Extracts from the Suffolk Nature Strategy Document courtesy of the EADT

A landmark document that places Suffolk’s virtually unrivalled wildlife and landscapes at the centre of decision-making in the county’s life for the next six years has been launched by a high-powered collaboration of environmental organisations. 

The launch of Suffolk's Nature Strategy at RSPB Minsmere.

Suffolk’s Nature Strategy, hailed as a “2020 vision” for the county’s natural environment, has been painstakingly formulated over many months by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, the National Trust and Suffolk County Council. The quartet of organisations has been advised by other highly influential bodies - Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission England in collaboration with WildAnglia.

The strategy aims to show that “the importance of the natural environment goes far beyond its beauty.” It sets out a swathe of challenging recommendations and actions, and places responsibility primarily on the leaders of public, private and voluntary sector organisations to deliver natural environment conservation and enhancement. It emphasises that Suffolk’s wildlife and landscapes are “important building blocks for our economic growth and health and wellbeing” - and it says delivery of strategy aims will “enhance the environment of Suffolk itself, as well as our ability to derive both economic and social benefits from it.”

Thought to be the first strategy document of its kind in the UK, it says: “The natural environment of the county is one of its key strengths, providing us with enviable natural capital on which to improve health and wellbeing and to grow our economy.

“Whether a tourism business, a farmer growing crops, a Suffolk brewer or an international port, the environment is central to our economic growth and should be considered part of Suffolk’s business capital.”

The 40-page document splits recommendations and actions across three sections - natural environment, economic growth and health and wellbeing. Its says its recommendations “are set out as challenges for others to deliver” and are aimed at leaders in a range of sectors including businesses, health and education. Its actions were “challenges we have set ourselves” and were “mostly new areas of work”.

Included in 12 recommendations under the heading “our natural environment priorities” is a call for at least half of Suffolk’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest to be in what is officially termed “favourable condition” by 2020, while maintaining at least 95% in “favourable or recovering condition”.

Where development was proposed in protected landscapes, such as Sizewell C, partnerships should strive to ensure they were “of the highest quality as ‘environmental exemplars”.

In addition, there should be an “overall improvement in the status of our wildlife and for further degradation to have been halted” and developers should include design elements that protect and enhance wildlife in new developments, and new Local Nature Reserves should be designated in urban and rural areas.

On agri-environmental schemes, the strategy says their contribution should be “maximised towards the multiple benefits of ecological restoration at a landscape scale”. In a section headed “Suffolk’s changing climate” it says a further 500 hectares of priority habitat should be created in Suffolk by 2020”.

In 10 recommendations under a heading of “A foundation for economic growth” there is a key demand. It says: “Given the importance of our natural capital to growth, by 2018 we would expect to see public and private sector decision-makers increasingly reflect its value in all future growth plans for the area.” The advantage Suffolk’s natural environment offered in terms of the county’s competitiveness “should be a strong feature of inward investment plans for the area.”

Tourism leaders should “promote the quality of our natural environment to potential visitors and play a key role in its conservation and enhancement.”

On “Food, drink and agriculture” the strategy says: “By 2020 a Suffolk brand will have been developed and linked to conservation of the natural environment. This will help the sector to market strong credentials for environmental conservation.” The strategy partners would “engage with farmers across Suffolk to promote wildlife-friendly farming within profitable, modern, farming businesses.”

In six recommendations under the “Our health and wellbeing” heading, it says: “The benefits of people being able to enjoy our natural environment should be embedded in Suffolk’s health and wellbeing agenda by 2016.”

It adds: “Community leaders and senior public health officials should champion the role the environment can play in prevention, cure and recovery. We would like to see a significant increase in GPs’ use of ‘green care’ referrals, such as Health Walks or Care Farms.”

Suffolk’s Nature Strategy can be viewed in full here.


Suffolk’s Nature Strategy earned high praise and was given a ringing endorsement by TV naturalist Chris Packham at the document’s launch event at RSPB Minsmere.

Packham said the document, with its collaborative approach and its combination of environmental priorities, its attitude to economic growth and its signposting of the natural environment’s value to health and wellbeing, represented a “highly intelligent route forward.”

