Fineshade as SSSI? ... reptiles & amphibians

Part 2, Chapter 15: Reptiles and Amphibians, can be downloaded here:

 

http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-2303

 

This page draws upon this document from the Joint Nature Conservation Committeee:

 

Guidelines for the Selection of Biological SSSIs

Part 2: Detailed Guidelines for Habitats and Species Groups

Chapter 17 Reptiles and Amphibians

 

This 5-page document is subject to revision with the revised guidelines due to be published in Spring-Summer 2016. Confirmed 31 March 2016).

Photo of an adder at Fineshade taken by Jandy Photography

Reptiles

 

Section 2.1 explains that there are six native species of terrestrial reptiles in Britain, two of which are regarded as endangered species. Neither of these, the smooth snake and sand lizard, occur in Fineshade, but all four of the other reptiles do.  For these four species the guidleines say that the "representation of outstanding assemblages should be the guiding principle"
Section 2.2.2 states that: 

“the best locality containing at least three of the other species, adder Vipera berus, grass snake Natrix natrix, common lizard Lacerta vivipara and slow worm Anguis fragilis, should be selected.”

Quotes from:

a) Final Ecological Report. Proposed Holiday Lodge Site within Fineshade Woodland, near Duddington, Northamptonshire. September 2014, Version 2. Section 5.6.

 

b) Ecological Desktop Survey & Ecological Appraisal, Fineshade Wood, Northamptonshire. December 2013, revised June 2014 Version 3.

Page 7.

 

c) Application Representation: Tom Langton - objection

 

These documents may be downloaded from here on the East Northants Council Planning website.

Expert opinion believes Fineshade to be one of the best regional localities for reptiles, so under section 2.2.2 of the current guidelines it should surely be notified as SSSI?

The fact that all four of these species occur here makes Fineshade Wood of great importance – as the Forest Holidays’ ecological consultants pointed out:

"Four species of reptile (all UK BAP species) have been recorded across the woodland area where the proposed development is located, making it a site of at least county importance". Ecological Report 5.6

 

Also:

“The adder population within the woodland and adjacent habitat is the largest in Northamptonshire”.  Desktop Survey, page 7.

Independent ecologist, Tom Langton, who specializes in herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians), in his letter of objection to the planning proposal at Fineshade referred to “this SSSI-value reptile site” and stated: 

“This is one of Eastern England’s most important reptile communities with a large number of snakes including adders”.

It is clear that expert opinion believes Fineshade to be one of the best regional localities for reptiles, so under section 2.2.2 of the current guidelines it should surely be notified as SSSI? Do Natural England’s own experts not agree?

Amphibians

 

The case for Fineshade to be notified for SSSI selection for amphibians alone may be less watertight - partly because of incomplete surveys carried out in 2014.

 

Section 3.1 of the current guidelines explains that six native species of amphibians occur.
Of these the Great Crested Newt occurs in Fineshade. It is regarded as vulnerable and has been given full protection through Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The guidelines say that site selection should take particular account of this species and that outstanding assemblages of this and other widespread species should be selected.

 

Forest Holidays’ (FH) surveys in 2014 omitted two important ponds on their proposed development site and there are at least six other ponds outside the FH development and mitigation areas but within the woodland complex that had not at that time, been surveyed in recent years. As stated elsewhere, it is certain that Forest Holidays employed the ecological consultants, AECOM, to survey for reptiles and amphibians in 2015. The extent of that survey and the results have, at the beginning of 2018, still not been made public though they are presumably known to Forest Holidays and could be retrieved from them by the Forestry Commission.

 

Despite this incomplete survey information, FH surveys  in 2014 still show the presence of Great Crested Newts, (a European Protected Species and UK BAP species), Palmate Newts (a Local BAP species) and a single individual toad (rare in the area). Further records of Toads have been submitted to Northants Biological Records Centre during 2016-17.

"it is the widespread species that have the least protection and need the most urgent action"

 

Paul Edgar, Natural England

What is Natural England's latest thinking?

 

In December 2015, a new document was published: SSSI Notification Review for Amphibians and Reptiles by Paul Edgar, Senior Environmental Specialist. The document represents NE's evaluation of the adequacy of the current SSSI site series, dividing amphibian and reptile species into two categories - "range restricted" and "widespread". All of Fineshade''s known species fall into the second category. In the summary on page 4 of the document, we read:

 

The second review, which covers the widespread great crested newt plus the amphibian and reptile assemblage features, highlights the complete inadequacy of the existing site series for these features as well as a serious lack of the type of information that would be required for designing one. There is significant potential for adding these features to existing SSSIs, and also notifying new sites for them, although the resources and time required for this exercise would be significant. 

 

In addition, the review points out that the Adder, one of Fineshade's key species, is a notified feature on only one SSSI in England. To remedy this, the creation of new species features is proposed along with "changes to the selection and boundary setting criteria". Once again the need for a huge data gathering exercise is seen as a major problem

 

 

 

 

We claim that there is now, thanks to FH’s own surveys, “suitable evidence” from Fineshade that would allow a brand new SSSI to be created because of its assemblage of reptiles and amphibians and particularly on account of its Adder population

 

But the need for this notification is now urgent.  In February 2015 Fineshade Wood was saved from the almost certain destruction of its reptiles by a very good decision of the local planning authority. Their decision now needs to be supported by Natural England's notification of the woods as SSSI - a notification that would deter further predatory applications for development.

 

Update: 20 July 2015.  Reptile refugia set out by Forest Holidays' new ecological surveyors to attract reptiles for surveying were destroyed by a Forestry Commission grass-cutting contractor.  Fineshade's reptiles really do need the protection that SSSI status provides.  More details here

Conclusion:

 

There is strong existing evidence that Fineshade Wood has assemblages of reptiles and amphibians which make it eligible for notification as a SSSI.

 

Further, there is a real threat to the reptile assemblage from inappropriate development, as evidence from 20th July 2015 makes only too clear

Comment from Dr Tony Gent.  20 July 2015

Chief Executive Officer, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

 

I knew Fineshade when I was based at English Nature (as it was then – 1990-1999) and we undertook various reptile survey projects. Certainly the area had a good population of reptiles and notably adders. While the nearby Bedford Purlieus site once seemed to boast four reptile species and the five widespread amphibians, it was clear that populations were declining there and considered likely that the adder had become extinct by the late 1990s.  Thus the good population of adders at Fineshade seemed to be of particular local importance.  Clearly site designation needs to be on the basis of recent survey; I would however be surprised if this didn’t show the site to be of significant importance and make this worthy of consideration as an SSSI for its reptile assemblage and adder population in particular.

 

I support Paul Edgar’s review of the SSSI series and the opinion that there is insufficient representation of reptiles and especially for the adder.  Consideration of Fineshade as an SSSI is therefore appropriate and where a threat exists to a site this should be done with some urgency.

This page checked and updated February 2018

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