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Frequently asked questions

Bird Aware Solent policy, aims and objectives

For information about coastal birds, visit our Meet the Birds pages.

What are we protecting and why?

Bird Aware Solent aims to protect winter coastal birds and their ability to continue to feed and rest as more people visit the Solent coastline in future years. The building of new homes around the Solent will lead to an increase in the population which will lead to an increase in recreational activity along the coast. The recreational activity, such as walking, cycling and jogging, and the presence of dogs, can disturb the birds. Disturbance reduces the birds’ opportunities to feed, which can mean they have insufficient energy to survive the winter or to complete their migratory journey to their breeding sites, which can lead to a reduction in bird numbers.

The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (known as the ‘Habitats Regulations’) set out how Local Planning Authorities must deal with planning applications that have potential to impact on European wildlife sites. By law, we must not grant consent for a development which would, either alone or in-combination with other developments, have a likely significant effect on a Designated Habitat sites, unless full mitigation is provided.

The Solent coast is internationally important for its wildlife, with up to 125,000 waders and over 10 per cent of the global population of Dark-bellied Brent Geese. The three Special Protection Areas – Chichester & Langstone Harbours SPA, Portsmouth Harbour SPA, and Solent & Southampton Water SPA – were designated primarily to protect these waders and wildfowl, many of which travel thousands of miles to over-winter on the Solent. The building of new homes will mean an increase in recreational activity at the coast. Recreational activity such as people walking, cycling and jogging, and the presence of dogs, often disturbs the birds. Disturbance reduces the birds’ opportunities to feed which can mean they have insufficient energy to survive the winter or to complete their migratory journey to their breeding sites, leading to a reduction in the bird population.

Which impacts are covered by the Solent Recreation Mitigation Strategy?

The Strategy deals with the impact on the Solent Special Protection Areas (SPAs) from increased recreational activity resulting from the construction of new homes. Developments will need to deal separately with any effects on the Solent Maritime and South Wight Maritime Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Ramsar Sites, as well as any other significant effect on the Solent SPAs such as air quality, disruption to bird flight-paths etc.

What is the extent of the area within which new housing developments need to provide mitigation?

Based on the research undertaken and the precautionary principle, it has been concluded that any development which would result in additional dwellings within 5.6 kilometres of the Solent SPAs is likely to have a significant effect on one or more of the SPAs and thus requires mitigation unless evidence specific to the development shows otherwise. The 5.6 kilometre zone covers the northern part of the Isle of Wight and inland from the mainland coast between Hurst Castle (near Lymington) and West Wittering. A map showing the zone is on the final page of the Interim Solent Recreation Mitigation Strategy.

What types of development need to provide mitigation?

A developer contribution is required for every net additional dwelling including second homes, holiday accommodation, and student accommodation. This also includes new dwellings created through the subdivision of properties and new dwellings created as a result of approval granted under the General Permitted Development Order.

Why is mitigation needed for residential development which is permitted development?

Class O and other Permitted Development regulations must be read alongside the Habitat Regulations. Sections 73 to 77 of the Regulations explain the process for checking whether a Class O or other Permitted Development is likely to impact on a European wildlife site. If impact is likely, either alone or in-combination with other developments, then mitigation must be provided just as for a development which requires planning permission.

How much is the developer contribution?

From the 1st April 2018, the Partnership started charging the fees set out in the long-term Strategy. These are set on a sliding scale based upon bedroom numbers, ranging from £361 for a one bedroom property to £940 for a five or greater bedroom property. These are revised in line with the RPI annually as well as reviewed every 2 years. More information can be found on the Developer Contributions page of our website. In some circumstances an application can be made without the number of bedrooms being known. In these cases, the ‘flat fee’ of £604 is charged per unit. If you believe this will apply to your application, you are encouraged to discuss this with your Local Planning Authority as early as possible.

I’m only proposing one new dwelling; how can it have any impact on the birds?

A lot of single dwellings and developments of only a few homes are built each year around the Solent. Cumulatively, they will have a significant impact, so it is only right that each dwelling makes a contribution to mitigate the impact. The legislation requires that the impact of individual developments must be assessed in combination with other development proposed around the SPA. The need for a developer contribution from an individual dwelling was underlined when a planning inspector gave the absence of a financial contribution as one reason for dismissing an appeal for a single bungalow in Southampton. (Appeal Ref: APP/D1780/A/14/2228796).

My development site is several kilometres from the coast; what effect would it have on the SPAs?

The research which underpins the Strategy shows that some people travel quite long distances to access the coast. The Strategy requires a developer contribution towards mitigation measures from all new homes built within 5.6 kilometres of the Solent Special Protection Areas, based on the research finding that 75% of all visitors to the Solent coast originate from within that 5.6 kilometres zone. The use of a 75% figure for defining the zone mirrors the approach which was adopted for the Thames Basin Heaths and Dorset Heathland Special Protection Areas after careful scrutiny and public examination.

Isn’t the requirement for a developer contribution contrary to the Government’s presumption in favour of development?

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) contains a presumption in favour of sustainable development, but paragraph 117 states that this presumption does not apply where the development requires an Appropriate Assessment (the second stage of a Habitats Regulations Assessment).

