Abbots Leigh, Ham Green, Pill and Easton-in-Gordano Neighbourhood Plan consultation on submitted Neighbourhood Plan

Abbots Leigh, Ham Green, Pill and Easton-in-Gordano Neighbourhood Plan

7 Landscape, environment and biodiversity

Primary Objective
Sustain and enhance the landscape, ecology and biodiversity of the area whilst protecting its environmental assets.

7.1 Topography, Landscape and ecology
The Green Belt dominates the landscape of the Neighbourhood Area. Both the Pill Settlement and Royal Portbury Dock are surrounded by Green Belt and the whole of the remainder of the Area lies within the Green Belt. We fully endorse both the National Planning Policy Framework and the NSC Core Strategy that restate the importance of Green Belt land, not simply as a break between town and countryside but as a fundamental feature of the overall character of landscape and environment.

The Plan Area offers a varied topography from the Avon Gorge and the Abbots Leigh ridge downwards through woodland and pasture to the River Avon and the Severn Estuary (30) (see Map 9). This topography provides important landscape features and a combination of vegetation types. The range of habitats in close proximity one to another contributes to the sustainability of the ecological framework, the features of which differ from one end of the Neighbourhood Area to the other. Abbots Leigh (over 9 square kilometres in size) has a diverse ecology. This comprises major parcels of woodland, permanent pastureland, native hedges, old orchards, mature open field trees, meadowland and roadside verges, some farmland with agricultural grass, and a significant volume of fresh water at Abbots Pool. By contrast the Pill & Easton-in-Gordano areas have more farmland and small areas of pasture and open field surrounding the built-up settlement area as well as the fresh water of Ham Green Lake. The Royal Portbury Dock with its estuarial and wetland areas stretches to the Severn Estuary. However, it is the combination of woodland, field trees, semi improved grassland, meadow, open farmland, hedgerow, orchards, ponds and streams that is crucial in providing shelter, feeding and breeding sites vital to the survival of many wildlife species.

(30) The Area includes Landscape Areas G2 (Failand Settled Limestone Plateau, D1 (Avon Gorge), F1 (Abbots Leigh Sandstone Uplands), J6 (Avon Rolling Farmland) and C2 (Portbury Settled Coastal Edge). North Somerset Landscape Assessment 2018

Map 9 Landscape Features

Landscape areas map 9


The Plan area has much grassland on both farmed and public open spaces, offering important environmental benefits in addition to woodlands of which a significant part are ancient woods. There are half a dozen working farms within the area and a number of ponds in the woods and on the Avon River edge. There is a well-used and cared-for area of allotments in Pill. There are road and lane verges throughout the area. There are Local Nature Reserves at Abbots Pool and at St. George’s Flower Bank. There are numerous valuable small meadows and flower banks, and in addition to several Historic England registered/unregistered gardens, there are many private gardens which fulfil an ecological role and function. NSC Nature Conservation and Landscape Policies (CS4 and CS5) emphasise the importance of landscape and the 2018 Landscape Sensitivity Assessment (31) ‘identifies the open land stretching between the back of Crockerne Drive and Brookside to the A369 as of high landscape sensitivity.

The Neighbourhood Area supports a diverse range of habitats and wildlife, including a number of rare plant and protected species that are regarded as vulnerable nationally (32) The species of local conservation concern include dormice, water voles, white-clawed crayfish, otters, barn owls, horseshoe bats and a significant number of butterfly species including brown hairstreak, chalkhill blue and various species of fritillary. In the Avon Gorge Woodlands rare plant species include round-headed leek (Bristol onion), Bristol rock-cress, the endemic Bristol whitebeam and nationally notable plants such as lizard orchid, and adder’s-tongue spearwort (found in only two sites in the UK).

(31) North Somerset Council. Landscape Sensitivity Assessment, 2018 pp 45-47
(32) Details of wildlife, flora and fauna are set out in Background Paper 3 and in the WildService Ecology Reportprivate gardens which fulfil an ecological role and function.

7.2 Environmental assets
Extensive Woodland supports a wide range of flora and fauna such as, fungi, lichens, bryophytes and flowering plants, also invertebrates, insects, amphibians, birds and mammals. Woodland (some ‘ancient’) stretches across the area – from Leigh Woods and Oak Wood, past Snake’s Well and Fishpond Woods through to Hail’s and Summerhouse Woods. The streams that run through the ‘Bottoms’ (Ox House, Vowles and Markham) feed a rich and diverse ecosystem.

Grassland, both species-rich and semi-improved grassland is valuable for wildlife of all kinds. Owls will hawk across it for small mammals like voles and wood mice and at night bats will hunt for insects. Deer as well as hares and stoats are regularly sighted. Some of these grasslands are flowering meadows, cut for hay after the flowers have set their seeds and the vegetation dried and removed. This grassland adds enormously to the landscape and rural character of the area. Individual veteran trees are common in open fields supporting rich ecosystems as well as roosts for birds and bats.

Improved agricultural land exists in small quantities with some ploughed and re-seeded and offering grazing for sheep, cattle and horses. Such land can be valuable for foraging horseshoe bats because the dung left by animals may contain dung beetles and other invertebrates. There are also several small areas of arable land which are farmed organically to grow crops like wheat, oats or barley which can support skylarks, pipits and lapwing. The importance of food production to the local economy is referenced in Section 9.1 of the Plan and its significance in the response to climate change in Section 10.4.

