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A victory for common sense

Last modified: 28 February 2012

Dartford warbler singing from gorse bush

A major development proposal that risked damaging some of Europe's rarest heathland habitat at Talbot Heath in Poole has been refused permission by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, it was announced today.

The decision demonstrates the importance of the Habitats Regulations which protect some of our most important wildlife sites. Chancellor George Osborne recently announced a review of how this legislation is being implemented, which is due to report back in the Budget next month.

The RSPB has always felt that this was a poorly conceived project that did not meet the Government's objective of delivering truly sustainable growth. We are delighted that following full public scrutiny, the Secretary of State has concluded that, in this case, the right decision was to reject the development.

The Talbot Village Trust wanted to develop a site for 378 houses and other uses on farmland in Poole. The proposed site was immediately adjacent to Talbot Heath, which is designated a Special Protection Area (SPA) for its bird populations, including Dartford warbler and nightjar. The heath is also designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for its reptile populations and heathland habitats. These designations represent the site's European importance for wildlife, and are amongst the highest level of legal wildlife protection available in Britain.

During the Public Inquiry last year the RSPB presented a joint case with Natural England to outline the damaging impact the development would have on the important wildlife of the nearby Talbot Heath.

In the Decision Letter the Secretary of State stated that he was '... unable to conclude that that the proposed development, either on its own or in combination with other schemes, would not have a significant adverse effect on the integrity of the international sites...'

Renny Henderson of RSPB South West, said: 'It's been an anxious wait but we are delighted with the decision – this protects a really important site now and for future generations.

'We are delighted with the decision – this protects a really important site now and for future generations.'

'For the past 40 years conservationists have worked hard to help people understand that these heaths are rare and precious habitats that deserve our highest levels of protection.

'The RSPB and NE highlighted the major risks attached to locating residential housing next to heaths, due to the extra pressure from people, their pets, from fire risk and a myriad of other things.

'If the risks could have been dealt with, then we'd have had no objection. But, our key concern was always that the range of mitigation measures proposed by the developers to remove this risk, such as a pet proof fence, were simply not adequate to guarantee protection of the site. And both the Planning Inspector and the Secretary of State have today agreed with this view.'

The protection of the Talbot Heath SAC and SPA through the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 meant that the Inspector and the Secretary of State had to consider whether there was a risk of harm to Talbot Heath despite the mitigation measures.

Tony Richardson, Regional Director for RSPB in the South West said; 'Dorset's heathlands are much loved and used by local people.  But there are limits to how much pressure they can take and new developments of this kind, right next to one of our most special heathland areas, would have been a step too far.

'The Habitats Regulations, by which the UK Government implements the EU's Nature Directives, provide valuable protection for Europe's rarest and most threatened habitats and species. They apply a set of tests to all activities and developments to ensure that all those which do not adversely affect sites and species of European importance may continue.

'In the case of Talbot Heath, the solution offered to mitigate the harm caused simply did not stand up to close scrutiny.

'All too often presented as a barrier to socio-economic activity, the Habitats Regulations actually provide a key test of the Government's objective for sustainable growth.'

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