On 20 December 2022, Julie James, Minister for Climate Change, wrote to all local authorities in Wales to give notice of proposed planning policy changes to strengthen protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This could be good news for the biodiversity of Ruperra, its SSSI and the protected species living there such as bats, which play an important role as pollinators. These are currently at risk of potential harm by the proposed developments to convert outbuildings next to Ruperra Castle into a private residential community.
Earlier in December Julie James attended the United Nations COP15 Biodiversity Summit where leaders agreed a new ambitious Global Biodiversity Framework to put the world on a path to restoring nature by the end of the decade. In attending COP15, Julie added Wales’ voice by pressing for urgent transformative action across the whole of society. She emphasised the key role that subnational governments, cities and local authorities play in protecting and enhancing biodiversity and in delivering actions across planning, implementation, and monitoring.
The letter from Julie James highlighted the essential role that the planning system must play in meeting the challenges and gave notice of proposed changes to planning policy in relation to net benefit for biodiversity and the protection afforded to Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and trees and woodlands. We are pleased to hear that a consultation exercise will take place on amendments to policy early in the New Year. Read the letter from Julie James which makes a commitment to step up and ensure delivery to realise ambitions.
The Ruperra Castle and woodlands SSSI is a nationally and internationally important roost site for the Greater horseshoe bat in Wales. One of the outbuildings provides a maternity roost with other buildings providing hibernation sites during the winter. Bats are very sensitive to light pollution and disturbance - excessive regular disturbance could mean the loss of the location as a suitable roost.
Greater horseshoe bats are a protected species and have always been scarce in the UK. Their British numbers declined significantly in the last two centuries and they were in danger of extinction. Numbers of Greater horseshoe bats have increased in recent years - this may be due in part to a series of warmer winters, and also due to increased protection of the few known breeding roosts.
Despite concern for the future of protected species living on the site, on 28 September 2022 the Caerphilly Council Planning Committee voted to approve all four applications subject to a long list of conditions. However, there are currently ‘holding directions’ on these applications while the Welsh Government decide whether to call them in for their own determination. Holding directions are issued infrequently and indicate that the proposed development is likely to raise planning issues of more than local importance. We hope this commitment to strengthen protection for SSSIs is demonstrated by the Minister taking a decision to call in the Ruperra applications.
Search for Sites of Special Scientific Interest on the Natural Resources Wales website where you can access more detailed information about each site.