Background and importance
Beer Quarry and Caves Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is an internationally important site for nature conservation, designated for its qualifying features, which are significant populations of hibernating greater horseshoe, lesser horseshoe and Bechstein’s bats.
The designated area of the SAC is relatively small and comprises the areas immediately surrounding the quarry and caves. However, EDDC and Natural England recognise that the bat populations present are dependent upon a much wider area outside the SAC boundary which provides essential foraging habitat and commuting routes, and supports other critical roosts for these species, such as breeding and hibernation roosts.
Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are designated under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended), which are commonly referred to as “The Habitats Regulations”. These sites are internationally important for nature conservation, and are afforded the highest level of protection of any ecologically designated sites in the UK.
EDDC is a Competent Authority under the Habitats Regulations, and therefore has a duty to carry out Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) in order to test if a proposed plan or project could significantly harm the qualifying features of a Site. This applies to the granting of any permissions by EDDC. HRA typically consists of two stages:
Screening- An assessment of whether there is a likely significant effect (LSE) on the qualifying features of a European site in absence of mitigation measures. If it does not, then the appropriate assessment stage does not need to be completed.
Appropriate Assessment– An assessment of whether LSEs can be mitigated, with full mitigation, avoidance and compensation details.
All details necessary in order for EDDC to carry out a HRA must be provided by the proposer.
The evidence burden for HRA is high. EDDC must be confident, beyond reasonable scientific doubt, that the screening opinion is accurate, and that any information used to support Appropriate Assessments (including suitability of mitigation/avoidance/compensation/enhancement measures) is fully complete, scientifically robust, and secured for the lifetime of the proposal.
Natural England’s role and support
Natural England is a Statutory Nature Conservation Body (SNCB), and must be consulted for any proposals which reach the Appropriate Assessment stage of HRA. This means that they should approve the Appropriate Assessment in order for EDDC to grant permission.
The purpose and benefits of the guidance document
The document is based on the latest scientific data available, with input from East Devon AONB, East Devon District Council, national and local bat experts, academics, and Natural England.
The guidance represents a standardised, systematic and publically accessible approach to HRA decision making.
How it works
Consultation Zones have been developed to help clarify where and when impacts, on Roosts, Foraging Habitat and Commuting Routes may have a likely significant effect on the SAC’s bat populations (Section 2). These consist of:
- Key Roosts
- Other Roosts
- Sustenance Zones
- Landscape Connectivity Zones
- Pinch Points
- Existing/Approved Mitigation Measures
These areas and features are shown in the guidance, and will be uploaded to publically available GIS systems (Devon Environment Viewer) as well as internal EDDC and Natural England systems (DEFRA MagicMap application).
A flow chart is provided within the guidance document, in order to aid HRA decision making (section 3), in relation to whether or not a proposal site is within one of the consultation zones.
If an appropriate assessment is required, then the guidance provides information for applicants on what measures are likely to be required in order to properly mitigate against the likely significant effect, in order to ensure no impact on the integrity of the SAC (section 4).
Mitigation, avoidance, compensation and enhancement details are required in full at the Appropriate Assessment stage (if required). These will need to be sufficient (beyond reasonable scientific doubt, taking into account the precautionary principle) and secured in perpetuity. These measures will be enacted through legal agreements, such as Section 106 or Conservation Covenants.
Applicants are required to provide EDDC with all the information necessary for EDDC to carry out the Appropriate Assessment. In order to facilitate this, EDDC have produced the shadow HRA document below, which should be completed by the applicant in order to properly consider the impacts of the proposals on the BQ&C SAC, and consider appropriate avoidance, mitigation and compensation measures.
Shadow HRA template
Updates in the future
The guidance will be revised as and when new information emerges, such as when:
- New key roosts are discovered
- New scientific data suggests changes to consultation zones
- Legislation changes
- Natural England process changes
For guidance on suitability of proposed lighting in relation to HRA, refer to BCT/ILP Guidance Note 08/18 (layout (bats.org.uk)) and Devon Country Council guidance on Dark Flight lines and Internal Lighting (Wildlife and geology planning guidance - Environment (devon.gov.uk)).