Review of Planning for Restoration Sites and Stakeholder Liaison
We have a strong background in minerals planning and can undertake a detailed review of all background and historic planning information. We can then present this information in tabular format to focus on outstanding conditions and the measures required to address these.
Linking all documents back to specific areas of the site, through digital mapping of phase and planning boundaries, we are able to recommend the next steps in planning liaison, to resolve issues and collate future submissions for ease of management and approval.
We can undertake up front liaison with planning officers and structured site meetings, where required, to confirm the style and approach to a planning submission.
Our team work with clients to confirm information and to outline the priorities for the development. This enables us to assist with the specific environmental and community aspects of the submission e.g. habitat design, woodland management and community engagement.
Further to this, we can prepare and amend both supporting and main planning documents in liaison with clients and co-consultants and can negotiate with local authorities for swift agreement of conditions / actions.
Land Restoration Survey and Management Planning
Our diverse professional team of surveyors, forestry consultants, arboriculturists and ecology consultants are skilled in a wide range of integrated land surveys for environmental planning purposes.
The teams are also practical day-to-day managers of land and habitats and the pragmatic application of their knowledge feeds back very strongly into the data collection and client objectives.
Soil Recce Survey & Advice
Getting the soils right is central to our environmental planning support and we provide a range of bespoke advice for minerals / waste companies and developers. This starts with the survey of soil resources to inform planning applications and also final land use for restoration design. We produce soils handling method statements and can supervise that work.
We are often instructed to monitor restoration work and are able to provide the evidence base through sampling and physical / chemical testing to support planning sign off.
Detailed Soil Survey & Species Suitability Report
In addition to his role as a Soil Scientist, our business unit lead Robin Truslove is also a Chartered Forester and specialist in land restoration to habitat. We work for developers, local authorities and increasingly for private landowners who need to create a species mix or approve a proposed mix for their planting or seeding project. We make sure the right tree is planted in the right place.
We would normally undertake a soil survey and lab testing to identify the soil types and characteristics but will also refer to information gathered through ground investigation and farm records. A woodland planting scheme across a farm may encounter 2-3 soil types from clayey and neutral (well suited to oak or hornbeam) to loamy and calcareous (suited to beech, sycamore or silver fir) .
Nicholsons have the detailed silvicultural knowledge to match the species to those soil types and have extended this advice to more complex mixtures for arboretum creation. This advice also extends to species rich grassland where understanding the soil nutrient content (in particular phosphate) and pH. are key, in selecting species which can tolerate and thrive in the conditions present, or may need further amelioration.
Agricultural Land Classification and Soil Resources Report
Confirmation of agricultural grade is a key part of medium and large development planning applications. Grades 1, 2 and 3a comprise ‘best and most versatile land’ and need to be identified to assess the wider environmental and agricultural impact of proposals.
Nicholson’s surveyors apply their in depth knowledge of soil texture, structure, stone content / type and drainage properties to the assessment of agricultural grade and to support our development clients in planning applications. Our professional soil scientists are trained through courses run by the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS). Sites are sampled by 1 auger bore per hectare plus 1 trial hole for each of the main soil types.
Our Agricultural Land Classification reports are normally combined with a Soil Resources Survey but can be undertaken in isolation if required. The report includes a clear summary of soil types and an agricultural grade map.
Soils Management Plan
Planning approval for new quarry, commercial or large housing developments normally comes with a condition to produce a soil handling and re-use strategy.
Nicholsons have seen first hand the benefit in understanding the soil resources available and handling them carefully to allow best use of that resource as a growing medium within the approved landscape design plan. Where a soil resource survey has already been undertaken this will feed directly into the report but equally, Nicholsons can tackle that survey as part of the management plan process.
The first step is to confirm the objectives for the project. Large scale Commercial developers often need to retain all soils on site but housing developers may require a net export of material. Nicholsons then look at the species lists and soil requirements for landscape creation and match those to the soil types available.
From that information, phased maps of soil handling are produced covering: stripping, movement, storage, placement and amelioration. Minimising movement distance is economically important. Matching of soils is key for selecting e.g. a) well drained loam with low stone content for amenity grassland, b) a deep and loose placed clay loam for broadleaf woodland or c) a lime rich low nutrient medium for calcareous wild flower grassland.