Orchards add hugely to biodiversity. At Watchhouse Hill (a national Green Flag site) there is a 1.2 hectare orchard containing a range of traditional apple, pear and plum varieties with the occasional English oak and silver birch. There are also twenty acres of over fifty-year old, mixed variety cider apple orchards along Manor Road in Abbots Leigh that produce commercial fruit.

Grassland Verges are now one of the last refuges of many wildflowers. Verges are vital food corridors for wildlife, especially pollinators. The most striking verge within the Neighbourhood Area is St George’s flower bank (designated Local Green Space) but elsewhere a number of verges are mown annually in the autumn, offering greater diversity of native floral species.

Streams and Ponds across the area form a network of freshwater environments. Markham Brook runs from Tanpits into Pill and then into the Avon. Abbots Pool (a second national Green Flag site) feeds a stream running, part underground, into the Ham Green Lakes and is an important spawning site for toads, frogs and newts with regular monitoring counting up to 1000 toads migrating to the pool annually. Lodway Farm Ponds have breeding newts and frogs whilst the farm itself has deer, badgers, foxes and year-round resident toad and smooth newts. This area is an important wildlife corridor integral to toad migration.

A Wildlife Site and a Site of Nature, the Ham Green Lakes (part of the River Avon Site of Nature Conservation Interest) supports heron, kingfisher, moorhen, mallard, fish (eel, pike, carp) and great crested newts, whilst at St Katherine’s School great crested newts are found in a small pond in the school ground. Glebe Pond in Easton-in-Gordano, managed by a volunteer group, is a small freshwater pool and home for frogs and newts, with the surrounding area home to tits, robins, herons, woodland flora, and fungi.

At the Estuary and Longshore end of the Neighbourhood Area, the intertidal and coastal habitats in the vicinity of the mouth of the River Avon (the Avon longshore) comprise mudflats, saltmarshes, marshy grassland and meadows with rhynes, ditches and ponds. These intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes around Royal Portbury Docks and the associated coastal wetlands support waders and wildfowl such as redshank, dunlin, curlew, shelduck, teal, mallard, common sandpiper and little grebe. Much of this area forms the Portbury SSSI.

7.4 Protected areas
Within the Neighbourhood Area there are key areas of international, national and local significance designated for protection – RAMSAR wetlands, Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation, Special Sites of Scientific Interest, Local Nature Reserves, Registered and Unregistered Parks and gardens. There are also North Somerset Council recognised Wildlife Sites and Sites of Nature Conservation Interest. The Avon Gorge Woodlands and the Severn Estuary are designated under the EC Habitats Directive.

7.5 Connectivity and biodiversity
The combination and inter-connectedness of woodland, grassland, open farmland hedgerows, orchards, ponds, streams and river foreshore are crucial in providing shelter, feeding and breeding sites vital to the survival of the numerous wildlife species of the area and to the sustainability of the biodiversity of their many habitats.

7.6 Environmental management
There are many Open Spaces with wider community and social uses (33) which also have implications for the management and sustainability of the natural environment – walking and cycle paths, running routes, sports pitches, play areas, fishing lakes, churchyards, cemeteries. There is a diversity of land ownership and management including that of the National Trust, Forest England, the Crown Estate, the Bristol Port Company (34) and the District and Parish Councils, a number of agricultural, business and development landowners, and individual landowners. Across the several areas of farmland there is mixed, often absent, landlord ownership, but management of many of the environmental assets of the area is carried out by voluntary/community individuals or groups, in some instances in collaboration with North Somerset Council. It is up to all landowners to engage with the protection and enhancement of environment and biodiversity. Areas for rewilding, tree-planting and provision of hedges and verges are all central to environmental management. Planning applications for new development should be required to include proposals for the sustainable management and maintenance of the immediate and surrounding environment.

(33) Open Spaces are discussed in Chapter 11
(34) Whilst the Neighbourhood Plan has no jurisdiction on development within the dock area, the Bristol Port Company has an important role in environmental management

Policies

Existing NSC Core Strategy and Development Management Policies address Landscape (CS5) The Green Belt (CS6), Green Infrastructure (CS9), High Quality Design (CS12), (DM 41), Nature Conservation (DM8), Trees and Woodlands (DM9), Green Belt (DM12).

Planning Policies

Env 1 (also HO 1)
Development which adversely affects the Green Belt, high sensitivity landscape and habitat land above Crockerne Drive and Brookside will not be supported.

Env 2
The environment and wildlife (especially the salt marshes and the inter-tidal shore) of Royal Portbury Dock should continue to be protected and enhanced.

Env 3
Landowners should allocate areas for rewilding, plant native trees, shrubs, margins and flowering plants, protect the diversity of hedges and verges, and allow grasslands to develop as wild flower meadows.

Community Action Policies

CA/ENV 1 (and CA/CC 2) Landowners – individual, public and corporate – are encouraged to protect the natural landscape (woodlands, parklands, grassland, hedgerows, streams and ponds) to increase resilience to climate change.