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Irreplaceable Habitats, Priority Habitats and Watercourses

1. Irreplaceable habitats

Some types of habitat in the UK are considered to be impossible to regenerate due to their age and uniqueness. These are classed as “irreplaceable habitats” and receive special protection within national planning policy. Irreplaceable habitats most likely to be within the District are:

  • Ancient Woodland
  • Ancient and Veteran Trees
  • Lowland Fens

Developments will be expected to retain and protect these habitats and adverse development impacts on them are only justifiable in exceptional circumstances. For more information relating to ancient woodland and ancient/veteran trees, including buffer zones to be used for development, see the government advice on ancient woodland and veteran trees.

2. Priority Habitats

In addition to irreplaceable habitats, certain other particularly important and threatened habitats for biodiversity (“Priority Habitats”) are a material consideration in planning under the Local Plan and as part of a general “Biodiversity Duty” imposed on the council by legislation. Priority habitats found within the district, are likely to include:

  • Native hedgerows
  • Native semi-natural woodlands
  • Traditional orchards
  • Calcareous (Chalk and limestone) grassland and neutral lowland meadows
  • Species-rich arable field margins
  • Some ponds and watercourses
  • Reedbeds and lowland fens

The Council will only accept losses of priority habitat where there is no alternative. If impacts cannot be avoided, they must be mitigated wherever possible, and any losses must be fully compensated. Development can represent an opportunity to create more priority habitats, and realistic proposals to do so are welcomed.

3. Watercourses

Watercourses are both particularly valuable for biodiversity and particularly vulnerable to adverse impacts from development, because downstream flow can spread a localised impact (such as a pollutant spillage) far from the development.

 The Local Plan sets out the importance of watercourses and special measures to protect them in Policy DP30. All watercourses should be protected within development by a minimum 10 m buffer of habitats managed for biodiversity.  Exceptions may be justifiable only in constrained, urban sites where there is existing development within 10 m of the watercourse, but this should be agreed with the Council at pre-application stage.  Watercourse buffers:

  • Can be publicly accessible and form part of green infrastructure requirements,
  • Should only feature habitats managed for biodiversity, such as species rich grassland, scrub, ponds and woodland.
  • Should not feature significant hardstanding or habitats managed for amenity such as gardens, amenity grassland, allotments or sports provision.

Developments should avoid culverting watercourses and are expected to take opportunities to remove existing culverting, where possible.