Continued: Kingsmeadow slow worm sagas

During September 2020 I videoed members of a slow worm colony at Kingsmeadow, put them on YouTube and sent the link to Kingston council with a comment for the planning file. They instructed a consultant to provide a counter- commentary, thus challenging any assertions about the value of the feature, seeking to minimise the importance of an urban population of slow worms.

The invoices for their counter - commentary have since gone missing according to the council's Annual Inspection of Accounts. This is because Countrywide Properties instruct and pay the consultants and then invoice the council for the work. The costs are higher than what would be expected, as there is an administrative overage on the invoices and it seems Kingston council like wasting our money.

Forward to  2021, with several iterations of Ecological Management Plans;  diarising them is important for future reference, and is indicative that it is not the ecology dictating their genesis. The version made a planning condition, may not be one of the variations seen here, who knows?

 In May 2021 it was habitat manipulation; August then we were treated to translocation; in September it was kicked into the long grass and back to habitat manipulation but the slow worms were actually moved to another part of the meadow.

In the final days of September another planning consultation surfaced; this time a 10-dayer for a new school on the remainder of the meadow; a blink- and- you- miss- it consultation and slow worms weren't even mentioned. The timeline is below:

This is the letter I received regarding the disappearing  invoices.

24.9.21 Dear Ms Fure,
Apologies for the continued delay. I am continuing to chase my colleagues in the Council to obtain the full details about what Aspect Ecology billed Countryside for this work, (which was subsequently rebilled to the Council). Countryside Ltd billed the Council for various pieces of work, one of which was this Aspect Ecology report. The Council requires Countryside Ltd to provide invoices to support anything we repay.

Using this, I located the payment which we had made to Countryside, which contained the backup information from Aspect Ecology to support this repayment: this is attached. This is a "however" though: for this invoice, only the second page is held in Kingston's payments system.. This is because either:

- Countryside only sent page 2 in their bundle of supporting information

- Our scanning system only picked up page 2 of what was sent by Countryside

The delay has been me trying to go back down this path and get the complete invoice from either the service or Countryside. However, I think at this point an incomplete answer at this stage is better than no answer. The invoice shows that of the total charge from Aspect Ecology of £5,080 (plus VAT, which the Council recovers in full so does not count)

- £2,375: related to attending the Committee meeting and addressing concerns raised by the Committee

- £2,705 (the balance) related to something else, but could be associated with either writing the initial report, or addressing comments made during the consultation stage (which I assume is before the Committee stage)

So at this point, I believe the answer to your query is within the total cost of £5,088, but cannot be precise at this point about whether it is in the £2,705 amount, and if so, how much of the amount it represents?

Let us go back to......

MAY 2021The original Ecological Management Plan (Aspect Ecology) - now withdrawn: MAY 2021 Ref. No: 21/01803/CLC | Received: Thu 03 Jun 2021 | Validated: Thu 03 Jun 2021 | Status: Withdrawn
4.4.1 To minimise the risk of killing or injury of reptiles, a proportionate mitigation strategy will be implemented during site clearance activities, comprising the enhancement of adjacent habitat, followed by a destructive search, supplemented with the placement of reptile refugia. The destructive search has be designed to encourage any reptiles within the construction zone to move to off-site habitat within the grassland habitats adjacent to south of the site, prior to construction activities commencing. Once the destructive search is complete, reptile exclusion fencing will be installed to prevent reptiles from entering the development footprint during construction activities. 

4.4.2 This method of mitigation is considered to be appropriate due to the small size of the site and presence of suitable off-site habitats within the wider Kingsmeadow estate, and is in line with measures agreed by the Council’s Biodiversity Officer during the planning application’s consultation period. Alternative mitigation measures that are available, such as undertaking a reptile translocation exercise is not considered to be appropriate, as the works required to install reptile fencing across the site would likely cause greater disruption / risk or killing or injury of reptiles due to its small size.

Sad to see the evolution of this Ecology Management Plan and the contortions to make it fit what the council wants, rather than what is good for the slow worms. In August they were prepared for cemetery translocation, without a survey and without knowing if the 2 populations were in fact a part of a 'metapopulation'.

They say it is a likely metapopulation, with no evidence except distance between the 2 sites - given as 0.2km. Looks more like 350m between their two grid referenced points (given in the Ecology Management Report in August). They also fail to mention a significant hurdle in the only route a car park now a development site.

In August they were still saying the population was low (used to justify that it wouldn't be a problem dumping them into another unsurveyed population). Confused yet?

"Receptor Site

4.4.8 Due to the small size of the site, and recently identified potential future impact on adjacent habitats, a suitable offsite receptor has been identified which is located at the nearby Kingston Cemetery and Crematorium at grid reference TQ 1930 6883 (see plan 5906/EMP1). Areas of suitable reptile habitat within the site are limited to rough grassland and dense scrub, which are approximately 0.13ha in size. The area of suitable reptile habitat present within the off-site receptor site is approximately 0.16ha in size and is dominated by tussocky species-poor rough grassland. As such, the area of suitable reptile habitat provided by the off-site receptor is approximately 23% larger than the area currently present on site.

4.4.9 Due to seasonal constraints, it is not practicable to undertake a reptile presence / absence survey prior to the translocation exercise commencing in 2021. Nevertheless, the receptor site lies approximately 0.2km south-west of the site at its closest point and is known to support a population of Slow-worm. As such, it is considered likely that the population of Slow-worms present on-site is part of the same metapopulation, such that the enhancement of the receptor to increase its carrying capacity remains a proportionate approach.

4.4.10 Habitat creation and enhancement measures will therefore be employed within this area, alongside ongoing management, in order to increase its suitability and carrying capacity as well as to safeguard the long-term viability of reptiles (as shown on Plan 5906/EMP1).

4.4.11 The receptor site will be ready to receive reptiles prior to commencement of any works affecting reptile habitat, through implementation of enhancements detailed below. Following implementation of these enhancement measures, it is anticipated that the carrying capacity at the receptor site would be sufficient to receive individuals relocated from the development areas given the low numbers of reptiles recorded / anticipated following the initial habitat manipulation exercise. 


September 2021
In September they have changed their minds again. This couldn't be due to the fact that they now agree that the population isn't low as originally indicated in the counter commentary and they should have listened to the origianl info instead of ridiculing it.

This says:

4.4.1 Survey work undertaken within the site identified a population of Slow-worm in 2020. As such, and given the size of the site and numbers of Slow-worm recorded, a habitat manipulation exercise was proposed within the Ecological Appraisal that informed the consented planning application. 

4.4.2 This method of mitigation is considered to be appropriate and proportionate due to the small size of the site and presence of suitable off-site habitats within the wider Kingsmeadow estate, and is in line with ongoing considerable discussions and consultations as detailed at Section 1.2. 


                                                       so why does it look more like a translocation photo 11.10.21


...........the report continues

4.4.3 Should the wider Kingsmeadow site be subject to future redevelopment such that a reptile translocation would be required in order to safeguard Slow-worm, Countryside Properties on behalf of RBKuT will work with the Council’s Biodiversity Officer to identify opportunities to assist with this exercise to ensure the long-term resilience of the Slow-worm metapopulation.

Odd how the condition ties Countryside to helping out with doing this work for the school later on! It's nothing to do with them so why tie this into a planning condition for another site? and only two weeks later  the consultation for the development of a school was launched without referencing the entire site.

'Following on from earlier statutory consultation, a second consultation must now be held on the proposal to formally lease a portion of the Kingsmeadow site for this use. This is in accordance with s. 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 and has to be carried out ahead of the Council’s Corporate and Resources Committee’s consideration of the proposal.'


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