22 August 2012
The opening of an onion store within Breckland Special Protection Area (SPA) - classified for its nationally rare population of stone curlew - could be an important turning point for further sustainable development.
Local onion producer RG Abrey Farms has been given planning permission by the local council to open a new storage facility at Larkshall, near Thetford. Natural England’s Land Use team worked with the producer and the council to find a sustainable solution – helping the local business to grow and looking out for the rare stone curlew population that lives in the area.
More than half of England’s total breeding population of 400 pairs of stone curlew nest in Breckland, and the local council’s policy to protect these scarce birds sets out a 1500m zone around parts of the SPA, within which special considerations operate for planning decisions. RG Abrey Farms’ business lies within this zone and the council might have refused the application. However, recognising the positive role that the farming community were already playing in safeguarding the birds, Natural England was keen to assist in finding a sustainable solution to allow the development to go ahead.
Working closely with the local Planning Authority, RSPB and landowners, a suite of mitigation measures were agreed, which would see the onion store opened, while safeguarding the stone curlew population. As a result of the project, a Planning Protocol for Stone Curlews and Small Agricultural Developments is also being developed, which brings together collective thinking from a full range of stakeholders. Once complete, it will provide a useful pointer towards sustainable development, informed by evidence, socioeconomic realities and our responsibility to help secure the stone curlew population.
The negotiation process has also resulted in the creation of the Breckland Forum - a stakeholder group which is now taking forward several other initiatives, including protocols around tourism and housing development.