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NC01  Principles For Nature Conservation  Strategic Policy

The local planning authority will only permit proposals which will not adversely affect, directly or indirectly, the integrity of the borough's international, national and locally designated sites for nature conservation and earth science. In considering the weight to be attached to nature conservation or earth science issues when assessing planning applications, the local planning authority will have regard to the relative significance within wirral of international, national and local nature conservation designations.

Wherever possible, networks of linear natural habitat and other corridors of importance to wildlife will also be retained and protected.

Reasoned justification :

13.1 Natural and semi-natural habitats are a diminishing resource in Wirral. They now account for only 11% of the Borough’s land area. Nevertheless, many of Wirral’s remaining natural habitats are of special value for nature conservation. Indeed English Nature (The Nature Conservancy Council for England) consider that “of the fifteen boroughs of Merseyside and Greater Manchester, Wirral ranks as one of the highest in terms of quality and accessibility.” Natural habitats do not, however, only have scientific value. They form an essential part of the distinctive natural beauty, attractiveness and varied interest of the Borough.

13.2 National planning policy guidance recognises that providing for the conservation of wildlife is an essential task for Government. The key to the protection of wildlife is, however, the protection of the habitat on which it depends. Important nature conservation sites are rare. Few are replaceable once lost. Policy NCO1, therefore, expresses the intention to protect important habitats and other significant natural features from permanent damage.

13.3 At the national and international level, the procedure for recognising important sites is already established through formal designation in accordance with agreed scientific criteria. These sites represent areas of outstanding value for wildlife and conservation. In Wirral, such sites include the majority of the intertidal coastal and estuarine areas, coastal cliffs and dunes within the remaining natural coastline of the Dee Estuary, and areas of lowland heath, species-rich unimproved grassland and ancient woodland. Local Planning authorities are required to provide for the continued protection of such sites and this is, therefore, specifically provided for within Policy NCO1.

13.4 Areas of special importance for wildlife and earth science are not, however, only confined to sites designated under national or international procedures. Rare species of plants and animals protected under national wildlife legislation are, for example, also found in many locations throughout Wirral which fall outside formally designated areas. Policy NCO1, therefore, also allows for the protection of sites which may not qualify in the terms of national criteria but which may nevertheless be of great significance within a more local or sub-regional context.

13.5 Impacts on sites of nature conservation importance can be both direct, such as construction activity, and indirect, such as upstream development affecting a river SSSI. The approach towards such sites has to be precautionary and Policy NCO1 aims to protect sites from both direct and indirect adverse impacts. Where appropriate, applicants will be required to demonstrate that proposals, both within and outside designated sites, will not adversely affect the integrity of sites of importance for nature conservation or earth science.

13.6 Policy NCO1 also provides for the protection of important wildlife corridors and for the retention of other linkages which may contribute to the continued viability of the wider network of wildlife sites throughout the Borough. Many wildlife sites, even those with greatest value and diversity, cannot exist in isolation, but are sustained as part of a network of interrelated habitats and other natural and semi-natural features. Linear continuous structures, for example, such as rivers with their banks, rural footpaths, hedgerows or other sites such as small woods or ponds, function as “stepping stones” for wildlife and are essential for the dispersal of species and the continued replenishment of designated sites. In accordance with Policy NCO1, the Local Planning Authority will pay particular regard to the need to protect such features when granting planning permission and will, where appropriate, normally seek their retention as a condition of planning consen