The day started with MVV’s barrister, Mark Westmoreland Smith leading Ryan Mellor through his evidence on ecology. Mr Mellor is a Chartered Environmentalist and technical director for URS with 17 years experience as an ecologist. He has worked on behalf of the government and private projects including mines, quarries and pipelines.
Mr Westmoreland Smith led Mr Mellor through the ecology around and within the site including local flora and fauna. He touched upon the South Hams special area of conservation (SAC), the South Dartmoor SAC, Potters Wood site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
The evidence considered the impact of the development on local protected species and the mitigation measures that would be necessary for their protection. Firstly, evidence turned to the Greater Horseshoe Bat (GHB) which is found in the local area.
There are reportedly 1000 GHBs in the area which constitutes 31% of the UK population. The largest known maternity roost in Europe. 325 GHBs have been observed to fly through the Whitecleave Quarry at peak times in August.
Mr Mellor suggested mitigation measures like plantings alongside the bats’ fly path, compensatory tree planting and commitment to manage tree planting as well as limitations on illumination from site activity. Mr Mellor went on to explain that these measures prevent any adverse impact on the bats.
Secondly, Mr Mellor was brought to explain that Whitecleave Quarry is a nesting site for a breeding pair of peregrine falcons, but he had no concerns over the impact of everyday operations of the site. However blasting could not take place during breeding times, as a measure of mitigation. This same measure would also ensure that blasting would not disrupt the bats’ hibernation. Further evidence was heard about dormice, otters and other relevant species. Mr. Mellor assessed and found no adverse affect on any of these animals.
Mr Charlie Hopkins for Buckfastleigh Community Forum then cross examined Mr Mellor about his evidence. Mr Hopkins gained clarification on the completeness of the site survey and verified that there was no survey of the Eastern and Northern upper cliffs, due to access. Therefore the survey is limited and part is based upon judgement, not actual observation.
It turned out that a report has come out last week that shows otter have been found in the area. Evidence was spotted near the site entrance under a bridge by the road, the underpass but survey results not available yet. The report will be submitted next week.
Mr Hopkins also drew out by his examination that survey work has primarily focused on Greater Horseshoe Bats but that other bat species have not been investigated as thoroughly, raising concerns over the effectiveness of the mitigation measures in relation to other bats all of which are also protected. There are 12 species of bats noted in the survey of the site.
Questions were also raised about the significant increase in operations at the site and whether evidence over its effect on the Peregrine falcons could be fully accepted.
Mr Hopkins also questioned whether the monitoring regime for the bat species would be effective and frequent enough, as an annual review of monitoring is part of the proposed mitigation measures. One concern was that although the protected species would be monitored, this monitoring would not be effective in preventing disturbance to the species, and corrective measures might come too late if only reviewed annually.
Attention was drawn to the license applied for by Gilpin Demolition in August 2012 that was approved by Devon County Council that granted them to clear areas known to be a habitat of dormice, another protected species. This was on the dolerite spur. Another license would be required for further clearance of dormice habitat.
Further cross examination highlighted that Natural England had not been notified that ancient woodland may be present at or around the site.
Cross examination of Mr Mellor’s evidence will continue tomorrow at 9.30 am., which will then be followed by a short re-examination by Mr Westmoreland Smith.
Mr Roger Miles, a planning expert for MVV is scheduled to give his evidence, followed by cross examination and re-examination. This will take up the rest of the day tomorrow, Thursday the 4th of July.
Mr Miles will be the final witness for MVV’s appeal.