Thanet's New Local Plan - Options consultation

Issue 13 - How do we protect, maintain and enhance Thanet's green infrastructure to better support wildlife and human health?

Introduction

Why do we need to address this issue?

Thanet boasts a wealth of natural features including internationally and nationally designated sites and associated species, a magnificent coastline, chalk cliffs, geological features and areas of open countryside with distinctive landscapes and views. It is important that these are maintained and enhanced, and could be better linked to provide a comprehensive green infrastructure network.

National planning policy states that local plans should plan positively for the creation, protection, enhancement and management of networks of biodiversity and green infrastructure. It states that local ecological networks should be identified and these should include the hierarchy of international, national and locally designated sites of importance for biodiversity, wildlife corridors, stepping stones that connect them, and areas identified by local partnerships for habitat restoration or creation.

National planning policy also states that international, national and locally designated nature conservation sites should be protected, with appropriate weight given to the importance of their designation.

What evidence we have on this issue

An Open Space Audit was completed in 2006. A Natural Environment Topic Paper has been prepared which includes evidence to inform the issues of Green Infrastructure.

The Kent Habitats Survey provides ecological information on habitat type and potential importance for nature conservation. A new survey was completed at the end of 2012 - this is the third survey to be carried out. A report is being prepared which will include information on the changes that have happened since the previous survey was carried out in 2003 such as:

  • Habitats that were not present in 2003
  • Semi improved grassland which was under-recorded in previous surveys
  • New areas with potential to be designated as Local Wildlife Sites

Key Facts and Information

The following key facts are important when considering how we protect, maintain and enhance Thanet's green infrastructure to better support wildlife and human health.

Natural England defines Green Infrastructure as:

'..... a strategically planned and delivered network comprising the broadest range of high quality green spaces and other environmental features. It should be designed and managed as a multifunctional resource capable of delivering those ecological services and quality of life benefits required by the communities it serves and needed to underpin sustainability. Its design and management should also respect and enhance the character and distinctiveness of an area with regard to habitats and landscape types'

Thanet's existing Green Infrastructure is shown on Map 4.

Map 4 - Thanet's existing Green Infrastructure Network

GI

A working group of the East Kent Councils has identified three categories of Green Infrastructure - Biodiversity, Linear Features and Public Amenity Space (Civic Amenity).

Biodiversity Features

Thanet contains a rich variety of habitats. Designated sites of international, national and local value and extensive areas of wetland and farmland habitat harbour both protected and priority species. The diagram below shows the hierarchy of these designations from international, national to local importance.

Hierarchy of nature conservation designations

The internationally designated sites (Special Protection Area, Special Area of conservation and RAMSAR) are defined under European laws and comprise a network of sites across Europe designated for their important habitat and/or birds. Most of the Thanet coastline is designated and is important for its intertidal chalk, caves, species (such as blue mussel beds and piddocks), dunes and mudflats, and certain migratory and breeding bird species.

The nationally designated sites (Sites of Special Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserve), also cover the coastline, and have similar features to the international sites, including over 30 nationally rare species of terrestrial and marine plants, 19 nationally rare and 149 nationally scarce invertebrate species and roost sites for migrating and wintering birds.

There are two Local Nature Reserves located at Monkton and Pegwell Bay, and eight Local Wildlife Sites. These sites host locally important habitats.

There are also four Roadside Nature Reserves which have been identified for their habitats and connections to areas of rich biodiversity and include important features such as calcareous grassland, lizard orchids and diverse populations of butterflies and dragon flies.

Thanet has three Regionally Important Geological Sites (RIGS) that are important for historical, scientific research or educational reasons. These are located at Monkton Nature Reserve, Pegwell Bay and St Peters Quarry.

There will be policies in the Local Plan to give protection to all of the designated sites listed above.

