting, log piles and control of invasive plant species.

• These buffer zones were fenced with ‘exclusion fencing’ to prevent any animals translocated into these areas from re-entering the main works site, while allowing connectivity and movement of animals into the wider countryside through already established wildlife corridors.

• Two new wildlife ponds were created in the ecological buffer zone in advance of draining the irrigation ponds to ensure amphibian breeding habitat was maintained.

• Clearance works were phased over an 18-month period to reduce the impact to wildlife, in line with the clients’ desired programme.

• Large areas of the site were stripped under ecological supervision due to the high number of toads and slow worms within the main site. All animals were translocated to the on-site receptor site and buffer zones under Licence from the Conservation of Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2000. Nurture Ecology translocated 116 slow-worms, 227 adult toads, approximately 600 juvenile toads, approximately 1,500 tadpoles, 34 newts, and 19 small mammals into the ecological buffer zone surrounding the site during the site strip. All translocation work was undertaken under special licences form the Department of the Environment.

The long-term enhancements of the site for protected wildlife to ensure their long-term survival and use of this site included:

• A two-to-five-metre-wide ecological buffer zone surrounding the periphery of the entire site created and maintained in the long term, including the two wildlife ponds, rough grassland and native hedgerows. Amphibian breeding has been maintained in both ponds with many ‘toadlets’ found surrounding these areas. Large numbers of slow worms are still found within the ecological buffer zone.

• Ditches and areas of standing water were maintained and enhanced around the periphery of the site as additional wetland habitat for wetland birds and amphibians.

• A green ‘wildlife corridor’ of favourable native trees and shrubs has been planted through the centre of the main site to facilitate the connectivity of this area for birds and bats. Many birds and bat species have been observed in the vicinity of the ponds, either feeding or drinking from them directly or foraging on the insects that congregate in such areas. Connective habitat is essential to maintain links to these important foraging areas.

• Bat and bird boxes have been ‘built in’ to the external walls of the new houses to provide nesting/roosting habitats for these species. House sparrows moved into the specially made boxes before the houses were even finished and, as such, the large colony of this species found in this area prior to works has been maintained.

• The site will be ‘permeable’ to the free movement of wildlife through the heart of hte site by providing access through/under all walls/fences on site for species such as hedgehogs and toads.

Although works to the final houses have only recently been completed, the ecological-mitigation measures are already proving successful with populations of all the protected wildlife previously found on site still present.

Paul Wagstaffe, director of Nurture Ecology, commented: ‘Although there will always be an ecological and environmental impact if developing an area such as this, these impacts were addressed and mitigated for early on in the design and planning process for the Samarès Nurseries site.

‘This meant that we could reduce the short-term impacts as much as possible and, with the ecological knowledge collected at an early stage, design habitats into the scheme which meant the long-term ecological functionality of the site for protected species will be provided for in the long term.

‘I think this project shows how the balance of the requirement for additional housing and maintaining habitats for wildlife can be achieved and I think it sets a real precedent as to how projects such as this should be undertaken in the future. It also provides the residents with an abundance of wildlife at their doorstop to enjoy and connect them to the natural environment, which I feel is more important than ever in this day and age.’

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