Cost Engineered Design and Budgeting of Landscape and Habitat
Our ability to understand the link between design and implementation cost allows us to offer restoration designs which prioritise the best use of land. We provide designs which offer suitable habitat and land use, being uniquely mindful to avoid areas far in excess of that needed to achieve planning for the core operations.
Our skills in daily budgeting and delivery of this implementation feed back into a design which is inexpensive, but also has a strong visual impact and habitat value. We have a team of two experienced graphic designers in-house who are fully conversant with ArcView and AutoCAD packages; these presentation skills have been brought to the fore on numerous large planning applications.
Restoration and Aftercare Management Plan (RAMP)
A Restoration and Aftercare Management Plan (RAMP) is an increasingly effective means of confirming site wide final restoration proposals for minerals and waste, and is welcomed by planning authorities across the UK.
Having collated planning conditions, site surveys and design details, we can pull these into an overarching planning document to confirm detailed methods for implementation of soil placement, ground modelling, seeding and planting.
This will set our a 5 year aftercare regime in tabular format to confirm weed control, mowing, pruning, reed cutting, thinning and all maintenance operations, always keeping delivery to an appropriate scale to cost-engineer the outcome.
Soils Supervision and Clerk of Works (including specialist woodland translocation)
Nicholsons professional soil scientists have been appointed by ecological and earthworks contractors, to supervise and audit soil movement ahead of the HS2 development, on several sites in the Midlands since 2019. Our advice has been focussed to the translocation of ancient woodland soils, to ensure the habitat resource of plant seeds, fungi, soil fauna and coppice stools / seedlings / deadwood, is not lost to the development.
We start with a recce of the site, assessing trial holes for soil texture and top soil depth for translocation. This inspection allows us to meet the earthworks contractor and form an economic method for movement.
Nicholsons pioneered the movement of woodland soils in 1.2m x 1.8m ‘turfs’. A 14 tonne excavator with a swivelling wrist was used to score the turfs and then lift them with a large flat straight edged bucket. They were moved on a flat bed trailer and replaced at the receptor site 80-90% intact. This avoided damage to bulbs and wildflower roots which would otherwise occur with loose stripping.
We have also supervised loose stripping where budget constraints apply. In all cases our daily reports with photos and map form the audit trail needed by the client and planning authority.
Resolution of issues with land restoration
Our environmental consultants have worked with a number of minerals and waste operators over the last 30 years to specify and deliver habitat and agricultural restoration. We are sometimes drafted in by a client later on in the process to help them resolve the issues with a failed habitat establishment, which requires resolution with the planning authorities. In such cases, we request the planning background in the first instance, to assess the commitments for capital and maintenance work. We then inspect the site to understand the characteristics of the landscape, soils and any vegetation present.
In the case of woodland planting it may be that lack of maintenance has resulted in low survival and a thorough replacement of failures is needed. Severe compaction is often a cause of poor tree growth and remediation by clearance, subsoiling/cultivation and replanting is sometimes needed.
In the case of grassland, we have occasionally seen the incorrect mix sown for the soil type and testing for texture, nutrients, pH and carbonate can help evidence the need for an alternative mix with the planning authority.
We work with allied consultants to advise on drainage schemes where restoration to agriculture is required. Fundamentally we understand the planning process and the physical/chemical requirements of the site and will work with the owner to form a pragmatic solution for all parties.
Woodland creation on old landfill and derelict land
Woodland creation on restoration sites and poorer soils, whilst challenging, can deliver top quality outcomes that will see these neglected sites brought into environmentally positive and productive use. Nicholsons have extensive experience in this area and can support clients through detailed site evaluation including soils, contamination and habitat analysis. We can then support planning and permitting requirements, advise on soils treatments and amelioration and then follow this through to detailed design, budgeting and implementation. Separately we are able to advise on associated opportunities for grant funding, investment support and ecosystems services.
Industry research to support development of new woodland grants for derelict land
Over the last three years the Nicholsons team have worked closely with DEFRA and the wider sector to better understand the opportunities for planting on vacant and derelict land, and how this might be best supported through the Nature for Climate Fund (NCF). As a team we remain passionate that woodland creation can offer huge opportunities to bring historically damaged land back into high quality productive and environmentally valuable use, at the same time as helping to meet the government’s ambitious planting targets.