Environment Forum submits FOI request on wildlife site management

Request for basic information unanswered after 3 months. Group resorts to FOI request so it can talk to Councillors about ongoing management problems in relation to wildlife.   

Those readers who have been involved in Bexley Natural Environment Forum, or various of the Friends Groups under its umbrella that are helping maintain open spaces, will be aware of the frustration and anger experienced around repeated outbreaks of poor site management that is detrimental to wildlife and often completely unnecessary and downright inexplicable, especially when the Council claims it is going to have to sell such spaces so it can carry on funding such practices in the first place.

We have tried ‘back channels’ but the problems keep occurring and seem near intractable at times. Consequently the Forum is working on a presentation to Councillors themselves to try and sort this out for the long term. We see the budget cuts as an opportunity to relax vegetation ‘management’ and enhance wildlife whilst saving money for other things, as long as it’s done in an informed and targeted way, which will be a challenge given some of what has gone on to date.

Key to this will be to have proper site management plans, especially for Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation. We think that very few exist, and some of those are probably out of date. Having not had a response in over three months to a straightforward e-mail request to officers for a list showing where such plans do and do not exist, and when they were produced, we have now submitted a Freedom of Information request (text below), as we cannot engage properly with Councillors on this matter without this knowledge.

There was an outcry earlier in the year about 'over-zealous' vegetation management along the Wyncham stream, and here on the Shuttle at Hollyoak Wood Park. How many sites have up to date management plans that ensure biodiversity is taken fully and strategically into account before the chainsaws and strimmers are wielded? (Photo: Chris Rose)

There was an outcry earlier in the year about ‘over-zealous’ vegetation management along the Wyncham stream, and here on the Shuttle at Hollyoak Wood Park. How many sites have up to date management plans that ensure biodiversity is taken fully and strategically into account before the chainsaws and strimmers are wielded? (Photo: Chris Rose)

We have also asked what advice the Council has given regarding SINCs covering privately owned land, since designating private sites where the owner may know little or nothing about wildlife and then giving them no advice is clearly not conducive to ensuring appropriate management, but we suspect this is what actually happens.

Chris Rose. Vice-chair, Bexley Natural Environment Forum.

FOI request submitted to Bexley Council 7/6/15

Bexley Natural Environment Forum is starting work on a presentation to Scrutiny Committee on the role of Bexley Council regarding biodiversity, and how we see that being better translated into action through the management prescriptions for SINCs and other open spaces, the current budget context and the role our affiliated groups can play in all of this. In order to better inform our efforts, we wrote to two Council Officers asking for the following information on March 1st, but have had neither a reply or an acknowledgement.

Therefore we request that you now supply us with a list of wholly or partly Council-owned Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation in Bexley, stating alongside each one the title and adoption date of the most recent management plan or plans that exist specifically for that site. Please include the most up to date plan covering biodiversity considerations for each one where that is not the same as the most recent plan. If there is no site-specific management plan but one is in preparation, please give an approximate date by which you expect to complete it. If any such documents are available in electronic form, please supply us with copies or provide links to them. If any are only available in hard copy, please tell us where such documents may be examined.

Please also list any non-SINC-designated Council-owned open spaces that have management plans dealing explicitly with biodiversity considerations, and the dates of those plans.

Where there are no site-specific written plans, please tell us by what alternative means due consideration is given to biodiversity and the implementation of the Council’s non site-specific Biodiversity Action Plan policies on Council-owned open spaces.

In particular, we wish to know whether there are any over-arching documents, including any contracts, that cover biodiversity in relation to overall grounds maintenance practices throughout the Borough. If there are such documents, please list those also and let us have electronic copies or tell us where hard copies can be examined.

Please tell us for which privately owned sites, or parts of sites that are privately owned, any management advice relating to biodiversity, and the important features of the site as described in the SINC citations, has been provided by the Council (other than as a consequence of a planning application):

i) between the 2004 and 2013 SINC reviews, solicited by the site owner(s)

ii) between the 2004 and 2013 SINC reviews, proactively by the Council and not solicited by the site owner(s)

iii) since the 2013 SINC review, solicited by the site owner(s)

iv) since the 2013 SINC review, proactively by the Council and not solicited by the site owner(s)

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