EcIA and leisure destinations: lessons from London 2012
- Stakeholder engagement ,
- Natural resources ,
- Biodiversity ,
Bill Wadsworth, from Chris Blandford Associates, highlights some lessons learned about the ecological impact assessment (EcIA) of leisure destinations from the Hadleigh Farm and Country Park Olympic legacy project
The London 2012 Olympic games mountain biking event was held on a specially designed course and venue at Hadleigh Farm adjacent to Hadleigh Country Park in Essex.
The Hadleigh Farm and Country Park Olympic legacy project is a partnership between Essex County Council (ECC) and the Salvation Army for delivering post-games use of the mountain bike course.
Hadleigh Country Park is managed by ECC and provides one of the largest publically accessible natural green spaces in south Essex.
The park is used by around 125,000 visitors every year for a range of informal recreational activities such as walking, cycling, picnicking, kite flying and bird watching.
The Salvation Army provides opportunities for vulnerable people to serve the community and reach their full potential through training and work experience placements on Hadleigh Farm in its rare breeds centre, tearooms and training centre.
An environmental impact assessment (EIA) was submitted in support of a successful planning application for new and improved recreational trails and visitor facilities at the site.
These proposals are at the centre of the project’s vision for expanding and enhancing Hadleigh Country Park, providing opportunities for people to more fully access, enjoy and appreciate the area’s natural and historic environment assets.
The legacy project presented a particular challenge from an ecological impact assessment (EcIA) perspective as there are few precedents for construction of recreational trail centres on downland sites with grassland habitats of designated ecological importance in England.
The site includes a site of special scientific interest and areas with local wildlife site designation for their significant assemblages of rare plants and invertebrates. It is also adjacent to coastal marshes designated as a special protection area and a Ramsar site of international importance for waterfowl.
Commitment 5 of the IEMA EIA Quality Mark scheme requires practitioners to undertake “assessment and transparent evaluation of impact significance”, and provide “an effective description of measures designed to monitor and manage significant effects”.
The prediction of potential operational impacts and residual effects focused on assessing the carrying capacity of the site to accommodate the recreational trail development.
This required the anticipated increases in visitor numbers, their distribution and behaviour to be predicted, and a balanced impact assessment to be undertaken in relation to the site’s ecological sensitivities.
However, extrapolating predictions of visitor behaviour from surveys of existing use has limitations. It was therefore necessary to undertake the impact assessment on the basis of a worst case scenario by judging the likely impacts associated with the greatest predicted number of visitors in the most sensitive locations at the most sensitive times.
Anticipating future visitor behaviour is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects for EcIAs of leisure destination projects, but is also, arguably, the most important. Extrapolating predictions of visitor behaviour is appropriate as long as the limitations are clearly defined and understood.
Measures for managing and monitoring potential significant impacts identified by the EcIA were described in detail in an operational environmental management strategy included in the environmental statement.
The strategy set out a zoned approach to controlling different levels and types of recreational activities to reflect the site’s temporal and spatial ecological sensitivities.
It also included an ecological management plan that sets out long-term commitments for monitoring the effects of visitor behaviour on ecological features (for example, disturbance, compaction or erosion).
The EcIA was a key tool in helping to identify opportunities for delivering a net biodiversity gain through the project. These include re-establishing a substantial area of downland grassland habitat under conservation grazing management, which is now enabling delivery of extensive ecological enhancements at a landscape scale.
This article was written as a contribution to the EIA Quality Mark’s commitment to improving EIA practice.
Bill Wadsworth is a senior associate at Chris Blandford Associates
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