One of the leading voices on the current environmental scene, Packham is one of the presenters of BBC’s Springwatch, which Minsmere is hosting. But his support for the strategy was unrelated to the programme - and was deeply personal.

He told launch event guests his beloved Minsmere nature reserve was a “manscape” - a “sculpted laboratory” where the RSPB had used its expertise to create an area of such habitat and wildlife diversity that it was “pretty much perfect”. Such a venture, he said, showed what could be done if there was the will to do so.

He said economic growth had to be “very carefully controlled” and society was now beginning to understand the value the natural environment brought to our lives in terms of health and wellbeing. On the latter point, he told guests: “You are extremely fortunate to live in Suffolk.”

He added: “In Suffolk’s Nature Strategy we can see that much can be achieved locally and there is a design here for progress.”

The strategy had emerged through close co-operation and communication between many organisations who shared objectives.

“It has got to be delivered and that is the task,” he said. “These are exciting times. We have the capacity, with the advancement of technology and the combination of our ideas and energy, to deliver. You have got a plan and that is much better than other people have got - and you have got something very valuable to look after.”

In his foreword for the strategy document, Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee says the county’s natural environment is “one of the golden threads holding together what makes this county great” and adds “we must not overlook the importance of Suffolk’s landscapes and wildlife to our society.”

Suffolk’s “natural capital” was the “foundation of many businesses, particularly in the tourism and farming sectors, and it is strongly associated with physical and mental wellbeing.”

Delivering the recommendations and actions in the strategy “will not be without its challenges” and there would inevitably be “difficult decisions to make and tough choices always require tough trade-offs.”

Mr Bee added: “Conserving and enhancing our natural environment is in all our interests and this document is an important step in that endeavour and we must all now show leadership and work together to deliver its vision.”



Hambleton Council condemned by Ombudsman for failure of planning administration

In April this year Hambleton Council was condemned by the Local Government Ombudsman for maladministration. They said the council had committed “an extreme and most serious failure of planning administration”, after it failed to monitor planning conditions at Bagby Airfield (put in place to protect local residents) for so long that it has now lost the power to intervene against longstanding unauthorised use. The airfield has been operating in contravention of its planning permission for several years but the council missed opportunities to take action. As a result the unauthorised use became immune from enforcement action. Outside of the biggest South East airports, planning conditions are the only way in which the environmental impacts of airports and airfields are regulated.


Serious failure of planning administration for Bagby Airfield by Hambleton Council

Archived press release

Date Published: 20.4.2012  (Local Government Ombudsman)

Hambleton District Council’s planning officers failed to exercise proper control over the use of Bagby Airfield, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Anne Seex.

The airfield has been operating in contravention of its planning permission for several years but the council missed opportunities to take action. As a result the unauthorised use became immune from enforcement action. In her report, issued today (20 April 2012), Anne Seex says that “losing planning control over the use of land as an airfield is an extreme and most serious failure of planning administration.”

Bagby Airfield had a planning permission, granted in 1980, limited to a named person and to the number of flights (40 take-offs and 40 landings a week). The named person left the airfield in 1997 but flights continued. The airfield had operated in contravention of that permission.

The Council never monitored the number of take-offs and landings, although Government guidance says that planning conditions should be enforceable. There is no definitive record of the number of flights in any given period during the time the airfield has been operating. The current operator and the Council have both put forward estimates, but none have been agreed. Both sets of estimates indicate that there has frequently and significantly been more than the 40 take offs and 40 landings per week originally permitted.

The Council has missed a number of opportunities to notice the unlawful use and to take appropriate action:

  • From 1980 to 1997 council officers did not check on the personal element of the planning permission. Then in 1996/97 they knew the individual named in the planning permission would no longer be involved, but did nothing about the fact the planning permission was limited to him personally.
  • In 2001, they told the operator he needed planning permission but took no further action.
  • In 2005, the Enforcement Officer wrongly assessed that he 1980 planning permission still applied.

As a result the unauthorised use became immune from enforcement action and the Council has lost planning control over the number of aircraft using the airfield.

Planning control is particularly important because the Civil Aviation Authority cannot regulate the airfield and there is no power to enforce against noise created in the air.