When deciding on a planning application, what weight is being placed by the local planning authority on this mitigation issue?

The impact of development on a Special Protection Area is not part of the planning judgement whereby material considerations are weighed up by the planning authority in reaching a decision on a planning application. So it is not a matter of what weight will be placed on the mitigation issue. Rather it is a ‘yes/no’ question of whether the proposed development is legally compliant with the Habitats Regulations. Making the developer contribution means the proposal satisfies this question.

Shouldn’t there be a claw-back clause in the legal agreement such that if the contribution isn’t spent after a certain period of time, it will be returned?

The developer contributions will be quickly spent after they are received because the mitigation measures require an ongoing revenue stream in order to pay for rangers’ salaries etc. Therefore, claw-back clauses are not justified. They would merely add complexity to legal agreements (and thus additional costs for all parties) and add uncertainty to the mitigation delivery process. In addition, repayment would mean that no mitigation was being provided for the development, which would thus mean the developer having to undertake their own Habitats Regulation Assessment and provide their own mitigation measures.

How will the spending of contributions be accounted for in a transparent way?

Section 7 of the Solent Recreation Mitigation Strategy explains that there will be an annual report which will record progress in implementing the mitigation measures together with the number of dwellings permitted subject to a developer contribution. The annual reports are published on our website.

As Special Protection Areas emanate from European legislation, will Britain leaving the European Union mean their demise?

The legislation which protects the Solent SPAs and others around the country is embedded in UK law, so leaving the European Union will not automatically rescind the SPA designation. After Britain ceases to be a EU member, Parliament could then repeal the SPA legislation but there are currently no indications of any intention to do that. Conservation of these internationally recognised sites is underpinned by both the Bern Convention and the Ramsar Convention: the UK is a signatory to both Conventions independently of the UK’s membership of the EU.

Doesn’t the Government proposal for the England Coast Path conflict with your objective to prevent increased disturbance to over-wintering birds?

The aims of the England Coast Path and the Solent Recreation Mitigation Partnership are similar in that both want people to visit and enjoy the coast. The Partnership’s aim is to maintain public access, but with measures to ensure that visitors and nature conservation are not in conflict. Similarly, the England Coast Path project seeks to better manage access on the coast to ensure the sensitive wildlife of the Solent is not negatively affected. The route of the England Coast Path in the Solent area has not yet been defined. Discussions about the precise route are continuing between the Coast Path team and key parties including the Solent Recreation Mitigation Partnership, with the aim of avoiding disturbance to over-wintering birds.

Why is the Strategy only mitigating recreational disturbance to overwintering birds between Oct-Mar and not breeding birds?

The Solent is internationally important for its wildlife interest and there are various protective designations including three Special Protection Areas. These SPAs have been designated predominantly for the protection of the large numbers of ducks, geese and wading birds which spend the winter on the Solent. Following much research on the recreational disturbance of Solent birds, the Solent Recreation Mitigation Partnership was established to protect the overwinter SPA birds from the predicted increased recreational pressures from a rising local population, living in the planned new housing for the area. Whilst the focus of this work is on the overwinter birds, it is expected that the general messaging about being more ‘bird aware’ and making responsible choices when using the coast will be to the benefit of all coastal birds. In addition to the above, other projects already exist to safeguard the summer breeding birds, such as the RSPB’s EU Life Roseate Tern Project.

Are developers obliged to pay the SRMP developer contribution?

Developers seeking planning permission are required to provide mitigation against their ‘in combination’ effects on the SPAs in order to meet their Habitat Regulations Assessment requirements. In most cases they can do so either by creating a bespoke mitigation plan in consultation with their local authority and Natural England, or by making a contribution to the SRMP strategic approach.

Does Bird Aware Solent raise objections to or comment on planning applications?

Bird Aware Solent is a Partnership made up of 19 organisations, including Natural England, the Government’s adviser for the natural environment, and all the local planning authorities within the Solent area. Any planning application that comes forward will be thoroughly reviewed by the relevant planning authority for the area it is located within, and by Natural England, prior to a decision on its suitability being made.

Other Bird Aware Partners may also choose to comment on the proposals and there is a formal mechanism for these to be reported and considered within the planning process. It is not unusual for there to be a variety of opinions between the partners and for conflicting comments to be submitted on some local issues. Given that our organisation is a Partnership there would need to be a unanimous agreement on any comment submitted by Bird Aware Solent. Given the number and variety of partners it would be unlikely to find a unanimous agreement by all partners.

The construction of a new development is causing bird disturbance, who should I report this to?

Even with the best of intentions, some development works can result in disturbance. If you are concerned that this is happening, you should report it to the planning department of the council within which the development is situated, and also report it to Natural England by calling 0300 060 3900.

Helpful information to share when you report it includes the exact location, the time and date of the disturbance and a full account of what you witnessed as both the cause and effect of the disturbance.

What is Avian Flu and where can I find out more about it?

Read the Government’s Avian Influenza guidance for information about how to spot avian influenza (bird flu), what to do if you suspect it, and measures to prevent it.