Friday, 21 May 2010

Burn Baby, Burn!

Friday 21st May

I noticed yesterday that the heath was on fire. I say 'heath' - I refer of course to the Pirbright Ranges that stretch from the slope of the Hogs Back all the way north to Lightwater and which are now designated 'SPA - Special Protection Areas'* specified by Europe and policed by our very own government apointed QUANGO, 'Natural England'.

Or at least, they were.

The fire that smouldered yesterday turned the sky brown this morning and left a snow-like ash covering across this side of the borough. Naturally of course, Heatherside came to a standstill and the Maultway was closed - it still is in case you were off to Deepcut for your evening entertainment tonight... - while what seemed like the entire Surrey Brigade descended upon the Red Road/Maultway interchange and stood about watching the smoke and drinking lots of water.

Seemingly there was no word as to how the fire started. A past colleague of mine who had previously worked at the Fire Service Call Centre had once suggested that the first sign of the schools holidays was a brush fire, but at the time of writing there was no formal word. However, what was clear was how the Fire Service had deemed it unsafe to put the fire out. As it turns out, the considerable unexploded ordnance at this location - thats bombs and grenades to you and me - pose too great a risk to the firefighters, brave though they undeniably are.

I wonder if anyone has told the (protected) ground nesting birds.

Background to the Thames Basin Heaths SPA

The Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA) is a network of heathlands designated for their internationally important heathland bird populations of Dartford Warbler, Nightjar and Woodlark. The SPA consists of thirteen individual Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) spread across the three counties of Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire. Chobham Common SSSI near Sunningdale and the Broadmoor to Bagshot Woods and Heaths SSSI to the South of Ascot are the nearest parts of the SPA to the Royal Borough.

The SPA is protected by the European Community Directive on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora, which is transposed into UK law by the Conservation (Natural Habitat & c.) Regulations 2004 (commonly referred to as the Habitat Regulations). Under the Habitat Regulations, the Council is required to assess whether there is a risk of any plan or project having a likelihood of a significant impact on the SPA and subsequently whether the integrity of the SPA would be adversely affected.

Natural England (the government's statutory advisor on nature conservation matters), advises that there is likelihood of significant impact from a net increase of residential development, leading to an increased population, in areas where residents are likely to visit the SPA for recreation. In addition, there are also more localised impacts from cat related predation and invasive plant species. Natural England currently advises that residential developments up to 5km from the boundary of the SPA has a significant cumulative impact and that in general development within 400m cannot be effectively avoided or mitigated. A map showing the SPA and the 5km distance can be downloaded from this page.

The local authorities that surround the SPA, along with the South East England Partnership Board (SEEPB) and other partners, have established the Thames Basin Heaths Joint Strategic Partnership to agree the long-term protection of the SPA while allowing necessary residential development.

The Partnership has developed and endorsed The Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area Delivery Framework (February 2009). The document does not form part of the Development Plan for the area however it is the basis from which a consistent approach to policy formulation across the whole of the SPA will be taken.

Further guidance on the Thames Basin Heaths SPA may be found in The South East Plan which was published May 2009. Within it policy NRM6 sets out the regional approach to the Thames Basin Heaths.

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