Biodiversity Opportunity Areas (BOAs) have been identified to facilitate the delivery of landscape scale habitat recreation and restoration, and to connect designated sites and priority or Biodiversity Action Plan habitats. Thanet has two BOAs:

  • Thanet Cliffs and Shore - covers the majority of the internationally and nationally designated coastal habitats, extending throughout Thanet as far as Whitstable
  • Lower Stour Wetlands - follows the old Wantsum Channel incorporating the reclaimed marshes of Wade, Monkton and Minster. It continues around the coast to the Sandwich mudflats and sand dunes.

Linear Features

Thanet's Open Space Audit identifies linear features as

'Sites that provide venues for walking, cycling and horse riding amongst other uses. Often they can provide a key "green" link and offer travel routes for both local residents and local wildlife migration'

Thanet's Linear features include:

Walking Routes

The Saxon Shore Way is a 160 mile route from Gravesend to Hastings. Part of the Saxon Shore Way runs through Thanet (Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate)

The Turner & Dickens Walk is a 4 mile route between Margate (Turner Contemporary) and Broadstairs (Dickens House Museum)

Cycling Routes

The Viking Coastal Trail is a 27 mile route around the Thanet Coast line from St Nicholas at Wade to Reculver Towers. The route is National Cycle Route 15.

Public Amenity Space (Civic Amenity)

This includes open spaces such as parks, informal recreation, green space, natural and semi natural green space, amenity green space, outdoor sports facilities, play facilities for children and young people, allotments and churches and cemeteries.

The Open Space Audit found that Thanet currently has an under provision of accessible natural spaces compared to national standards.

Considering how to protect, maintain and enhance the Thanet's green infrastructure to better support wildlife and human health

Along with the key facts and information above, the following are factors to take into account and to help you consider this issue:

Impact of development on Internationally protected sites

One of Thanet's main attractions for leisure and recreation is it beaches and seafronts which are widely used by both residents and visitors. However there is a potential conflict between the use of these areas and the internationally protected sites, particularly with regard to bird and recreational disturbance. One of the main potential disturbances is from dogs. Growth and development will inevitably bring more people to the district, which will likely attract even more visitors to the seafronts and the protected sites, so the protection of these sites, and potential alternative areas for recreational use which are not coast specific, are essential considerations.

We are working with the other East Kent Authorities and other stakeholders to gain a better understanding of this issue and how we can help to mitigate against it, where necessary.

Providing alternative space for dog walkers

Design in new developments can accommodate dog walkers, this can help reduce conflicts and provide alternative green space for new residents. This could include:

  • Designing green spaces that attract dog owners away from sensitive sites.
  • Accommodate circular walks in the design of new developments.

Accessible Open Space

The Open Space Audit found that there is an insufficient amount of publicly accessible open space in the district. It would be desirable to create new areas of open space, both to contribute to the provision in the district, and also to relieve recreational pressures on the protected sites by providing alternative recreational areas. However the urban areas are already densely developed and there is little opportunity to create new open space.

Opportunity for new Green Infrastructure (GI) through development

As well as the three main types of GI mentioned above, there is scope for GI to be integrated into new developments, for example by creating back gardens, planting and landscaping, hedgerows and sustainable drainage systems. The provision of new public amenity space in developments is a current policy requirement that could be continued. This type of GI helps to create linkages and ecosystem networks.

Local Green Spaces

The NPPF allows communities to identify land as Local Green Space through the local plan process. Local Green Space must be:

  • In reasonably close proximity to the community it serves.
  • Demonstrably special to a local community and hold particular significance (for example, historic significance, recreational value, tranquillity or richness in wildlife).
  • Local in character and not an extensive tract of land.

Other important species

The open countryside within the Thanet District is known to support a number of important species of farmland birds. As farmland birds have declined over the last few decades it is important to ensure that remaining populations are protected and allowed to increase. The green wedges also provide a dispersal route for migratory bird species which are present on the coast, especially during the winter season. Changing farming practices within the green wedges would increase populations of farmland and migratory birds by enabling more ecologically diverse habitat to be created.