We don't know which ecological consultancy BLG has employed, but we sincerely hope that they do a thorough job and produce an honest report. There are some ecological consultants who will twist results to suit their clients. We will be in a good position to judge whenever we get to see their report, because several experienced local ecologists have been carrying out their own surveys on behalf of Friends of Thorpe Woodlands. The feedback so far is very encouraging. All of the rare and scarce plant species recorded in Norfolk Wildlife Trust's 1997 survey are confirmed as still present, mostly in greater numbers and/or more locations than previously. Additionally, at least 30 'new' species have been recorded, including several more rarities. We will be updating the species list soon (see right-hand column of blog for this), when more survey work has been completed.
While we mustn't pre-judge the quality of BLG's survey, it is fair to say that their reptile refuges (felt mats placed on the ground to attract lizards, slow worms, adders and grass snakes) have not, in many cases, been sensibly located. Many of the 35 or so refuges in Racecourse wood have been placed very close to paths (see photo) and have - predictably - been frequently disturbed by curious walkers. On a number of visits in April & May, several walkers told me what they'd seen under them! Such levels of disturbance render the refuges unlikely to provide meaningful results, and under-recording of all four species of reptiles known to occur in the wood is probable.
For other fauna species, the surveyors have used some quite fancy pices of kit. They fitted an Anabat recorder to one tree (pictured). These digitally record the various sound frequencies emitted by bats flying within detectable range, and the recordings are analysed to determine which bat species are present, and give an indication of numbers. The location they chose was good, but unless we've failed to spot other Anabats, only one in a 144 acre wood like Racecourse will give a snapshot picture at best, and its results won't necessarily enable an accurate assessment of bat species and populations throughout the site.
They also placed a moth/insect trap in another tree (pictured), presumably to gain samples of the range of flying invertebrates present near that location. Again, there only seemed to be one of these in Racecourse, and similar limitations to those applicable to the Anabat must apply. Both of these pieces of equipment had been removed by early June, but the reptile refuges remain in place.
At last November's public examination into the GNDP's Joint Core Strategy, BLG claimed that only parts of the woods are worthy of County Wildlife Site (CWS) status, and that their development of 800 houses plus shops, roads and a supermarket would fit nicely into the woods without harming any important bits. They went so far as to claim that their development would actually enhance the woods' wildlife value!
The woods' CWS status has been something of a thorn in BLG's side for years, as it makes the concept of building on them seem even more unthinkable than it would anyway. Not only that, but all Norfolk councils have policies against developments that would harm or destroy CWSs.
If the report commissioned by BLG concludes - as it should - that the woods in general and Racecourse in particular are extremely valuable ecological treasures that would suffer devastating damage if any development were permitted, it must be within the bounds of possibility that BLG concede defeat and abandon their scheme. However, going by their record to date, this seems highly unlikely. We will have our own survey results soon, and shortly afterwards we will get them written up into a proper report. It will be interesting to discover the extent of contrast between 'ours' and 'theirs'. Watch this space for more news.