Essex Ecology Services Ltd has taken a lead in Local Wildlife Site Reviews in Essex since their conception in the early 1990s, and during this time have established good relationships with Local Authorities which have commissioned regular updates. Recent reviews have been undertaken/are being currently carried out for Harlow, Epping, Brentwood and Castle Point districts. Local Wildlife Sites (LoWS), formerly known as “Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation” (SINC), reflect sites of importance at a county level and are representative of the variation in important habitat types present within a county. These are outside of the national designated sites such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The principal objective of a LoWS review is to update the network of Sites within a district or borough applying the county Selection Criteria and logging any changes to the LoWS or changes in available knowledge. This updated information can contribute to a robust evidence base as required of each Local Authority as part of their Local Development Framework.
The basis for a LoWS Review is a field-by-field land use and habitat survey, in conjunction with a desk study and consultation exercise to identify potential new Sites and to validate or delete parts of, or entire, existing Sites. An entire district is then mapped at a scale of 1: 10 000, with each parcel of land accorded a land use code in line with the Phase 1 Habitat Survey technique developed by the Nature Conservancy Council at its successive organisations. Any area of land adjudged to be of significant wildlife value is assessed in more detail with a description and plant species list compiled. Other nature history notes, such as bird life and insects, were are noted including the presence of Essex Red Data List species. Key habitat qualities include possible ancient status for woodland, flower-rich grasslands, potential to support reptiles and amphibians, the micro-topography and weedy flora characteristic of post-industrial “brownfield” sites and the ecological relationship between adjacent sites.
All of these candidate Sites are then assessed against the current LoWS Selection Criteria to determine whether or not they qualified for LoWS status. Species and habitats now afforded attention via county or national Biodiversity Action Plans are at the heart of the Site selection process and such species/habitats were specifically considered throughout the project.
The LoWS Selection Criteria for Essex has been developed by the Essex Local Wildlife Site Partnership, for which EECOS has played an instrumental role alongside various stakeholders including Essex Wildlife Trust, Essex County Council, Natural England, Environment Agency and Essex Field Club. The latest version can be downloaded via www.essexbiodiversity.org.uk.
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