The Council’s maladministration has caused residents in the area the injustice of disturbance from flights and a sense of frustration and apprehension about the possibility of uncontrolled future expansion.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends the Council should:

  • consider taking action to try to stop the current use, and
  • provide funding of up to £5,000 for each village of Bagby and Thirkleby for projects of community benefit agreed with the respective parish councils.

Report ref no 11 006 363




Planning wrangle over Bagby Airfield, near Thirsk, likely to continue

4.8.2012 (The Northern Echo)

By Stuart Minting

A LONG-RUNNING dispute over an airfield regularly used by top jockeys and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason is likely to rumble on – despite a public inquiry ruling that numerous developments there should be removed.

Planning inspector George Mapson has upheld eight enforcement actions by Hambleton District Council over Bagby Airfield, near Thirsk , most of which centred on changes of land use and included a runway.

However, Mr Mapson allowed one of the appeals by the airfield’s owner, Martin Scott, against an enforcement that would have prevented helicopters from using the grass airstrip – a key concern of a group of residents who have battled over flight-related noise.

However, Mr Mapson also ordered Mr Scott to pay for some of the council’s public inquiry costs.

It was the second public inquiry in 15 months into the airfield and follows the council being found guilty of maladministration by the local government ombudsman for failing to control planning there for several years.

The unprecedented enforcement action by the council saw the Yorkshire Air Ambulance being told to stop using the airfield as its satellite base, an action which attracted criticism but forced the charity to move to RAF Topcliffe, near Thirsk.

Yesterday, the airfield’s management, noise campaign group Action4Refusal and the council all said they were pleased with the outcome of the latest inquiry.

Councillor Neville Huxtable, the council’s leader, said: “The council was successful in practically every respect and the award of partial costs in favour of the council vindicates our stance on a number of the breaches of planning control.”

The airfield’s manager, Steve Hoyle, said: “They have let us keep helicopters here.

Everything else is irrelevant to us, it is just the area that will lose out with seven jobs at the airfield going elsewhere due to the ongoing uncertainty.”

Stephen Hornsby, of Action4Refusal, said he was delighted the appeal over the north-south runway had been dismissed and urged the council’s planning committee to find a way to enforce restricted flight numbers when it meets in September.




Councillors decide against closure order for Bagby Airfield

14th September 2012   (Darlington & Stockton Times)

By Emily Flanagan, Reporter

COUNCILLORS yesterday decided against making an order which would have closed an airfield at the centre of a long-running planning wrangle.

The Local Government Ombudsman recently asked Hambleton District Council to consider taking out a discontinuation order against Bagby Airfield, near Thirsk , North Yorkshire, after looking into allegations by a residents’ group.

The group had complained to the ombudsman about a number of issues related to the way the council responded to developments at the airfield.

One of the complaints was that the council had failed to exercise control over unauthorised development at the site.

The ombudsman found the council was guilty of failing to maintain control over the use of the airfield for flights. It concluded this had given residents a sense of frustration and apprehension about possible uncontrolled future expansion at Bagby.

At yesterday’s planning meeting in Northallerton , councillors opted to increase enforcement action in a bid to reduce the number of flights, but not to make the discontinuation order, which would have closed the airfield down.

The cabinet this week decided to take on another enforcement officer, giving it the staff to monitor the situation.

A residents’ campaign group and Jean Varey, clerk of Bagby Parish Council, both argued in favour of a discontinuation order, telling the meeting there was a long history of the airfield ignoring directions from the council.

Mrs Varey said: “Who from Hambleton District Council is going to be aware of the flights that arrive and leave from the runway, causing alarm and distress at 11.30pm, 12.30am and even as late as 2am in the morning?”

Airfield owner Martin Scott said the airfield had been running since the 1980s and ten years ago there were more flights than today.

He said the airfield brought business to the area, ferrying jockeys and trainers to fixtures, farmers to markets and bringing in visitors from Dubai and Europe.

It is understood making a discontinuance order would have involved the council using public funds to compensate the owner by purchasing the airfield and returning it to agricultural land.

After the meeting, Mr Scott said he expected the decision  (….? …)

Posted: Friday, September 14th, 2012. Filed in General NewsNews about AirportsRecent News.